Learning Is About Experiences, Not Just Courses

Learning Is About Experiences, Not Just Courses
Summary: Learning is always equated with some type of formal courses. In a time, however, where learning happens all the time, what often gets lost in the mix are other aspects of organizational learning. One crucial element that gets overlooked in workplace learning is that of "experiences."

Learning Is More Than Just Courses And eLearning

What often gets to me is the siloed focus that learning practitioners have when designing courses and other learning activities. While their focus for delivering quality offerings is admirable, what often gets lost in the mix are the other aspects of organizational learning. One crucial element that gets overlooked in workplace learning is the informal learning "experience."

Not wanting to paint all practitioners with the same brush, the most impactful learning interventions always occur when operational experiences occur. Many learning experiences happen informally, whether through happenstance or casual engagements and employee interactions. This is not to imply formal learning is doomed for extinction. That's far from the case in an age of constant change and given the rise of knowledge-focused environments. This is about the evolution of the direction for Learning and Development, and how practitioners must embrace alternate learning interactions.

Why L&D Must Embrace Informal Learning Experiences

You see, workplace and employee learning is increasingly becoming about informal experiences. With the increasing encroachment of social media tools within the workplace and the subtle learning interactions that happen among employees, the learning function must now look for a way to capture and harness this in a timely manner. The percentage of workplace learning that occurs informally rather than through formal training courses can vary widely, depending on the industry, organization, and specific circumstances. However, it's generally accepted that a significant portion of workplace learning happens informally.

Research and studies suggest that informal learning can account for as much as 70-90% of workplace learning. This includes learning through on-the-job experiences, interactions with colleagues, problem-solving, observation, self-directed learning, and other nonstructured methods. This highlights the importance of practical, hands-on experiences in the process of individual and collective skill development within a work environment. The amounts of informal learning and shared experiences have a direct impact on an organization's operational process. These learning interactions are about applying knowledge and insights gained from various experiences in order to improve overall performance, adapt to changes, and innovate.

What Learning Experiences Entail

While formal courses and training programs have their place, this perspective recognizes that the most impactful learning often occurs through direct involvement in real-world tasks, challenges, and interactions. Here's a breakdown of what learning experiences entail:

Experiential Learning

Organizational learning recognizes that employees and teams learn valuable lessons from real-world experiences, challenges, successes, failures, and interactions. These experiences can include daily tasks, projects, collaborations, problem-solving, customer interactions, and adapting to unexpected situations. The knowledge gained through these experiences is often more contextually relevant and practical than that gained solely from formal courses.

Tacit Knowledge

Much of the knowledge gained through experiences is "tacit knowledge," that is, the unwritten, unspoken, and often hard-to-articulate understanding that comes from hands-on involvement. This kind of knowledge is deeply embedded in the organization's culture, processes, and practices, and it can be challenging to transfer through formal training alone.

Adaptability And Innovation

Organizational learning based on experiences enables the organization to become more adaptable and innovative. When employees regularly engage in problem-solving and decision-making based on real-world situations, they develop the skills and mindset needed to respond effectively to changes and to generate creative solutions.

Continuous Improvement

Learning from experience fosters a culture of continuous improvement. Teams and individuals can identify areas where improvements are needed and implement changes based on lessons learned. This contributes to the organization's ongoing growth and development.

Knowledge Sharing

Encouraging the sharing of experiences and lessons learned helps to disseminate knowledge throughout the organization. This can occur through informal discussions, storytelling, mentorship, and collaboration, allowing employees to benefit from each other's insights.

Learning From Failure

Experiences include both successes and failures. Failure, when properly analyzed and understood, can provide valuable insights into what went wrong and how to prevent similar issues in the future. Embracing failure as a learning opportunity can lead to more informed decision-making and risk management.

Contextual Relevance

Experiences are often specific to an organization's unique context, industry, and challenges. This contextually relevant learning cannot always be replicated through generic courses.

The idea that "organizational learning is about experiences, not just courses" underscores the importance of incorporating real-world experiences, interactions, and challenges into the learning process. By doing so, organizations can create a dynamic learning environment that promotes adaptability, innovation, continuous improvement, and the development of practical skills that are deeply rooted in the organization's culture and operations.

Want To Develop This Mindset?

As you can appreciate, one article will point you in the right direction, but it only scratches the surface of the positive impact your learning efforts can have on an organization. Force yourself to go deeper and grow into the value you know learning can deliver to your business. eLearning Industry is offering a course to accompany you in your professional development. Enroll in their course, "How to Sell eLearning to Internal Stakeholders" at a limited special rate.

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