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A few weeks ago I had my last meeting with a group of employees from an organization, as part of an internal learning trajectory: ten learning meetings around a specific theme spread over one year. The client had the experience that standard training programs are not very effective when it comes to knowledge transfer to the workplace, so this experimental (for them) formula of joint learning through an internal learning trajectory was launched, guided by an external facilitator (me).
Can I give an answer to the question of whether this learning trajectory was more effective than a training course to increase knowledge transfer to the workplace afterwards? No, because I don’t know how and why training is applied by this client. And honestly, I think that training can be quite effective when a number of conditions are met. However, whether it is a training or an internal learning trajectory, remaining owner of your own learning process seems at least a basic condition for being able to learn, together with others. Because if people don’t learn at all during a learning event, no transfer of knowledge will take place, that makes sense. So how do you keep the ownership for your own learning, in this case during an internal learning trajectory? Read on and discover it here:
Success factor 1: There is a ‘sense of urgency’ within the organization about a theme that keeps employees awake at night.
Not literally awake, I hope. But will an employee do everything he or she can to learn when the manager makes it compulsory to participate in a training or learning program? Answer: more than likely not. What does contribute is to start learning from an intrinsic motivation and from a felt need to learn something about. Nobody was obliged to participate in this learning trajectory. Registration was done entirely on a voluntary basis; this is how we arrived at a group of 14 participants.
Success factor 2: Participants determine the agenda
All right. We now knew who would participate. But what was the agenda? Usually a training has a predetermined agenda and program, often determined by HR, a learning development or leading officer, whether or not based on a previous done needs analysis of the participants. Our learning trajectory did not have an agenda in advance. That was uncomfortable for a number of people. What were we going to learn? For what were we going to sacrifice our precious time? Where did we go together? This changed when we determined a number of learning questions with the group that we wanted to find an answer to during the process. Setting the agenda together proved to be an important success factor: we can decide for ourselves what we want to learn. Hooray!
Success factor 3: Together determine for each learning question how you want to get started
Having an agenda was one thing, but that alone was not enough. Because how do we learn with and from each other? Through peer learning? Exchanging best practices? But what about those who wanted some ‘content’? We used Kolb’s learning cycle as a stepping stone to discuss with together how each of the participants wanted to learn (learning style). On top of that we sprinkled a number of learning. This resulted in a program of 10 meetings, with a learning objective / learning question per session, to be answered according to a certain learning style and with one or more learning methods. The learning trajectory was born!
Success factor 4: ‘Do not define 100% everything in advance but leave sufficient space and flexibility to allow adjustments ‘on the road’
Halfway through the year we briefly looked back to see what had worked so far and what not. We found, for example, that two months without meetings (July-August) was not optimal to start up again after the summer, and that additional efforts were needed to keep the spirit of learning alive between the sessions.
Success factor 5: Participants remain owner of the learning process
In a learning trajectory everyone has to take his or her role, and that of an external supervisor is different from that of the participants. However, as a facilitator you do not want to have all the monkeys on your shoulder, because that weighs heavily over time (experienced myself). Designing a session based on a joint learning framework, okay, facilitating the sessions so that none of the participants should wear the ‘extra head’ as facilitator, also okay, but to take care of all content, not okay. The more questions and input came from the participants, the more successful the meetings. So I threw a few monkeys back into the group and that proved to work well!
Success factor 6: Increase the chance of intermediate learning (when participants do not see each other)
I have already written that two months offline because of the summer holiday period brings the process temporarily to a slower pace. Continuing to exchange between sessions was nevertheless considered important by the group to embed learning more. A closed Facebook group did not really work for various reasons. Personal contact in between, e-mailing each other with a question, homework assignments between sessions, or using a shared folder on Google Drive proved more than enough to maintain learning in the meantime, but it certainly did not happen by itself. This was a difficult balancing act. As an external facilitator you would like to stimulate the group to learn in between, at the same time I wanted the participants also take ownership of this.
It also turned out that most of them would prefer a shorter but more intense learning period, for example from January to June or from September to December with a learning meeting every three weeks instead of monthly. Every three weeks a ‘life’ meeting was considered optimal to keep the rhythm.
Success factor 7: Combine the learning trajectory with other ‘learning methods’ for an optimal result
In a supported learning trajectory of which participants are owners, you come to a consensus on how you want to learn together about what. Yet it may be that a learning trajectory does not fulfill all the learning needs of everyone to the same extent. Some may, for example, remain hungry in terms of content. Completing the learning trajectory with one or more lectures by experts on the theme can then be a good solution.
Success factor 8: Diversity in the group is not a threat but an extra opportunity to learn
Before the start of the learning trajectory, the client asked me how I would deal with diversity in the group: some already had a lot of experience on the subject, others a lot less. In practice this turned out to be no problem, on the contrary. People with little experience could trigger the group with their questions, people with experience provided interesting input when discussing cases. And much or little experience did not matter very much when we practiced techniques that nobody had used so far. In addition, a large diversity of projects within which the learning theme was addressed enriched the learning process even more. What was important was a balance between people with little and with more experience, so that everyone could take something out of the learning path.
Success factor 9: The proof of the pudding is in the eating
Putting the acquired knowledge and skills into practice does not, of course, only take place after the project, on the contrary I would say. Some started to apply certain techniques or insights during the learning trajectory itself. Others lacked the self-confidence to experiment in practice. A ‘buddy’ who could observe feedback during ‘practice’ and provide feedback afterwards could create an extra opportunity to learn and embed the learnt content. That buddy can be someone from the group, for example, or the external facilitator. In retrospect, we could have paid more and better attention to those who had difficulty taking the step to practice and experiment the learnt content in their daily work. Not unimportant, because until the contrary has been proven (and I do not see that happening) the proof of the pudding is still in the eating.
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