One of the things I love about learning professionals is they are driven to be of service.  This was evident in the way they supported others through the early disorientation of physical distancing.  Learning teams across the globe rose to the fierce urgency of now and helped others to adapt to new ways of working.  I applaud them for a job well done.

The immediate pressure is easing as people complete this transition.  Learning teams can consider their next steps.  It’s too early to predict what the enduring shifts will be in business models and workplaces.  We don’t know how long physical distancing will be in place.  It may be longer than we think.  This much is clear: We will break with past practices and emerge with new ones in place.

The upheaval allows some learning professionals to progress with changes they have chipped away at.  These early adopters had slowly introduced new practices.  Adaptive learning platforms to provide personalised content and activities.  On-demand access to high quality curated resources and job aids.   Enabling managers to develop people through their work.  They climbed over and around barriers.  They challenged policies and infrastructure shortfalls to adopt new technology.  They influenced others who viewed training as the best way to build skills to try other approaches.

For others the recent shift is more substantial.  This is particularly the case for those in organisations with a higher reliance on face to face classroom training.  At the start of 2020 over 55% of formal learning was still being done in classrooms.  This option disappeared suddenly.  Many learning teams were caught off guard.  I’ve spoken with a lot of learning leaders over the past six weeks.  Some are still feeling confused and unsure of next steps.

Disruption occurs at different scales and in different time-frames.  We are in the midst of a sudden global disruption.  We have been thrust into the grand experiment of working en masse in virtual environments.  While we are ‘all in this together,’ it is a personal experience for each of us.  Any learning professional who seeks to remain relevant must move forward with courage and conviction.

I was called upon to do just this in 2014.

I spent the first sixteen years of my career as a military logistics officer.  I crafted highly structured training programs.  I took this approach with me when I left the military.  It worked well on big infrastructure projects such as the upgrade of the Australian telecommunications network.

Over time I noticed it didn’t scale to smaller, faster projects. In 2005 I abandoned a training program two weeks prior to implementation of new software in a catering centre.  We ran out of time to prepare materials and pull people into classrooms.  Instead we provided how-to guides and checklists.  We also put experts onto the shop floor for three weeks to show people how to do things.  It worked.

In spite of this fast and furious lesson, structured training continued to dominate my practice.  I joined Coca-Cola Amatil in 2012 and came across the 702010 model.  This model takes a holistic approach and emphasises learning-while-working.  But I still wanted to control things, so I still included structured programs.  It’s hard to let go of old paradigms, even in the face of contrary evidence.

I finally shifted gears.  At conferences I kept hearing speakers talk about the value of Twitter for professional development.  In early 2014 I got curious and got online.  My network expanded exponentially.  Through this network I became aware of new, more effective learning approaches.  I realised my practices weren’t just outdated; they were limiting the growth of my organisation.  I started experimenting with new approaches and got braver, inviting others to join me.

The most profound shift was in my mindset.  My beliefs about learning and people-as- learners transformed in parallel with my practices.  I went from controlling training to enabling learning.  From running events to creating learning experiences.  From treating people as passive recipients to connected collaborators.  From passing on existing information to supporting creation of new knowledge and innovation.

Out of necessity, people are more open than ever to trying new things right now.  While no-one would wish for the current circumstances, this is a window of opportunity to do things differently.  The barriers to adoption of new approaches have fallen.  Now is the time to experiment.  People are more likely to agree to try something new. No-one expects things to be perfect.

We are in the midst of what I call The Great Unfreeze.  We each have an opportunity to shift our mindset and practices.  Let’s move forward with courage and conviction.  You can be part of a movement towards a better normal for learning.

Michelle Ockers works with leaders and learning professionals to transform paradigms and practices in organisational learning.  Reach out to Michelle to discuss your aspirations for learning in your organisation.  Find out about Michelle’s ReThink Learning program. 



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