Why Formal Learning Is Just Not Enough – The View From Charles Jennings

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Charles Jennings is a leading thinker and practitioner in learning, development and performance. He’s a vocal proponent and practitioner of the 70:20:10 model for learning, which places emphasis on the 90% of non-formal learning and development activities that drive performance. We caught up with him to talk about staying productive and smart in the workplace.

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I think there are huge opportunities for leveraging learning as part of the daily workflow. There are, of course, some challenges in first making the required change of mindset – to see learning as part of work and not apart from work, but once that’s been achieved the world of learning through work opens up. There are some additional challenges, such as those for managers and team-leaders to take on the role of supporting learning as a daily process and not seeing learning and development of their teams as a trade-off against delivering operational excellence. There is no trade-off for managers and team leaders – both operational excellence and developing your people are equally important. If you don’t hit your targets your short-term future is in jeopardy. If you don’t develop your people, your organisation’s long-term future is in jeopardy.

Moving in this direction can also be a challenge for learning professionals who perceive themselves as only being responsible for the ‘10’ – structured learning. The message to them is that for new people in their organisation, structured courses are usually important, to get them started – but formal learning alone won’t get them to high performance. For that they need lots of experiential and social learning – the ‘70’ and ‘20’ in the 70:20:10 approach. Learning professionals have a responsibility to support that learning, too.

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I’m seeing more use of workplace learning across all the organisations that I work with. The drivers are the need to support innovation, because formal learning is often too slow to respond and is a lag rather than a lead; the need to support agile working and rapidly changing circumstances; and the need to support learning more efficiently (less costly), and more effectively (focus on results).

The real challenge for people is sorting wheat from chaff, and finding the relevant needles in the haystacks. One way to do this is to focus on the outputs – improved performance. The main driver for any type of development is improved performance – to do our jobs as best we can – so performance support is generally more important than ‘learning’ in that endeavour, although the latter emerges from experiences and working with others.What is really needed is easy access to people and tools that can help us get work done well.

Some things that I’ve seen work well is the movement towards campaigns (and away from individual courses), work narration, micro-blogging amongst professionals and storytelling to share successes and failures and to help learn from feedback and reflection.

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New roles are emerging for L&D professionals in a more informal, social, 70/20/10 landscape. We need curators and community managers rather than designers, developers, and deliverers of courses. there is a need for new mindsets and for new capabilities right across L&D (and beyond).

70/20/10 is about looking at the business problems you’re trying to solve and finding the most appropriate and best way to solve them. It’s focused on performance outcomes. Sometimes a course might be the best way to help improve individual, team or organisational performance, but more often it will be learning in the workflow. That means L&D needs to look at new ways to deliver value. So we need roles and skills such as “Performance Detectives”, who do performance consulting work, including business analysis, performance analysis and root cause analysis. We also need Performance Trackers – people who work with stakeholders to define the right performance metrics based on stakeholder needs. Then we need Performance Architects – designing solutions, along with Performance Master Builders who put the solutions together. There’s also a need for Performance Game Changers, people who can drive change and oversee implementation of new ways of working and performing in an organisation. We can also do a lot to support performance in terms of making sure people are interconnected socially, learning socially and so on. It’s really all about change – culture change, behaviour change and performance change. Not many organisations get this yet.

The opportunities though expanding learning into the workplace and focusing on performance rather than learning alone are huge. Line managers are the lynch-pins for creating a culture of continuous learning and performance improvement in the workplace.

There’s a significant challenge for L&D people here too. In the past L&D managers haven’t really challenged managers. They’ve been taking orders, fulfilling requests for courses. They haven’t been carrying out performance consulting, examining the root causes of underperformance, for instance looking at the sales performance and figuring out what’s really needed for improvement. It’s what people have called a ‘conspiracy of convenience’ – for instance a sales manager says “I have a training problem, train my people”, in response L&D provides formal training, nobody measures the impact, nothing happens, everybody’s happy. It’s a convenient conspiracy. I think those consultative skills are really critical, you have to be able to examine, challenge and have different options to offer beyond the course. Often there’s a capability challenge around knowing what the options are, many L&D professionals haven’t been exposed to social learning or other forms of workplace learning to help performance beyond the course. Focus on developing a culture of continuous improvement – and demonstrate that culture from top-down. Get the right metrics in place – focus on performance metrics.

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I find it essential to stay on top of new information in the field. If I didn’t, like everyone, my knowledge and capability would quickly become an irrelevance. I do it through continual conversations, exposure to new thinking, new people, new approaches. Staying on top of all the new information can be difficult, but I try to manage it by reading what leading practitioners and thinkers are doing and thinking, by reflecting, through conversations, questioning, exploring etc. I also read my Twitter stream every morning, and also review a customised set of Flipboard channels.

I make sense of new ideas by testing new knowledge/ideas with people I trust (especially where they have my trust in both their competence and their benevolence), by trying things out, getting feedback, trying again.

My one tip for people trying to stay on top of information? Try to live with less sleep!! Failing that, use your social network and your personal knowledge management tools wisely.

Find out more about Charles’ new book and programmes on 70:20:10 here.



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