Do you know what you really need to know to be successful in your job? You won’t find it in company training programs, or in an MBA program, or your professional association’s certification workshops. But this learning is more important for survival and success in the workplace over the long term.  

Jesse Sostrin calls this the “hidden curriculum”. In a post titled, The Hidden Curriculum of Work, he writes:

Nobody told you this, but the day you were hired you actually accepted two jobs. The first was the position you interviewed for, including all of the tasks outlined in that job description. The second IMG_1327
“job-within-the-job” included the unspoken, unwritten work that, among other challenges, requires you to manage constant change, collaborate well with others, navigate workplace politics, and get your best work done in an environment of shrinking resources and increasing demands. Nobody trained you to succeed in this hidden work, and you have to learn how to confront its everyday pitfalls. And although you can reach out to trusted colleagues for input, the pace of work and pressure to perform often limit our willingness to reflect, formulate questions, and take the time to seek guidance.

These two elements combined — the challenges of your job-within-the-job plus the need to add value to your organization through continuous learning and performance — represent what I call the hidden curriculum of work.

I think that learning from this "hidden curriculum" requires knowing how to learn. The ability to “reflect, formulate questions, and…seek guidance” has to be developed in people. We shouldn’t assume that employees already know how to learn in this way. Managers need to help their direct reports learn how to learn from the "hidden curriculum." That is, how to receive feedback, how to inquire, how to ask for help, and how to judge the quality and accuracy of information. Being reflective, in the sense of being open and honest about your strengths and weaknesses and what you need to learn, is not something we all do well but is essential to learning in the workplace.

A critical element of learning the hidden curriculum is co-worker and manager involvement. Much of what people need to learn in the workplace they cannot learn alone. They need to share their learning with others and they need feedback to help them assess how well they are doing, what they should keep doing, and what needs to change. You might not need this kind of social learning with the visible curriculum, but it is essential to the "hidden curriculum."

Awareness of the "hidden curriculum" is all that much more important as the rate of change in technology increases, especially artificial intelligence. Alexandra Levit, in an article for The New York Times titled, Thriving in the Robot Workplace, writes:

I think the only way forward is to look at artificial intelligence developments as an opportunity rather than a threat. We need the mind-set that success is no longer about our level of knowledge but about our level of creative intelligence. If we accept the process of lifelong learning, in which we adapt to new ways of working as technology improves, we’ll always find roles that take advantage of our best qualities.

Both Sostrin and Levit are making the point that the workplace is constantly changing from social interactions and technology and, therefore, to be successful in the workplace we need to be continually learning and adapting to the environment around us. And we need leaders that recognize the “hidden curriculum” and this need for life-long learning and provide the conditions and resources to support continuous learning in the workplace.