Learning in Organizations
Last updated: 2022-03-20
Most of the learning in organizations we achieve by doing our daily work and reflecting upon it: this is what we call learning by doing.
We can support and accelerate this natural learning by offering a
structured curriculum of seminars, courses or training programs for
staff members, managers and executives.
(1) Learning By Doing
How do we achieve most of our organizational learning? Facing a
problem, we create a solution which we repeat for similar problems if it
works. If it does not we change and adapt and create alternative
solutions until we find one that works. This fundamental approach
includes an open environment in which we can make mistakes, get timely
feedback and the opportunity to apply our lessons learned. In case we
have to expect "punishment" for our mistakes, our learning will rather
focus on skillful finger pointing and inventing excuses or we will avoid
trying to solve problems altogether.
Consequently, we shall setup our organizational environment in a
way that allows for mistakes, corresponding feedback and opportunities
to do it better next time.
On the other hand, a profit oriented organization cannot tolerate
too many of those mistakes. How can we solve that dilemma without
punishment? In order to avoid negative side effects of mistakes, like
additional cost or time delays, we apply training.
(2) Learning in Seminars and Training Programs
We support learning in organizations by training which provides an
experimental environment. There, we can make mistakes and get immediate
feedback without "punishment".
The classical form of such training is a seminar of a few days
that consists of a number of modules, each of which following these four
- instructions (e.g. how to solve a certain type of problems), given by a trainer
- exercise with problem solving for a special case, done by the participants
- presentation of the results, given by the participants
- evaluation of results in form of feedback and comments by the trainer or a group discussion facilitated by the trainer
Mistakes in a seminar are not dangerous and definitely do not generate
additional cost or time delays, other than the cost of the seminar
itself – correct?
Yes, correct, but only under the condition that the
participants successfully transfer their learning into their working
This works fairly well for training of basic skills and in
organizations where we expect our staff doing highly repetitive work.
For training of skills on higher levels and in organizations with fast
changing environment, especially in project oriented organizations,
where most of the work is non-repetitive we need other approaches than
only classical seminars as described above.
(3) Interval Training
A lot of learning in organizations includes acquiring sustainable
behavioral changes: for example, participants of a 5-day project
management seminar run through a sequence of instructions and exercises
to teach them understand, appreciate and practice the skill set of
planning and delegating work packages. In their real life project
context after the seminar, one important aspect for most participants is
their ability "to let go", not falling back to the "old habit" of doing
parts or all of the delegated work themselves again.
We found that behavioral change is much more sustainable by giving the participants the opportunity to apply new skills in real life situations and re-visit, evaluate and discuss their experiences some weeks later again.
Interval Training with 2 Intervals
We characterize this learning approach by alternating between intensive
but short (WS 1 and WS 2) and extensive but longer intervals (Transfer
phase). For more complicated skill sets or in case we want to change
more deeply rooted habits into new behavior, we need more of these
Interval Training with Many Intervals
Each interval, i.e. each one of the workshops WS 1, WS 2, etc., takes
only a few days while the extensive transfer phases between these
workshops take several weeks, even a couple of months. In a best case
scenario, we combine stand-alone seminars for basic training with
training programs where we apply interval training.
(4) Levels of Learning
Like in any learning context, we need a reference model for learning
in organizations as well, and we apply the taxonomy of educational
objectives. When introduced first by B. Bloom et al. in 1956, it
described a hierarchical order of learning objectives in the domain of
cognitive learning. Here, we refer to L. W. Anderson, D. R.
Krathwohl et al.: A Taxonomy for Learning, Teaching, and Assessing — A
Revision of Bloom's Taxonomy of Educational Objectives; Addison Wesley
Longman, Inc. 2001.
We use this taxonomy in order to describe which ability we would like participants to acquire in a seminar or training unit. These are the four levels of learning objectives:
On the lowest level, participants are able to remember pure facts, process descriptions, model solutions to certain problems, etc.
On the second level, participants are able to understand the wider context of facts, or explain processes, problem solutions, etc. in their own words.
On the third level, participants are able to apply or combine their knowledge of facts, processes and methods to find solutions to new problems.
On the highest level, participants are able to analyze and evaluate problems and situations, and create new processes or solutions.
Taxonomy of Learning Objectives
Central proposition of this model is that we cannot achieve a learning goal on a certain level if we have not yet accomplished all corresponding learning goals on the lower levels. This has far-reaching consequences on design and development of individual seminars and training programs.
(5) Structured Curriculum
Another important aspect of learning in organizations is how we organize and coordinate all the learning events as a whole.
Best practice is a structured curriculum. It includes specific
seminars and training programs for staff members, managers and
executives. All elements of such a curriculum are set up and coordinated
so that they complement each other and build upon each other. Suppliers
of all those learning events can be internal or external to the
organization, or a combination of the two.
(6) Learning Transfer
The most critical phase of learning in organizations starts at the
end of a seminar or learning program when the participants return to
their working place and want to transfer and integrate their learning
into their daily life working practice. We often see them falling back
into their "old" habits and behavior. This fallback effect is quite
understandable since the environment usually is the "old" one.
From our observation, the best way to avoid that fallback is to
give participants the opportunity to take mentoring by experienced
colleagues or coaching by neutral coaches. Both, mentoring as well as
coaching re-affirm participants in their new and different approach to
solving problems, managing processes, etc.
(7) Training Management Process
Within a structured approach to learning in organizations, the setup of
seminars and training programs follows a generic process.
Training Design Process
We differentiate mainly two groups of training requirements:
organizational needs (like increasing sales, revenue, profit figures,
etc.) and individual needs (like acquiring knowledge and skills,
personal development, better career opportunities, etc.).
An organization can design seminars or training programs on an
in-house basis, sub-contract it to external vendors, or combine both.
Similarly, they can deliver the seminars and training programs
via an internal training department, external training vendors, or
choose a combination.