For something that the majority of us would, I very much hope, see as a Good Thing, it’s surprising how often education is a butt of jokes or derisory remarks. One of the most familiar is probably ‘The Ivory Tower’ – originally a Biblical phrase suggesting noble purity, but for the last few centuries used as a criticism of academics to indicate a wilful lack of worldliness or of ‘real world’ applications. (If you work in a discipline or function that a University would position as a Humanities or Social Science area, they mean you.)
Those of us involving in workplace learning and professional development should be more than aware that ‘our’ kind of education has left the Ivory Tower. The classroom is no longer some kind of ‘holy’ place where employees congregate – no pun intended – to have learning bestowed upon them. The future of organisational learning will be WISE – Workplace, Informal, Social and Experiential – even if it might take a while for the actual individuals to merit the adjective.
Those of you who are already familiar with ASK’s approach and methodology may already be aware that amongst our passions is a commitment to ‘asking the right questions’. In times of change and of debate, doing so is doubly important: if debate is required, asking the right questions enables it to be informed. While we may individually have preferences for ‘analysis’ or ‘feeling’, an absence of answers must to some extent mean that we are not really seeing the things that we are responding to.
One such arena is organisational learning and development, where training activity is no longer so focused on the classroom. This change has many drivers – the advent of online technologies and the role of innovations such as the internet, wi-fi and handheld devices in delivery, a growing pressure for ‘on-demand’ learning (possibly influenced by lean production approaches), and budgetary pressures, which recent years have only amplified.
Every two years, the UK Learning Transfer Survey seeks to look beyond the academic research on learning transfer to identify the actual practices of learning and development professionals and their organisations. The results of the 2012 UK survey – a full copy of which you can request from our website – provide compelling evidence that, although learning transfer has become established as a mainstream activity in most organisations, the dash to technology-enabled training observable in the organisational learnscape may threaten that progress as trainers seek to re-define their role for the digital era.
Reported usage of 66 surveyed practices, all shown in empirical research to have a positive impact on learning transfer, was up by an average of almost 6% since the previous survey in 2010, although some practices increased in usage while others fell – and individual practices show wide patterns of variability in application.
Another year, another train, another exhibition hall and yes, another trade conference. I was in London’s Olympia for the Learning Technologies and Learning and Skills 2012 Conference. Most ‘industry events’ act, at the most superficial level, as a kind of barometer: the level and enthusiasm of those in the hall can speak volumes, even if you don’t listen to the actual words.
Encouragingly, the event was packed: unless vast droves of the HR and L&D professions are fearing imminent redundancy and are taking any opportunity to network furiously, the implication is that learning has not fallen either from fashion or from organisational budgets. It would, however, be unwise to overlook the ‘jackdaw’ effect of technology. In the learning arena, this effect is arguably doubled – the possibilities of each new technology as a medium for learning (and for quite a wide range of present participles, come to think of it …) brings the possibility of fresh excitement to existing themes, while the possibility of delivering learning (and yes, that does make it sound like milk or groceries) to a large, geographically dispersed audience without travel costs, with fewer trainers and no travel budget understandably brings a rare glint to the usually steely eyes of budget holders.