Thursday, July 27, 2017

Work-Based Learning (Book 27 of 30)

Title: Work-Based Learning: Bridging Knowledge and Action in the Workplace
Author: Joseph A. Raelin

I've hinted in at least one previous recent post at the importance of learning how to learn.  I know what you're thinking: "Don't we learn that in school, from kindergarten to the highest levels of formal education?"  I would argue that most of what we refer to as formal education is focused on "learning how to study" rather than "learning how to learn."  Knowing how to study well serves us in school, but once we are in the workforce, the transition to work-based learning can be difficult or nonexistent.

Even when we hear about lifelong learning, it often refers primarily to continuing education, meaning taking classes to learn a new skill, acquire a professional certification, read books, listen to podcasts, etc.  It may refer to workplace training which can occur throughout a career.  In most cases, lifelong learning does not address experience-based workplace learning.  This book, Work-Based Learning, is focused on precisely that: How to effectively learn from our experience in an organizational context.
"... learning has to become a way of life in our organizational enterprises.  As such, it has to become more than the sum of everyone's individual learning; it needs to become shared as part of an organizational ethic.  That ethic requires the organization to deliberately unseat itself in order to cope with change, in order to "get smarter faster" (p. 1).
" There are three critical elements in the work-based learning process: 1. It views learning as acquired in the midst of action and dedicated to the task at hand. 2. It sees knowledge creation and utilization as collective activities, wherein learning becomes everyone's job. 3. Its users demonstrate a learning-to-learn aptitude, which frees them to question underlying assumptions of practice" (p. 2).  
Related Resources
Some aspects of workplace learning or work-based learning were already addressed in Amy Edmondson's book, Teaming, which focuses on learning in teams.  Another book on my shelves that fits in the same category is Work Group Learning: Understanding, Improving and Assessing How Groups Learn in Organizations.  This volume is a collection of papers by various authors, edited by Valerie Sessa and Manuel London.

There is an excellent "Learn how to learn" MOOC online developed by Professors Oakley and Sejnowski from the University of California, San Diego (offered through Coursera).  You can get a sense of the approach by finding Dr. Oakley's TEDx Talk on the subject.   While I find the focus of Dr. Oakley's approach to be the individual student and "learning how to study," there are some principles and techniques that can be applied to personal knowledge management beyond the context of formal education and studying.

At the other end of the spectrum you will find Jane Hart who is a strong critique of formal training and traditional Learning & Development (L&D) in organizations and advocates a much more informal approach to learning.  I've taken one of her online courses and thoroughly enjoyed it (translation: I learned a lot).  I've also mentioned Jane in a prior post when discussing Informal Learning, by Jay Cross.

Insight: This is a book I acquired a while ago and I need to re-read it in light of my more recent experience.  Experience transforms how we read and interpret information.  As previously mentioned, we learn by making connections between our existing knowledge and newly acquired information.  New experiences and what we learn from them change the way we interpret new information, including information transferred through books like this one.  It seems that 90% of what I have written this month in these book-related blog posts was based on a reinterpretation of what I remembered from those books based on more recent experience.

I also like this article from Prof. Raelin:  "I don't have time to think!" vs. the Art of Reflective Practice, REFLECTIONS, Vol. 4, No. 1, (2002).  It should be required reading for busy project managers.

  • Create lists of related resources for key topics, including work-based learning, to integrate in relevant presentations, training materials and mentoring.

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