Every context is a learning context, whether we are at work or play. We are born as learning machines and continue to learn until the day we die. We may not always be consciously learning, but learning is taking place whether we are aware of it or not, as we strive to make sense of and adapt to the circumstances in which we find ourselves.
In our working lives there are various contexts in which we can learn:
Experientially: Experiential learning is ‘learning from’ rather than ‘learning to’. It occurs consciously or unconsciously as we reflect upon our successes and failures at work and those of our acquaintances.
On-demand: On-demand learning, as with the others that follow, is a form of ‘learning to’. It occurs because we don’t know how to perform a particular task and need immediate help to acquire the necessary knowledge. On-demand learning can be regarded as synonymous with ‘just-in-time learning’ or ‘learning at the point of need’.
Non-formal: Non-formal learning is ‘learning to’ with a more relaxed timeframe. It occurs whenever we – or our employers – take deliberate steps in preparation for the tasks we will be expected to carry out in the medium to long-term future. This may cynically be referred to as ‘just-in-case’ learning, in contrast to learning that is ‘just-in-time’. Non-formal learning takes many shapes, but stops short of those interventions which are packaged up as formal courses.
Formally: Formal learning occurs through learning events or packages with clearly set-out learning objectives, pre-defined curricula, means for assessment and the award of some qualification or certificate of completion. Unless the course is entirely self-study, there will also be a designated teacher or trainer.
These categories are useful, but they don’t distinguish between the learning that is planned for and supported by our employer, through the efforts of the l&d department and others (top-down learning), and the learning that we carry out on our own initiative, in work or outside, using resources that we find for ourselves (bottom-up learning). So, experiential, on-demand, non-formal and formal learning can originate in two ways:
Top-down learning occurs because organisations want their employees to perform effectively and efficiently and appreciate that this depends, at least in part, on them possessing the appropriate knowledge and skills. Top-down learning is designed to fulfil the employer’s objectives, not the employees’.
Bottom-up learning occurs because employees also want to perform. The exact motivation may vary, from achieving job security to earning more money, gaining recognition or obtaining personal fulfilment, but the route to all these is performing well on the job, and employees know as well as their employers that this depends – again, at least in part – on them acquiring the appropriate knowledge and skills.
Coming next in chapter 4: The need for experiential learning
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