I am currently doing work around on-the-job learning. Trying to define what constitutes "on-the-job learning" has turned into an interesting exercise. On the face of it, anything that you might learn while doing your job is on-the-job learning. You might also define it by articulating what it's not. Anything that requires you to leave your work to go attend some "training" may involve learning but it's not "on-the-job" even if it's sponsored by your workplace.
Some on-the-job learning is planned and intentional (mentoring, coaching, stretch assignments, etc...) but most of it happens in the flow of work and may be unconscious. In the past few weeks I've come across many variations without coming any closer (yet) to a definition. How does on-the-job training (as opposed to on-the-job learning)? Is it different? It would seem that something like an apprenticeship would be closer to on-the-job training.
What about action learning? Is that a form of on-the-job learning?
According to the World Institute for Action Learning (WIAL), action learning can be defined as "a process that involves a small group working on real problems, taking action, and learning as individuals, as a team, and as an organization. It helps organizations develop creative, flexible and successful strategies to pressing problems."
The main difference between what is traditional seen as on-the-job learning and action learning may be the team dimension of action learning. The same can be said of many knowledge management practices, including After-Action-Reviews. They focus on team or group-level learning.
What about action research? Is that the same as action learning? Is that a form of on-the-job learning? Does the word "research" make it sound more scientific and rigorous?
This is where we need to define "on-the-job." If "on-the-job" means in the process of one's daily job, then action learning and action research might not fit the bill. While they are meant to address real, practical problems, they appear to be separate from the normal workflow. But then, the same could be said of mentoring and coaching.
How about experiential learning? That might get things even more mixed up because people delivering training might argue that they make it "experiential."
I'm quite lost at this point. What if "on-the-job learning" is a useless label?
On May 25th, the Knowledge Management Community of DC is hosting Dr. Bea Carson for a session on Action Learning. Dr. Carson is an author, speaker and expert in the field of Action Learning.
I look forward to it since I am personally quite confused about some of what I perceive as artificial boundaries between disciplines and overlapping terminology.