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Modern Workplace Learning: Our Favorite Reading Picks

Few categories on getAbstract boast as many summaries of books, articles, and videos as the topic of workplace learning.

As a learning organization and a supplier of learning materials, we’ve witnessed and participated in the vast and fast changes the L&D discipline has lived through these past two decades. From learning’s evolution out of the classroom and onto computers and mobile devices, and from top-down processes to “free-range,” mobile learning, these summaries cover it all and more

Preparing for the Future of Learning

We don’t often recommend articles in these posts but for a topic like modern workplace learning, change occurs too fast to rely on books alone. In Preparing for the Future of Learning, authors Laura Overton and Genny Dixon provide the perfect introduction to the topic and to the recommendations below. This article summarizes a recent study involving more than 600 learning professionals. It gives you clear insight into the initiatives and plans of dozens of your peers and their firms, including much greater use of continuous, informal, self-directed and online learning (for employees and L&D professionals) and an emphasis on learning that aligns with business goals and strategy.

Leading a Learning Revolution

Even though Leading a Learning Revolution was published more than a decade ago, you’ll find it an inspirational place to start your exploration of modern workplace learning. The authors, learning leaders at the Defense Acquisition University (DAU), accomplished a level of learning transformation that most firms would envy even today; and they did it in one of the most bureaucratic and change-resistant environments imaginable: a US federal government agency serving the military. The DAU remains among the world’s best corporate universities. It was one of the first to link learning to business strategy and goals; to involve the customer in curriculum design; to emphasize continuous/lifelong learning; base decisions on data and evidence; encourage self-directed learning, and blend formal, informal, classroom and online learning.

Informal Learning

For decades, the world’s most respected adult learning leaders have turned to Jay Cross for his vision and insights. Indeed, while most firms and L&D professionals were still managing corporate learning as a top-down, formal process, Cross was writing about Informal Learning. Since then (2006), most experts and L&D professionals have realized the importance and benefits of self-directed, informal learning in the modern workplace. Cross was among the first to question the logic of putting people in classrooms and workshops at huge expense and questionable benefit. Even in 2006, peer learning, learning through social media, exploring the web, and accessing free and inexpensive courses online were emerging as alternatives. Cross’s advise: that L&D professionals switch from designing content to curating it, and to act as coaches who encourage “free-range” learners throughout the organization, remains as relevant as it was more than ten years ago.

Learning to Succeed

In Learning to Succeed, Goldman Sachs Chief Learning Officer Jason Wingard describes his “Continuous Integration of Learning and Strategy (CILS)” process. Wingard says we’ve entered “the Age of Learning,” and believes that for firms to succeed today they must align continuous learning with the business. He argues that at the highest levels – where organizations develop strategy – they should include the CLO so that learning is integrated within strategy from day one. Though the work of the L&D department changes under CILS, it takes on a larger, more important role in collecting and analyzing business-critical data and information, curating it into learning content in a variety of formats, and making sure that employees can access it to make better decisions and perform at higher levels.

Revolutionize Learning & Development

Like Wingard, Clark N. Quinn believes that workplace learning must result in one overarching outcome – better performance. In Revolutionize Learning & Development, he advocates a total overhaul of the L&D function, arguing that it needs to become “performance & development, or P&D” oriented. Quinn bemoans the lack of technology adoption in most firm’s learning systems, including the use of new, social learning tools. In Quinn’s ideal, L&D (aka P&D) professionals would spend their time coaching employees to better performance through learning. They would stop creating new learning content, and instead, become experts in finding existing material on the web and using technology to put it in the hands of employees who need it. P&D professionals would also emphasize learning evaluation and make decisions about learning based on data and evidence.

Building an Innovative Learning Organization

In Building an Innovative Learning Organization, author Russel Sarder points to General Electric, Google, Netflix, Starbucks, and PricewaterhouseCoopers as examples of modern learning organizations that others should model. He goes beyond descriptions to offer practical tips and guidance on how you can implement the best of what these and other firms have accomplished in becoming “learning organizations.” As Sarder points out, learning organizations attract and keep top talent; they emphasize coaching, autonomy, accountability and thus, they gain resiliency. Depending on your level of knowledge, you may not find much new in Sarder’s book, importantly though, he offers specifics, including how much you should spend, who should lead and dedicate time in building a learning culture, and how you should deliver learning content most effectively; all benchmarked against some of the world’s most successful firms.

Gamification

As Citi points out in Learning 2021, gamification has taken firm hold as a learning innovation, and will almost certainly continue to transform L&D at all levels. In Gamification, instructional technology professor Karl M. Kapp shares his deep knowledge of the topic in a manual-like guide to building gamification into your workplace learning content. He includes building gamification teams, and how-to encourage employees to embrace and follow the approach. As Kapp illustrates throughout the book, once workers discover they can learn and play at the same time they will embrace gamified learning and engage more often. After all, games turn flat information into dynamic, interactive, challenging and stimulating content. Moreover, in the data it produces, games-based learning gives L&D professionals deep insight into how employees learn, as well as into their personalities and traits.

More Picks

More than ever, today’s worker is on-the-go and in-the-flow. These three articles expertly explain today’s trends toward mobile and micro-learning that serve employees just the information and learning they need, when and where they need it. Connected Learning (2018) from the Brookings Institute offers a thorough but brief introduction to “m-learning:” the delivery of tailored, on-demand content to learners virtually anywhere in the world on their smart devices. Author Daniel West also explains how firms can collect valuable data from m-learning that helps them customize learning for each employee.

In A New Paradigm for Corporate Training (2018), learning guru Josh Bersin describes a related and important new trend, “learning in the flow of work.” Here, Bersin advocates breaking longer learning content into small, or “micro-learning” chunks. Doing so allows learners to maintain productivity while working. Rather than break away from their “flow,” learners access just the precise 2-3 minutes of learning content they need to keep producing.

Similarly, in Future-proof your workforce with microlearning (2017), education firm Grovo, explains why tiny chunks of learning content save employee’s time and firms’ money. In a business world that demands speed, constant learning, and choice, microlearning, delivered anywhere an employee happens to be – just when they need it – promises to revolutionize the way we learn at work, and perhaps throughout life in general.

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