Rethinking organizational learning

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I will appeal to the memory of those who have some grey hair. Do you remember when there were Microsoft Word courses in companies? That’s to say, to use Microsoft Word, people underwent training. That wasn’t long ago. However, today it seems bizarre to us.

In a rapidly changing world that brings new business and management challenges, we all feel the impact stirring us up in all functional fields. We must change the way we manage so we can adapt to new parameters: speed, transparency, experience, perceived value, etc. For those of us who operate in people management departments, the new demand from our internal customers challenges us and drives change. In these changing times, we must then rethink all the key processes. Among these, processes that ensure collective learning require special attention since they are the basis for evolution in organizations.

We detect 5 fundamental factors that impact learning processes:

  1. The person as the protagonist
  2. Speed of business change
  3. Digitization
  4. The value of an individual’s time
  5. Change in the individual and collective learning process


  1. The person as the protagonist

In this new world marked by a new paradigm, the person occupies a central place: the client as much as the employee. Previously solutions were thought up from the company for the person, whereas today we must turn this process around and think from the person and design devices in which autonomy and decisions are centred on the collaborator.

Learning processes in organizations have been designed and managed based on a parent-child relationship with the collaborator. In this new world, the relationship is an adult-adult one. This implies that I must understand what the collaborator needs, when, how, and then from there come up with solutions.

To support us in this new approach we use new tools: people analytics and design thinking processes, among others, allow us to understand more about the people for whom we must put forward solutions.

  1. Speed of business change

As Gary Hamel says, “Change itself has changed” . The business world moves at another pace, as it is a global, interconnected, uncertain and complex world. Today organizational agility is the basis for the survival of companies, regardless of their business sector in which they operate. There is no organizational agility without people changing and people do not change if there is no organizational agility—the chicken and egg conundrum again. So, organizations need people with agility in learning as well as devices that facilitate individual and collective learning. All of this, fast. If we aren’t agile, we miss opportunities.

This need for agility to accompany business changes means that we, in Training departments, embrace learning methodologies equivalent to lean start-up approaches: we think up a solution, generate a prototype and test it. We can no longer halt to create the perfect project: it is better to make and learn from mistakes… but with the machine up and running.

  1. Digitalization

Obviously today technology enables a series of alternatives that were previously impossible for us. Just think of, for example, an organization with 10,000 technicians 30 years ago and the need to train them up in a new technology to solve a technical issue: thousands and thousands of face-to-face trainings, train-the-trainer trainings, a couple of years of implementation. Nowadays we reach 10,000 technicians through digital channels all at the same time; we reach every of them, we can listen to them and exchange opinions, and in just a few days we have the entire universe updated and upskilled.

Such new channels are much more agile, democratic, effective. This demands new skills from people who work in fields to do with learning s, in order to develop these learning devices swiftly and effectively.

  1. The value of an individual’s time

Time is a dimension that has been completely redefined in the new paradigm; not only in the speed of business transformation, as we discussed earlier, but also in the importance of time for people. In the previous paradigm, collaborators’ time belonged to the company. In the current paradigm, time belongs to people themselves and it is very valuable. Therefore, we must be careful how we use our collaborators’ time: if we summon them for something, they must have a rich experience and feel that the time spent brought them value. If they perceive it as a waste of time, we will not be effective.

Training departments must change the formats in which they work (many hours of face-to-face courses) to focus on preserving the collaborators’ personal time.

  1. Change in the individual and collective learning process

Obviously today people learn differently.

  • There is much more self-management in the individual learning processes. Self-management is a characteristic of the new paradigm.
  • There is more peer learning. The other person becomes a valuable resource (this explains how peer mentoring programs grow).
  • Learning is more collaborative: we learn together. Learning processes are no longer based on the old teacher-student model (one who knows and one who doesn’t); they have become explorer-explorer models.

These 5 factors impose great change in the organizational learning processes.

The challenge is to unlearn

Most undoubtedly if we want to add value to the collaborator and the business, the hardest task that we must confront, as learning specialists, will be to unlearn.

We are immersed in a world that offers us new possibilities while demanding new approaches. Yet it changes the way people learn and what variables make them enjoy, engage and take ownership of content.

We will have to take on an individual and group reskilling process in training centres for HR professionals that are far from thinking over such problems. We cannot propose “Microsoft Word courses” anymore.

As in business, this era’s challenge for learning lies in innovation.


[1] Hamel, Gary, What Matters Now, Jossey Bass, 2012


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