Every worker learns differently given the task, content, and circumstances. Yet, we continue to try to educate, train, and develop everyone in the same way. Maybe it’s time to turn our workplaces Innovation lab into learning labs. By experimenting with different methods of learning and evaluating the process and outcomes of these methods in the workplace, we might discover what methods are best for which workers under what circumstances.

Michael Noble, in his post for “Chief Learning Officer” titled, How to Build a Learning and Innovation Performance Lab, suggests that learning professionals should start looking for workplace opportunities to try out new ways of learning. Of course, he recognizes the obstacles. He writes:

The biggest challenges may not be cost, time or talent, but corporate preference for transactional rather than consultative support. With some initiative and determination, both leaders and learning practitioners can move from being learning producers/providers to strategic advisors.

Noble argues that the day-to-day activities of an organization provide opportunities for innovation in learning. The workplace can be a lab for experimenting with new methods of learning and performance improvement. The key is to be intentional about learning from these experiences, to be willing to try new methods and to evaluate what works and what doesn’t.

Saul Kaplan writes about the urgency to focus on learning from innovation in the workplace in his book, The Business Model Innovation Factory: How to Stay Relevant When the World is Changing. He writes:

The real trick is creating a business model innovation factory where technologies and capabilities can be remixed in new combinations to deliver value. The imperative is to do R&D for new business models. Not just concepts on a whiteboard or in a consulting deck, but R&D in the real world to explore the viability of a new business model in real market conditions. Not just tweaks of the current business model, but entirely new ways to create, deliver, and capture value. Organizations need a business model innovation factory to explore new business models unconstrained by the current one.

Substitute “learning model” for “business model” and you can see how you can make the workplace a learning lab. Kaplan recommends experimenting with innovation projects separate from the main business activities but close enough organizationally that effective changes can be easily and quickly adopted by the whole business, government agency, nonprofit, or educational institution. We need to do more of this with learning. That is, create experiments in the workplace to try out new ways of learning fast and learning well.

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