How to create a ‘learning culture’ with 1 easy step

People learn, and learn all the time. The idea that people don’t want to learn or that an organisation doesn’t have a ‘learning culture’, is a lie spread by L&D that can’t work out why no one wants to book on their courses.

I watched a bizarre video this week where Occupational Psychologist Peter Honey compares ‘learners’ (i.e. everyone) to horses. ‘You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink’.

There’s a simple explanation for why people don’t want to consume most of what L&D cooks up. The fare is not palatable i.e. it’s a bad experience and/or is not very useful. Despite your best intentions, if you set out to build anything primarily to please your stakeholders, whatever you serve will be spat out.

Stakeholders will have an opinion on the solution to a particular problem, but it’s probably wrong. Besides, you’re the L&D professional so why are they dictating how to solve capability issues? The good news is that it’s difficult for stakeholders to argue with the views of the customer they’re trying to serve.

If you actually speak to the target audience, they can tell you what they are finding difficult or are anxious about. This creates a ‘pull’ to your learning product or experience: the intrinsic motivation that is lacking in the traditional ‘top-down’ approach. This is basic Design Thinking and I thoroughly recommend you take a look at IDEO’s Human-Centred Design Toolkit for more on this.

The important thing to remember (and to explain to stakeholders) is: ‘learners’ don’t care about you or the organisation, they only care about themselves.

I’ve adapted this statement from Joe Pulizzi’s Content Marketing blog where he writes:

“The first rule of content marketing is to understand that your customers only care about themselves. Once we realize that as content marketers, we can effectively develop a content plan to talk about valuable, relevant and compelling content that the customer would be interested in (focused on their pain points).”

The concept of creating a ‘learning culture’ or ‘driving self-directed learning’ is a red herring. These goals are driven by the organisation which is only interested in stuff it can control or at least monitor. If someone speaks to the person next to them, or Googles something they’re struggling with, they’re learning. Just because you can’t take credit for it, doesn’t mean it’s not happening.

Your learning culture is already there. People not wanting to do an eLearning module or who opt to do their day job rather than attend a classroom training is not evidence to the contrary.

Rather than designing more training to create a learning culture, you would do better to resign tomorrow. After a few months people would figure out how to identify learning opportunities in your absence. Problem solved. My view is that the presence of an L&D department which spoon feeds training, undermines the very culture of learning you are trying to develop.

To be effective we need evolve what we think of as L&D. Focus on creating a good employee experience and applying Design Thinking to the organisation as a whole. You will soon discover that there’s heaps of work to do, but it’s more about helping people do their jobs than massaging the egos of your stakeholders.

Disagree? Let’s chat. Also, let me know if you spot any spelling mistakes 🙂

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