Stop limiting your learners

planesPay-off: ideas and suggestions to improve learning in teams
Investment: < 5 mins

This post should be useful to L&D, leadership, and parents.

What are the most important and useful things you ever learned? I mean the things that really made a difference.

And how did you learn them?

My guess is, however you learned them, they became useful and important because there were tied tightly to your life. Perhaps you learned them because of something that happened (hindsight), and now this lesson is emotionalised and likely to be remembered for when you need it again…

…or you learned something that was immediately applicable. You applied it, noticed some degree of a ‘win’ and were drawn towards doing it again. Immediately useful, in learning, is good! You don’t need me to tell you that the longer we have to ‘carry the ball’ before using it, the longer we have to drop the ball. It seems many organisations are still ok with throwing money away on this.

Build it in

In short, effective learning is ‘built in’ to our lives and work. It always was. Learning done right should be part of the heart-beat of our lives. It can’t be isolated. Not any more. It has to be real, in your face, relevant and urgent. The ‘earning’ part of the word ‘learning’ needs to stand out more (I always see it as a silent ‘L’). And when done right, the fit and relevance should create some form of excitement as it makes total sense to the learner to be learning it.

Alas, in most organisations this isn’t always the case. A lot of the excitement around learning comes from those producing, creating or delivering. It may appear to help the business, but will it help the learner too? Because ultimately, it’s the learner who helps the business.

Learners must take it

And so it’s very hard to create this level of learning drive for other people. Effective learning can’t be given to you. You have to take it, own it, discover it, create it, and explore it. Unfortunately, most learners have not been helped to do this effectively. Effective learning requires a set of specific pro-active skills which you can develop to learn faster and more effectively. You can’t just provide a course or dump some content on someone and expect them to be productive about chewing through it.

Which is why more and more studies are finally proving the obvious – that most effective learning in organisations is informal and/or social. Learning can’t be done to us, it can only be done by us. If you’re reading this and feel it’s relevant, I rest my case.

Mind you, it’s not as if this hadn’t already been discovered:

“I never teach my pupils. I only attempt to provide the conditions in which they can learn” – Einstein

“The only kind of learning which significantly influences behaviour is self discovered learning’ – Carl Rogers

I don’t know, perhaps we’re not learning fast enough.

Improve it

But many years ago, I stepped into a world where I learned that having learning done by us is still not enough. Because there’s ‘learning’ the way we were led to believe is normal (which usually involves ambling through learning content and believing that we’re learning, and that we’ll magically change our behaviours from now on).

And there’s effective learning; the one that most people don’t know about, which involves informed strategic learning decisions and switching on various other aspects of the learning process like critical thinking, challenging and exploring ideas, holding the right conversations in the right ways, following a proven and optimised learning process, and so on. It’s this one that turns into new behaviours and results faster, and earns the rewards from the pre-agreed win:win between business and employee faster.

Please take note – some organisations tell me ‘most of our learning is self-directed’, like they’ve struck gold finally. But is it highly effective self-directed? Have the learners learned how to learn? There’s a big difference, and you won’t look for better alternatives if you think you’re ticking the box. Productivity, ROI, employee engagement, innovation and turnover and time will tell.

Empower them

There’s no doubt that the learner is in control of the quality of learning that takes place. They can switch it on, or drift onto auto-pilot and see what happens. It’s not just about the medium or content you’ve spent a fortune on. Adding humour and flashy animation won’t cut it. It’s about what’s going on in the learner’s mind. And once we understand our own personal relationship with acquiring and mastering new skills, knowledge areas and behaviours, (this absolutely requires a conversation to arrive at this point) we feel more empowered and excited to learn more to tackle, shrink or even eliminate our challenges ahead. That’s powerful.

And here’s more good news – the bottom line is that people generally want to learn. They want to do their jobs better, more easily, or more enjoyably. They want to do what it takes to earn themselves their desired rewards, whether they are extrinsic and monetary based or intrinsic (which tends to have a much bigger influence on our motivation).

So the learners are essentially ‘in’ on this. They’re ready. They want it. Certainly in my experience working with organisations on this over the last 12 years to help their learners learn more effectively and maximise the win:win between themselves and their organisation, most people welcome the idea of learning more effectively. In fact when I tell them I can help them with this aspect of their lives, they usually visibly light up. “Will it help me improve at sport?” only serves to improve the win:win between business and employee further.

So what’s stopping organisations getting this right? What’s getting in the way?

At this point we could knock out a long list of limitations including budget and buy-in from other people and blah blah blah, whilst sneakily leaving ourselves off the list.

It’s time now for organisations to address this directly. It’s time for someone to boldly step up and explore new options and ideas. It’s time for us to practice what we preach, and learn learn learn better ways. And that’s not me being over dramatic. It’s time now, because it will take time to create a learning culture in your organisation, and you might find that you left it too late.

People want to future-proof themselves and their career prospects as much as leaders want to future-proof their business (and their careers too), so now’s the time to learn and act.

Help people learn

And why do it all ourselves in L&D? Since this is about learners and leaders, and learning is done by us not to us, our role in L&D must surely be to connect and empower them all with our own expertise around learning? As Einstein said, we must create the conditions in which they can all learn how to do this. I see that as the main responsibility of L&D right now.

Leaders, as part of their leadership development must learn how people learn. Then they must support and empower their teams to do this effectively. Leaders must create teams that enjoy the benefits of conversations around “how can we learn to do this better?”

And once learners are empowered and have the tools to learn effectively, as well as alignment between their own desired rewards and the needs of the business, the best thing the team leader and L&D can do is step back out of their way.

In fact why not consider this simple five step plan:

  1. Help leaders/learners align their win:win with the business
  2. Help them understand how best to learn and maximise the win:win – best resources and models, how to retain long term, how to decide whether something must be learned, or just made accessible at the point of need, apps and technology, critical thinking applied to learning, how to challenge, how to be coached, how to coach peers and stimulate their learning, how to hold team improvement discussions, how to read, listen, engage, present information in an engaging and ‘learnable’ way etc) – all of this will empower and equip them
  3. Connect them via social media and an internal collaborative platform that enables them to share and rank the quality and relevance of content. And encourage informal learning, but help them structure what they learn with a system
  4. Get out the way
  5. Lean in occasionally with support to develop the above behaviours and bring more options to their awareness as well as help maximise the employee:business win:win

Employees want to discover better ways. And they will if we support them correctly and make it easier for them to do so.

So let me leave you with a question. If you’re involved in learning (and if you’re a parent this also applies) which of these are you:

Are you trying to get people to learn? Or are you helping your people to learn?

If you’d like help learning how to do this, visit my site here and contact me using the tab on the right. I’m now Southampton UK based (having moved back recently from Australia).

Good luck,


Scroll to Top