28 May 2019

Learning on the Job – Yeah Right!

Learning on the Job – Yeah Right!

The 70:20:10 concept to learning at work is well established in our larger organisations in New Zealand. You may remember the idea that 70% of our learning is on the job and the rest is from learning from others and courses.

It emerged out of the Center for Creative Leadership (CCL) in the 90’s as a response to changing workplaces. It was also a reaction to the realisation that not all learning was formal and that learning and work were becoming intermingled. Not really a radical concept today, but it was considered somewhat innovative twenty years ago.

Seems like a pretty sensible idea you might think. Unfortunately, it is also a seriously flawed concept in today’s workplaces.

It is a unsound idea in practice because:

  1. 70:20:10 is too often used to justify cutting learning and development budgets. This is done without accommodating the new learning strategies needed to support learning on the job.
  2. Sending employees on fewer (or shorter) off the job training opportunities does not mean that they will learn better on the job instead.
  3. As a rule, busy workers involved in continual changes and restructures don’t learn well on the job. They tend to stick to what they know.
  4. Few organisations have invested in teaching adult learning principles to their employees. This is a shame because these principles help them take responsibility and manage their own learning.
  5. Some types of learning are challenging and require safe practice and experimentation.
  6. Busy workplaces make taking time to reflect (a necessary part of learning) much more challenging.
  7. Not many employees understand how their own mindsets and mental hard-wiring influence where they focus their attention. This in turn, determines how learning flexible they are
  8. There is still a confusion between training and development. This leads to a separation of what is considered “real work” and learning. (Real work always wins.)

So, is learning on the job a bad idea? No, of course not. We are great advocates of action learning. The concept of action learning sometimes known as “learning while doing” was developed by Professor Reginald Revans.

With action learning you start with a problem or issue and in the process of tackling it; the participants experience learning. This may not be anticipated but it is often more profound than the learning which is predetermined.

This type of learning is about:
• Using the day-to-day work experience as a learning vehicle.
• It is about working on real management and leadership issues that make a difference to strategy implementation and performance.

That is pretty attractive from a learning perspective so employees can be more motivated to work on key relevant practical business issues. This is contrary to the theory of getting your business outcomes achieved and learning at the same. This is very attractive.

This type of learning can work well with individuals. However, in our experience it works best when working with others. The most powerful learning emerges from within the individual based on their real experience as a process of reflection through the learning group.

We believe there are three main areas for companies to focus on in order to optimise learning on the job across the organisation.

Firstly, organisations need to work on their leadership culture. Leaders who invest their time in coaching, providing authentic feedback and in developing their co-workers create the right supportive learning environment.

Secondly, employees can be empowered with learning knowledge, skills and tools to help them reflect and get the most out of their experiences.

Thirdly the organization’s HR, Talent and development processes need to be aligned and supportive of learning on the job.

Getting organisational value out of “learning on the job” requires the right leadership culture.