Many of the typical methods of learning in the workplace make the learner a passive recipient of WorkGroup knowledge and skills. Employees are asked to read, watch, or listen to information being dispensed. The method might be entertaining, interactive, and of their own choosing, but fundamentally these methods are passive for the learner. Another approach is to make the learner an active creator of knowledge and skills. In this role, employees (as individuals, teams, or the organization as a whole) receive feedback about what they are doing and how they are doing it and, through individual and collective reflection, learn how to make themselves, their teams, and the enterprise more effective.

Jane Hart has provided us with an excellent list of “passive” ways in which people learn in their workplaces. She includes:

  1. Company training (face-to-face workshops and e-learning)
  2. Self-directed study of external courses (of their own choice)
  3. Company documents (manual, policies, strategy documents etc)
  4. Internal job aids (to support use of systems, processes and activities)
  5. Working collaboratively within their team (sharing resources, ideas and experiences)
  6. General conversations and/or meetings with people (formal or ad hoc)
  7. External personal and professional networks and communities(including online social networks like Facebook and Twitter)
  8. External blog and news feeds (reading subscribed resources)
  9. Content curated from external sources (daily summaries of key articles, blog posts, etc)
  10. Google search for Web resources (looking for and using external resources)

Although “active” methods might be implied by some of the items on Hart's list, I think “active” ways of learning should be made more explicit in our organizations. Otherwise, I fear they will continue to be overlooked even though for many individuals, teams, and organizations they are more powerful learning methods and more likely to result in organizational improvement than the “passive” methods.

Here are ten of these “active” ways of learning in organizations that I would add to Hart’s list:

  1. Action learning (structured reflection on one’s own actions and experience)
  2. Logs, diaries, and journals (recording reflections and learning as it occurs)
  3. Simulation and debrief (group exercises to test assumptions, beliefs, and attitudes about processes and systems)
  4. Shared visioning (whole organization identification of collective values and goals)
  5. Large-scale events (whole organization system change)
  6. Appreciative inquiry (identifying strengths of individuals, teams, and organizations)
  7. Dialogue (conversation that seeks mutual understanding of beliefs and values)
  8. Coaching (facilitating an individual’s self-awareness and performance improvement)
  9. Learning histories (structured group reflection about the meaning of past events)
  10. Benchmarking (comparing processes of one organization to those of another)