10 Strategies for Integrating Learning and Work

Tom Gram is Senior Director, Leadership and Business Solutions at Global Knowledge Canada. This post was originally published at his blog PerformanceXDesign and is reprinted with permission here.

  1. Understand the Job/Role as a System
    If you’re going to integrate learning with work, you had better understand the work. Watch people, talk to people, use appropriate analysis tools, and think like the performer. Understand their world, day to day pressures, tools they use (or could use), and how they use them. Understand the job inputs, processes, and feedback mechanisms for job incumbents.
  2. Link Learning to Business Process
    Once business processes have been identified (or made visible), process phases can be used to effectively embed relevant learning resources. All business processes contain “knowledge leverage points” — those points in the process where key information is needed for optimal performance.
  3. Build a Performance Support System
    Reduce the need for training (or eliminate it altogether) by providing information, decision tools, performance aids, and learning on-demand, using tools available at the moment they are needed. An excellent performance system becomes part of the task and complements human abilities (compensates for weaknesses and enhances strengths).
  4. Build a Community of Practice
    CoP’s are grounded in the communication and interaction between people as they solve shared problems. CoP’s create knowledge as much as they transfer it — an essential feature in effective knowledge work, and they foster informal learning focused on specific problem domains.
  5. Use Social Media to Facilitate Informal Learning
    Social media has been enormously popular in the public sphere but met with resistance inside organizations so far. Organizations are still worried that social media is a little too… well… social. However, what we’ve learned somewhere between learning 1.0 and learning 2.0 is that learning is also, well… social… and that the informal networked organization is as important as the formal structure for accomplishing valuable work.
  6. Implement a Continuous Improvement Framework
    Continuous Improvement (Kaizen) Kaizen is essentially the Scientific Method built into jobs and workflow. W. Edwards Deming translated the method to the Plan-Do-Check-Act Cycle at the heart of the Toyota system and most Quality approaches since the 1950’s. The PDCA cycle is as much a natural learning cycle as it is a work improvement methodology. But it is the “check” step that is the real driver of learning. It requires a meaningful measurement and feedback system. Without it improvement is nearly impossible.
  7. Use Action Learning
    Action Learning is essentially the PDCA cycle applied to personal effectiveness — Personal Kaizen if you will. It involves teams or individuals learning from experience. Again, the emphasis is on observing results from action and making adjustments.
  8. Use Organizational Learning Practices
    OL is broader than that label implies. It is usually focused on individual and team transformation through participating in systems thinking and tangible activities that change the way people conduct their work. It builds new capacities in individuals and teams that collectively begin to shape the culture and performance of an organization.
  9. Design Jobs for Natural Learning
    Natural (or incidental learning) involves a number of factors, but most powerful among them is the feedback we receive (or don’t receive) on the results of our actions. We intuitively use that feedback to adjust our actions, decisions, methods etc. to try to get it right the next time… in other words, we use feedback to learn… to get better at what we do and accomplish.
  10. Bring the Job to the Learning
    Broadly speaking the goal training is to compress on the job experience to bring people to standard as quickly as possible. Somehow over the years that goal has been reduced to lots of telling and very little “doing”. The last strategy is an appeal to bring structured experience back to formal learning. I don’t mean generic experience (like a management outdoor education or abstract team building exercises for example) but experiences based on authentic performance tasks.
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