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Five essential principles for learning organisations

Why five?

There are probably 10 or more but I would challenge most organisations to hold onto that many at the same time.

Even five may be too many but at least you can prioritise depending on what your own situation is at a given time.

Vision and leadership

Wait, are you cheating already – that’s two!  These two go hand in hand, a leader can’t lead unless they know where the organisation is going and they can’t take anyone with them if they cannot articulate that vision.

Strong leaders allow failure and reflection on failure to occur without necessarily finding a scapegoat.  It’s axiomatic that you’re not learning if you are already doing everything right.  As the pace of change accelerates, some things we did yesterday will not work today.  The leader sets the organisational tone here.

Top-down leadership is very common, even in flat organisations, but this is not the only kind of leadership there is.

Identify key stakeholders

Not only know who are the key stakeholders in your organisation but also give them a role in the decision-making process.  In particular, the education/training team will need to have this influence as they are the experts in maintaining the learning focus.

These people have first-hand experience of what is working and what is not and can thus have valuable input to the strategic vision for the organisation.

Efficient and effective learning and training is a competitive advantage.

Don’t let the tools dictate the learning

You have a website, a wiki, an LMS an office suite and so on.  If we put so much time and effort into setting up an LMS and all its courses, we want to use it.  However, it may not always be the best solution to the learning or training problem.  It is probably less useful for OHS, for example, than posters, warning signs or hands-on demonstrations (whatever the LMS vendor or course developer may tell you).

Avoid the temptation to take the sub-optimal route and make training because it is easy to do in the LMS.  In one organisation the author worked in, the way to deliver training in the use of the email system was a text-based resource followed by a 10-question multiple choice quiz.  This is nonsense and the type of short-term thinking that leads to longer term pain (in this case, mine, but that’s a story for another day).

One size fits none

Or at the very least doesn’t fit everyone and every situation.  As above, don’t think about the tools you have, think about the goals of the learning first.  Isn’t this very obvious advice?  Yes it is, but is it always done?  Dare I suggest it is not?

Although the concept of learning styles is old-hat and mildly discredited these days, still, it’s true that one style of learning design does not cover every individual or every job situation.

Integrate learning everywhere you can

And, of course, where it is sensible to do so.  Coaching and mentoring are good examples of this practice.  However, not everyone starts with the necessary skills to transmit their own knowledge or work practices effectively.  This is an area the education or training team can support.

One effective way to integrate learning is via review and evaluation.  When things go wrong during a project, team members are put under stress and may feel (or be made to feel) that they have put the organisation at a disadvantage.

Lessons learned are adopted by learning organisations where, outside the pressure of a project delivery situation, people can gather and review the process and their part in it.  At this time you can see what worked well and what didn’t.

This brings us back to the leadership style and whether that has been transmitted to the middle managers in an organisation.

Richard Jones
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Richard Jones

Richard has a long history of working with e-learning and educational technology in the UK, Portugal, Singapore, China, Australia, and New Zealand.

3 thoughts on “Five essential principles for learning organisations

  • Thanks Stu. The term you’re looking for is doomed. Kodak, IBM, who’s next, a car maker or an oil company?

  • I really like this article 🙂
    Having an MBA background I always relate everything I do to strategy.
    So it always amazes me how often important decisions are taken on a whim, or just because someone (currently) in a position of power pushes.
    I’ve seen a few organizations chose an LMS in this way, then 18 months later when the manager involved moves on the organisation is left with picking up the pieces – far too often.
    I wonder if there is a term for organizations that do not learn ?


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