About Me

Education, the knowledge society, the global market all connected through technology and cross-cultural communication skills are I am all about. I hope through this blog to both guide others and travel myself across disciplines, borders, theories, languages, and cultures in order to create connections to knowledge around the world. I teach at the University level in the areas of Business, Language, Communication, and Technology.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Work at learning; learning at work

Michelle Martin is hosting the work/learning carnival this month with the topic of work at learning; learning at work. In it, Michelle asked us to write about keeping motivated to learn in the work place.

Perhaps because "learning" is my work, and the group I have been studying is also in the "learning" business, I don't see that there is a problem with workers being motivated to learn. Perhaps the problem is more identifying and measuring worker learning.

With very few exceptions, workers are learning every day as their situation changes. There is continually new technology, new policies, new problems, new co-workers, new clients and customers, that a worker faces and needs to adapt to. The problem is that companies want their workers to learn new discreet information that may not apply (at that time or ever) to those situations that face workers every day.

I feel there needs to be a better way of preparing workers for learning and better measures for the informal learning workers do as they adapt to new situations.

For example, when I worked as a market researcher for the natural gas industry, I picked up a lot of information not only about how the pipelines were connected and which companies used natural gas and those that did not, I also learned a lot about the "politics" of the energy industry. Even now, as I hear about the price of oil, the price of gas, the effect of hurricanes on the energy industry, there are also a deeper understanding of the relationship between consumers, suppliers, developers, refiners, and transporters (pipelines, ships, trucks, etc...).

This understanding of the politics, however, was not recognized until I left the job and those in charge suddenly became concerned that I was leaving and taking this information with me, something that could not be contained in the computer or even passed on to other workers. The problem, as I see it, was the bosses were measuring my learning using performance data (# of phone calls made, # of completed questionnaires). They did not recognize that the conversations I had with interviewees were learning moments for me, developing my understanding of the industry (which I had no knowledge of before starting the job).

So this is what I would suggest we start looking at (and asking workers to document) to assess their learning:

  • New understanding of the industry in which they work
  • Prediction of where their work will be in the next quarter
  • Summary of resources (personal, written, electronic) they they use during a given time period
  • New skills or techniques they learned during the quarter
  • New contacts they made during the quarter
  • Suggestion of the areas they would like to learn more about and why
Not only does this make sense in terms of knowledge, it also makes sense in management. Once workers are recognized for the learning they have accomplished, they will be more motivated to take some time out of their schedule to learn more, thus creating a learning cycle.

The problem is to convince management to reward this type of learning and to have workers take the time out to document their (informal) learning.

2 comments:

Dave Ferguson said...

I think it was Tom Gilbert who said, "People don't do what management expects; they do what management inspects.

it just makes sense: when an organization makes its priorities clear, when it has strong systems for feedback, when it adjusts its operation to account for changs in the environment -- and when it clearly communications all this to people in the organization -- then people know what matters about the results they produce.

This probably explains the durability of smile sheets, time-in-courses, and attendance headcount in the corporate world -- the organization has latched on to convenient measures. In other words, what gets counted, counts.

I'm not sure how the documentation would work, but you're definitely on to something in terms of encouraging workers to deliiberate reflect on what they do, what they've done, and the outcomes of those things.

That's part of the theory of goal-setting and performance review. I wonder if it'll ever make the transition into practice?

(And welcome to the Working/Learning carnival, Virginia.)

V Yonkers said...

Thanks, Dave. Back to your comment, most companies have annual reviews (or sometimes quarterly) to help determine promotions,etc...So, why couldn't informal learning (based on the criteria I laid out) be included?

Companies discovered in the 70's that simple quantitative analysis was not sufficient for financial or market research (look at the Coke's mistake with "new Coke"). Until they discover that the same thing is true with human resource planning and knowledge management, they will not be able to harness the knowledge in their organization to make them a stronger company.

I wonder if we did an in-depth analysis if we would find that those in the financial institutions who are solvent and successfully have weathered the current mortgage crisis have also learned how to manage knowledge in a more complex way. Looking at IBM and HP, they have been able to reinvent themselves through using their human capital resources.