Pervasive Learning: 5 ways to stay ahead of the game

If you’ve read our latest Insights Report you’ll know we’re talking a lot about what we call pervasive learning. And the chances are you’ve recognised it already in your organisation: learning that’s continuous, connected and community-based. It’s not trapped in an LMS or in books.

And as an L&D professional you may be wondering just what to do about it: whether to control or let go; and what on earth it means for your role. Never fear, over the next few months we’ll guide you with a series of practical tips to help your pervasive learning culture flourish. This month we focus on getting started: how to ge t ahead of the game and establish a pervasive learning culture.

1. Think beyond the learner

It’s traditional in L&D-speak to refer to your target audience as ‘learners’ as though at some mysterious point during the day they transition from being regular colleagues, involved in their daily work to being people suddenly engaged in learning. Now, if you really embrace the idea of pervasive learning, the term ‘learners’ starts to look a bit silly. And it can blinker your thinking about how best to support them. So how else to think of your audience? Well, people or colleagues is a good start. Or you could focus more specifically on roles or groups such as managers, sales people or new starters. That’s a good way of embracing the whole of their experience and development and getting out of the LMS-only mindset.

2. Align with your culture

It sounds obvious, but your people already have an established way of behaving at work. The key is to fully understand your culture and behaviours (and not just in the way it’s described on your company website) in order to come up with the strategy that’s right for you. Look hard at your values, your leadership behaviour, what’s worked or not worked in the past and even your social media policy if you have one. Here’s a great example of true alignment: We recently attended the Learning@Work conference in Sydney where Kelly Palmer, Global Leader of Learning at LinkedIn talked passionately about their belief in helping self-enable people to learn and develop as they follow non-linear career paths. Without heavy reliance on an LMS and tracking they embrace ideals such as trust and empowerment – but why does it work? Well, it’s strongly aligned with their culture – with values such as ‘act like an owner’ you can see why it fits.

Try to get your inspiration from within. Really get to know your audience (we’ll be talking more about conducting a digital learning needs analysis in upcoming tips). How do they naturally congregate and collaborate outside of the digital sphere? Is risk taking and mistake making encouraged and celebrated? If not, consider how smaller, more trusted groups of individuals might be more appropriate. How siloed are your teams? Is there an opportunity to encourage cross-team collaboration?

3. Bring out your experts and influencers

Ready to roll with a great new social networking strategy? Pushing people towards a great new digital channel? All fine, but what if your leaders are more pen and paper people who regard technology with suspicion? Doesn’t exactly set the right tone, does it? What you need are champions and evangelists. People who lead the way and show how it’s done. Of course your leaders and champions don’t have to be those in traditional positions of authority. Look for what Jay Cross calls the ‘shadow organisation’ – those informal influencers who can really inspire and set the tone. For any social channel to really get off the ground it relies on its content creators - roughly 10% of the audience. And you want that top 10% to be good, trusted authorities. At the same time, don’t fear or disregard the lurkers; let’s re-classify them as important readers and digesters of your content.

4. Spring clean your toolkit

Of course, facilitating productive pervasive learning is more than tools and gadgets but getting your head round the good ones – and especially free or open source tools that can be implemented quickly - will put you one step ahead. Some of our favourites include Skype for internal, just-in-time learning. By setting up groups, learners can chose who they trust sharing with. Google hangouts is a great collaboration tool at your fingertips – perfect for remote meetings and sharing ideas. If your people are more into Twitter and Facebook in their own time, consider using Yammer (an internal Twitter-esque tool) or a private Facebook group. If you’ve got a more visual, creative team something like Pinterest may already be on their radar. For a comprehensive list of the top learning tools of 2013, check out C4LPT’s popular list.

5. What’s the measure? Rethink your evaluation and assessment methods

A final point, but an important one. If you’ve decided to encourage the naturally creative and pervasive learning that exists within your organisation, take a second look at how you evaluate and assess learning. Will multiple choice tests based on course outcomes still cut it – or do you need to look more broadly for evidence of competence and development? Could you include contribution to forum discussions as part of an assessment? How about experience on the job? Can you harness the role of the coach or line manager to provide a more qualitative reflection of the true impact of learning? Think a) where will this behaviour most likely be demonstrated and b) how best can you capture it. It’s a good time to get your head round Open Badges and other, perhaps internal or accredited forms of recognition for what really matters.

Take it further

Find out how we’ve put this into practice in our recent case studies such as the award-winning City & Guilds Way. Want help understanding and facilitating the pervasive learning culture at your organisation? Talk to us today.

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