Living in an on demand world certainly has changed the way we expect to be able to access information, data, entertainment, and learning. People are no longer prepared to sit patiently through commercials or listen to a CD from beginning to end. We expect to access what we need, what we want, and what we enjoy directly, without any mental detours that “waste our time”. In the same way, workplace information flows are hugely demanding – in the course of a busy day we need to be able to navigate through the noise, the never-ending onslaught of emails and phone calls, and to put our finger on the answer in a matter of seconds and then, get back to what we were doing.
The concept of pervasive learning has recently gained much popularity among the emerging educational trends, and it appears to be here to stay. In this article, I’ll look at the basics and benefits of pervasive learning in the context of an organisation.
What Is Continuous And Pervasive Learning?
Continuous learning is anything that happens outside a physical (or virtual classroom). Pervasive learning means the knowledge your people need to perform is so present and so obvious they can’t help but absorb it and continue the learning process.
Continuous and pervasive learning are great concepts, but their execution goes against the grain of the way most businesses or schools currently think about training – which is usually an event, (sometimes with an assessment) at a fixed point in time. Pervasive learning means creating a culture that encourages your people to be continually exploring best practise, sharing ideas, and intelligently seeking answers to questions that arise in the everyday course of getting the job done. It’s a culture that practices learning as a process, anytime, anywhere, at any opportunity.
Pervasive learning shouldn’t be a fire hose of information that distracts your people from their task, nor should it be a timed sprinkler system that adds to the amount of information we expect employees to consume in a day – Pervasive learning is like a rain tank of learning and resources that your people are able to drawn on when they need it. It’s learning – on demand.
Aren’t We Already Doing Continuous Learning?
Most organisations would probably say they support continuous learning, but I would doubt whether many have any true idea of how to do it. Few would have a strategy or a method for it, and fewer still would have a platform or the ability to measure a continuous learning community. Charles Jennings’ 70-20-10 model is an important framework that may aid us in understanding more about pervasive learning. The model suggests that 70% of our education is from completing difficult tasks, 20% we learn from other people (teachers, mentors, experts,..), and the last 10% is derived from books, training courses, and other formal education sources. Therefore, you can see that most of our learning takes place outside of the classroom walls. 70.20.10 is great to start discussions around the what and the why, but how to make it happen takes a lot more than a mentoring program or acknowledging that people pick up a lot of what they need to know ‘on the job.’
Continuous learning is happening now, whether you’re conscious of it or not… it’s out there, happening. If you stop reading for a moment and reflect on how you’ve come to know about your role and your career, I guarantee most of it you’ve learned in ways other than in a classroom. We’re all learning continuously as we work.
If It’s Already Happening Do We Really Need To Formalise It?
You can let things run, sure, but learning is like anything (say a garden) – even if you want it to feel as natural as possible, if you don’t nurture it and become conscious as an organisation about the way it is happening and use the right technology (garden beds, soil and fertiliser) it will happen in its own way, grow wild and potentially perpetuate dangerous misinformation and behaviour (weeds and pests).
To see what a well-tended pervasive learning garden looks like, look no further than the social technologies people use to answer questions in life outside of the workplace or classroom. People are learning all the time through social and video content on YouTube, because that’s where they are connected and where they can connect with knowledge and gain the expertise they need. It’s fast, immediate and almost surprisingly efficient – usually in less than five minutes.
If social and organic search is how people expect to be able to learn and find information and we aren’t applying something that allows them to do that inside the business or school, then it’s impossible to say we’re an optimised learning organisation.
Is Pervasive Learning Efficient Or Just Another Distraction?
Businesses often talk about efficiencies and best practice, but at the crux they are about getting the most out of people in the time they have at work. If we don’t think about how to optimise that continual learning piece, then it’s fair to say your learning is happening in a less than optimal way.
Good examples of the need to facilitate and feed continuous learning are those commonly asked questions in the workplace. If you have an expert being asked the same question over and over again (plugging the same hole) and supplying the same answer each time, that’s an inefficient way to share knowledge.
If you tell people not to bother the expert, they will find their own answers to business problems through search engines such as Google and likely spend unnecessary time wading through hundreds of responses and answers that aren’t tailored to the business they are in. These scenarios are examples of untended pervasive learning that is inefficient, with time lost or spent making mistakes while trying to find the best answer.
The opportunity for pervasive learning is to make it something that creates value for your business, to enable continuous learning by providing the right answers for your people in a platform they find familiar – with powerful search and short, video based content, where they can ask a question and receive an answer in a timely manner, where that answer is then available to anyone else with the same question..
How Exactly Do You ‘Do’ Continuous Learning?
Successful continuous learning in a business will provide people with the features they need to capture and share knowledge easily and intuitively search organisational know how for the answers to their questions.
A successful system will allow:
• Search and find capability for organisational content and best practise (not a clunky intranet where you already need to know the answer in order to find what you need).
• A facility for fast digital responses to questions that can then become part of an organisations knowledge base.
• A community of experts actively filling knowledge gaps and providing relevant helpful content.
• Live chat or comment facilities that can speak the relevance and application of answers and information and facilitate collaborative problem solving.
• The sharing of information in a visually stimulating and easy to consume format. People expect to be able to find the answers they need in “snackable” video and visual forms – otherwise you will lose your audience to YouTube.
• Monitoring and measurement of the effectiveness of answers and pervasive learning systems. If people stop asking questions or accessing content they may not be learning at all and with the right platform you can see who’s not engaged and do something about it.
• Encouragement to participate and spend time on professional development and sharing expertise with others. This could be through gamification, social rewards or acknowledgement from peers or managers.
If your learning systems don’t tick all the boxes you’re probably not enabling continuous learning or promoting a culture of pervasive learning as well or as easily as you could be (or as well as todays incredible social technology will allow).
– Opinion piece contributed by Peter Davis, an expert learning consultant at Cadre and a passionate and experienced corporate Learning and Development professional specialising in the areas of informal learning and social learning. In previous roles he was responsible for bringing better learning practise and systems to major corporations around Australia including Westpac Bank and PWC.
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