For individuals who acknowledge the value of their contributions to an organization’s success, lifelong learning is a must. For organizations that acknowledge people as the most-valuable asset, human resource development is a pivotal focus. The challenge for the chief learning officer is to identify what should be learned and why it should be learned. In the end, the task of learning resides with the adult learner who ultimately decides what is of value. So, how can a learning organization facilitate learning?
Perhaps the answer is as simple as returning to the fundamentals of learning how to learn, which focus the learner on the “how” of learning. Learning-to-learn strategies include the ability to recognize your own learning style, interests, aptitudes and aspirations as well as the ability to identify personal effective learning strategies to make instruction meaningful.
Metacognition is a learning concept John Flavell first described in 1976. In simplest terms, metacognition is thinking about thinking. A learner’s views about thinking affect how the individual learns. (See Figure 1.) Therefore, metacognitive learners have the ability to:
- Identify short-, medium- and long-term goals and the steps to achieve them.
- Identify strengths and weaknesses of their own learning.
- Actively engage in learning tasks collaboratively or independently.
- Manage priorities and complete educational and work commitments.
- Participate in a diverse range of educational practices including group and individual projects, oral presentations and written communications.
- Recognize and remedy physical and/or emotional barriers to learning.
- Identify and use effective learning styles and study techniques.
- Evaluate and change their own learning strategies as necessary.
Learning how to learn involves processing, or acquiring, the knowledge and skills to learn effectively in whatever situation a person encounters. Learning how to learn has its roots in participation training Indiana University pioneered in the 1960s and ’70s. Participation training was intended to help people develop skills for working in collaborative learning groups. In the 1980s, Robert Smith brought depth to the concept of learning how to learn with his framework to help educators understand how the learning components fit together. Smith developed an experiential learning laboratory at Northern Illinois University that allowed him to connect his research and practice with his graduate students. Smith’s learning-how-to-learn strategies translate to practical exercises that sharpen the individual’s awareness of self as a learner.
Learning to learn entails recognizing the causes and effects of peak learning, and developing coping strategies for mental blocks, blind spots and other barriers. Metacognitive learners creatively examine new contexts and ask what course of action will work best. Learners who employ a wide range of learning strategies might use techniques such as rehearsing, anticipating outcomes based on prior experience and knowledge, and considering potential courses of action, outcomes and contextual implications. Supportive learning environments should contain structured activities that provide insight about the processes of learning to both the learner and facilitator.
Strategies for Understanding Self as Learner
Several excellent resources can help assess individual learning styles. Among these are the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, Kolb Learning Style Inventory and Howard Gardner’s multiple intelligences. The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator categorizes results based upon four dimensions: extraversion versus introversion; sensing versus intuition; thinking versus feeling; and judging versus perceiving. The Kolb Learning Style Inventory plots the degree to which the subject engages in concrete experience, active experimentation, abstract conceptualization and reflective observation. The four resultant learning-style types from the Kolb instrument are diverging, assimilating, converging and accommodating.
Although there isn’t an official instrument to measure Gardner’s multiple intelligences, understanding the various areas where individuals can demonstrate particular strengths and weaknesses is a first step in understanding self as learner. Gardner proposed that there are several areas in which people can excel, with no one area receiving any more emphasis or weight than the other areas. These areas of multiple intelligences include: interpersonal, intrapersonal, musical, naturalist, bodily kinesthetic, logical-mathematical, verbal-linguistic and visual-spatial. Traditional formal education emphasizes the verbal-linguistic and logical-mathematical intelligences over the other areas of intellect. The challenge for the learner and the facilitator is to integrate curricula that include equal emphasis on all areas of intelligence so equal learning opportunities are provided to all learners.
Implications for the CLO are far reaching. How does the CLO ensure learners evaluate and benefit from knowing their own learning style? One unchartered area for further exploration is the possibility of mapping an individual’s learning style to career-interest inventories that can then be used as part of a deliberate approach to development planning. By incorporating an assessment of learning style into career interest inventories, an individual would be exposed to yet another way in which learning style influences job performance and career path.
By raising the awareness of various learning styles throughout an organization, managers and employees can have a focused dialogue on individual development plans that complement and help diversify an individual’s learning style. Acknowledgement of an individual’s learning style can help facilitate specific plans that address personal development in the areas of feedback, experience, and both formal and informal learning.
Mentoring programs provide another opportunity to understand and expand the multiple dimensions of learning-how-to-learn strategies. What if the CLO tailored a program that focused on providing employees with a learning mentor? Perhaps the mentor-mentee pairing could be based on matching a mentee with a mentor that has a different learning style. This pairing could help facilitate an understanding of other learning styles and techniques, expanding the learning repertoire of the mentee.
Practical Learning-to-Learn Exercises
Providing learners with the foundation for understanding that there are different learning styles, what those learning styles are, how they differ from one another and identifying the individual’s preferred learning style are the first steps toward building awareness of self as learner. Given the fundamental knowledge of the existence of learning styles, the learner can use his or her style to understand how that evolved as well as the strengths and limitations of each style. Writing a personal learning history is a reflective activity that can help an individual critique prior learning situations. Types of questions to address in a learning autobiography are:
- Which past learning experiences, both positive and negative, are most pronounced in your memory?
- How have you come to be as you are, considering your attitudes toward learning and your beliefs about your capacity to learn?
- Consider the who, what, how and why that were involved in your most memorable learning experiences.
- What people, places and things will shape you as a future learner? How do you envision ending up as a learner?
A learning history can help increase awareness of attitudes, beliefs and experiences that influence an individual’s approach to learning situations. Furthermore, the analysis of self as learner captured in a learning autobiography can be extended into an ongoing reflective journal that captures the evolution of self as learner. Such a journal can address ways in which the individual learner can improve his or her own understanding of the learning styles of co-workers, supervisors, subordinates, friends and family, thus connecting to other ways of learning. Making this connection is particularly important because the learner must operate and interact daily in complex social networks. The CLO’s duty is to foster learning within the organization, taking into account every learning style.
How Do CLOs Incorporate Learning-Style Knowledge?
Organizations that are committed to facilitating learning have to recognize the diverse learning styles of their members. The literature on learning how to learn for adults explicitly states that training creates conditions under which the adult students critically examine present assumptions and ways of doing things with a goal to substitute better ways. The key question becomes: how do instructors focus on the learning-how-to-learn process as much as content in a training situation? The research states that the development of realistic plans and images of future use fosters the transfer of training. The training event must be meaningful for the learners.
For organizations that employ a culture where individual learning styles are valued, the opportunities to incorporate activities that raise awareness of self as learner abound. Key meetings and company-provided training can begin with icebreakers that raise awareness of self as learner. These icebreakers could incorporate a question from the learning autobiography exercise, such as the description of a most memorable learning experience into a self-introduction at the start of the meeting. Review and assessment activities within the context of training sessions can provide the opportunity to focus on a different learning style. This challenges participants to develop a review activity that would best employ a learning style different from their own. Working groups can be constructed to mix individuals with different learning styles. Those groups can be asked to focus on how learning styles influenced the group dynamics and the process of achieving resolution to a given problem. Such an example extends beyond the formal classroom setting to include quality circles or special problem-solving task forces.
In “A Learning College for the 21st Century,” author Terry O’Banion outlined four concepts for building a learning-centered system:
- 1. Learning is a lifelong process for everyone that should be measured in a consistent, continuous manner focused on improvement.
- 2. Everyone is an active learner and teacher through collaboration, shared responsibility and mutual respect.
- 3. The learning process includes the larger community through the development of alliances, relationships and opportunities for mutual benefit.
- 4. Learning occurs in a flexible and appropriate environment.
Perhaps the best thing that the CLO can do to facilitate learning is to embody these four principles in the philosophy and practice of the learning organization. Awareness of self as learner and exposure to various learning-how-to-learn strategies need to be embedded in the organizational culture. When an individual discovers the essence of learning how to learn, a whole new world opens up. Imagine the power of an organization that has unleashed the learning potential of all its members. Now that is a competitive advantage.
Ann Giese is director, Motorola Networks and enterprise training and technical publications. Ann has 17
years of Motorola experience in operations management, sales and product management. She can be reached at email@example.com.
- 5 Forces Shaping the Future of HR
- Why ‘Leaders Eat Last’
- What’s holding inclusion back? Leaders’ behavior.
- Psychological safety: an overlooked secret to organizational performance
- Designing virtual learning for application and impact: the missing ingredient
- Brain-based leadership in a time of heightened uncertainty
- Creating an environment for effective learning measurement