workplace_learning

A model of workplace learning

My colleagues at Internet Time Alliance and I have been discussing new models for learning. Not that I am giving up on this one:

Experience is still a more important teacher in the workplace than classes or workshops. People retain more when they learn informally, in response to need, because they deem the subject relevant and what they learn is reinforced when they put it into practice. The proportions of formal and informal learning vary with the task at hand, the context for learning, and the psyche of the learner. Generally, informal learning carries anywhere from four to ten times the weight of formal learning.

The old model is a wake-up call that says informal learning is important. Instead of acting like it’s not there, we should shape our organizations to nurture it. What’s missing is the how. How do you choose the aspects of informal learning you want to emphasize? The model doesn’t tell you that. You’ve had to select from a separate menu of options, for example:


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The 70-20-10 model* is more prescriptive. It buildsĀ upon how people internalize and apply what they learn based on how they acquire the knowledge.

  • 70% from real life and on-the-job experiences, tasks and problem solving.
  • 20% from feedback and from observing and working with role models.
  • 10% from formal training.

I want a model that provides more depth and guidance.

Also, I want to emphasize that the desired outcome is not learning; it’s behavior change.

  • Behavior change entails more than mere learning. You can learn a lot but if you don’t apply it, it’s all for naught. Often learning is prescribed when the real issue is not lack of know-how but lack of motivation.
  • Often there’s an opportunity to inject knowledge into the job (performance support) instead of people’s heads (learning) or a mix to the two. It’s important to keep this trade-off in mind. (And it’s crazy to put responsibility for learning and for performance support in different silos because then no one makes the trade-off.)
  • When people are learning from experience, work and learning become indistinguishable. You get better at the job by doing the job. When learning is embedded in work, organizational culture makes a huge impact on learning. You can improve the overall learning platform, what I call a workscape, by tweaking cultural norms. This involves things like encouraging experimentation and tolerating mistakes, legitimizing conversation as work, making it easier for people to connect with one another, and providing pointers to expertise and expertise.

Here’s the new model:

The diagram is a work in progress. It’s beta. It’s an active topic of discussion forĀ Internet Time Alliance. What do you think? Does this make things easier to understand? How can we make it better? A next step will be assigning values to reflect the relative importance of each component.


* 70/20/10 learning concept was developed by Morgan McCall, Robert W. Eichinger, and Michael M. Lombardo at the Center for Creative Leadership and is specifically mentioned in The Career Architect Development Planner 3rd edition by Michael M. Lombardo and Robert W. Eichinger. I borrowed the description from Princeton’s HR department.

One thought on “A model of workplace learning

  1. Pingback: Learner Choice, Part 3, Interview with Bernard Bull #edtech #collablearning via @bdean1000 | thinkstitcher

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