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Shift the Way You Think about Learning

December 1, 2015

 

Xerox is on the leading edge of reshaping the learner mindset with their Community Managers Program, but there are too few other organizations ready to take this bold step.  To help us move the needle forward, here are four shifts we need to make in our mindsets and in the minds of our learners.

  1. Move away from learning events and move to learning being a process.

  2. Move people from being only consumers of learning to becoming producers of learning.

  3. Move learning from being an isolated personal occurrence to a collaborative practice.

  4. Move learning leaders from a role of encouraging learning to architecting it.

Let’s look at each of these in more detail.

 

1. From Learning Events…to Learning as a Process 

Learning and training often occur within the context of a singular event, such as a training class to bring people into compliance with a new policy.  But what happens once that event is over?  Does learning stop?  Sometimes.  Should it stop?  Of course not.

 

Instead of the learning stopping, we have to stop conducting learning and training in isolation of daily work, as though the topics and time spent in pursuit of knowledge have no bearing on the jobs that people do every day.  We have to start making learning an embedded part of the typical workday, something that occurs seamlessly as people complete daily tasks.  Adults value context and personal experience when learning; we need deliver learning that meets these expectations.

 

Learning is an ongoing process.  In fact, I hope we can all say that learning is never done.  It is a constant pursuit, and one that we should help our organizations embrace as we revamp how we help people pursue knowledge and insights.

 

2. From Consumers…to Producers

When it comes to corporate learning and development, employees typically play the role of consumer.  They peruse the virtual shelves of your e-learning catalog, or thumb through the list of upcoming training courses while getting a cup of coffee.  In a word, they take.  But what if we want them to give, too?  What would that do to your learning framework and mindset?

 

If you look at learning as a cyclical process, people not only take, they also give.  When people teach someone else or share what they know with colleagues, they further develop their own skills.  Their knowledge is reinforced, their assumptions are tested by questions from the learners, and they build even deeper understanding of their areas of expertise.  We lose untapped learning potential by not having our employees be producers of learning in addition to consumers. 

 

I understand that this can be a scary concept—to let go of the reins and allow the control to be in the hands of learners.  However, I believe the benefits of having our learners be producers of learning as well, far outweigh the concerns we may initially feel about giving up control.

 

3. From Isolation…to Collaboration

Learning can be a lonely pursuit.  Learning can also be a collaborative, engaging practice that pulls people together.  I think it’s up to us as learning and training professionals to change how we and others view learning, going from a mindset of learning as a singular pursuit accomplished by individuals, to a mindset that views learning as a collaborative endeavor tackled by peers throughout an organization.

 

The virtual world of social learning flour­ishes when people work together, build community, and collaborate with one another.  We can help our learners get to this point by providing them with a way to openly and willingly spread knowledge, skills, and know-how among colleagues.  One way to accomplish this is by having people give positive feed­back about each other’s collaboration style.  A common set of positive adjectives, such as inquisitive, pragmatic, innovative, or responsive, could be used so that people start to build their virtual reputations as social learning collaborators.

 

By focusing on positive feedback only, people can emphasize the strengths that a colleague brought to the social learning environment.  I created the following list of positive attributes for you to use and to help you get started (see Table 1).  Simply ask your learners to choose three adjectives to describe a colleague’s collaborative style.  For example, “I think of [insert the person’s name] as…”  After they have chosen three descriptors, ask people to include personal comments for the individual.  The goal is to give people a chance to share genuine feedback and appreciation for one another, which in turn will help create a positive collaborative environment.

 

Table 1. Positive Collaboration Attributes

 

 

4. From Encouraging Learning…to Architecting It

I know we all do our best to encourage learning—from being a cheerleader for new learning initiatives to being an active participant in training courses relevant to our own development.  But what if we move away from encouraging learning, and instead use that energy to actually architect a learning environment?  What would that mean for you?  What would change for you?

 

In a 2014 CEB report [1], authors Thomas Handcock and Duncan Harris encourage just that—move from encouraging learning to architecting it.  But what does this really mean for you on a daily basis?  Simply put, architecting learning means building a learning environment with the right structure already in place so that it can sustain itself without you having to be in the middle of it.  Truth be told, I think we need to get out of the way and let our learners be the center of learning, not us.

 

Tips for Success

Accomplishing any of these shifts can be challenging, but it can be done.  To emulate the innovative Community Managers Program at Xerox, and to start shifting the mindset of your participants in social learning, consider these tips.

 

1. Make it official. Xerox asks their Community Managers Program participants to sign a contract to help make their commitment to the program official.  “We add this formality because it is part of a certificate program.  We are looking for a commitment from people who become our community managers—not just a promise to complete their training, but also a pledge to be a part of future social learning communities they will run,” Antonelli said.  Having a signed contract from your participants lets everyone know this is an important endeavor that is being taken seriously at all levels of the organization.

 

2. Give guidelines. To make social learning a collaborative process that allows people to be producers as well as consumers of knowledge, you need to set some parameters that will help guide your participants.  Maybe you want people to spend 20-30 minutes a day on social learning activities, or maybe you want them to post at least three times a week to help spur conversation.  Perhaps you want learning groups to only last six weeks so that topics stay fresh and relevant, or perhaps you want people to follow specific agenda considerations.  Whatever the factors are that suit your organization, be sure to write them down and communicate them to your participants so that everyone knows what to expect and what is being asked of them.

 

3. Reward accomplishments. “People love their badges,” said Antonelli.  “In corporate learning, you don’t normally get anything other than a completion.  By giving them a badge, it gives them a sense of gratification and accomplishment that can be missing from other learning activities.”  When someone receives a Level 2 or Level 3 certification, Antonelli also takes the time to share the news via an email to several key players: the person’s boss, their boss’s boss, and program sponsors (e.g., the VP of HR and the VP of Learning).  Sharing this good news with influential colleagues helps make each person’s commitment to the program that much more worthwhile.

 

If you missed part one of this blog series, be sure to read it here.

(Full article originally published in the October 2015 issue of Training Journal.)

 

 

[1] Handcock, T., and Harris, D. (2014). “Preparing Learning and Development for the Future,” (CEB).

 

About the Author

Randy Emelo is Founder and Chief Strategist of River, a social learning software company.  His new book, Modern Mentoring, is now available from ATD Press and via Amazon. He can be contacted at randy.emelo@riversoftware.com.

 

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