5 Beliefs About Education that Support Organizational Learning
An exceptional academic background is by no means a guarantee of success in organizations. Even if you previously enjoyed studying, the learning process is very different in everyday work life.
While the barriers are many, the most of them are related to our mindset but also to organizational culture. After more than 15 years in an educational system where you hardly had any contact with the practical side and where you worked in a team far too rarely, you are not really equipped for the road.
For me, learning in the organizational environment was like a cold shower after my school years because it didn’t happen neither in the way nor in the form I was used to.
I have often had to manage and learn on my own, on the go, on a project with complex requirements, with no colleagues or training and no procedures in place to make my life easier.
I understood then that learning is about practice and the confidence to apply what you know. Learning often took place during spontaneous and informal discussions in which I would receive useful information.
Then it helped me to stay curious and ask questions even to people who were slightly uncomfortable by them. Sometimes I would search the Intranet or look to see how it had been done in the past, where this was available.
At other times, I was disappointed by those who kept the “secrets” of the trade to themselves. That’s pretty much how learning happened in the organizational environment and I’m quite sure many can relate to this.
The most unpleasant aspect of this way of learning is that some people get overwhelmed by the confusion right from the start and simply give up. While waiting for the promised training or the information they need, they become passive and unmotivated.
What personal beliefs did I have to overcome about the learning process?
- I never thought of education as a lifelong process
I knew that after middle school comes high school, then college, eventually a master’s degree, and things basically would end there.
In reality, I didn’t realize how much I needed to look at education as a lifelong learning process. Staying open to new things, being available and flexible to correct myself, to practice, to experiment and to fail were all new to me and were quite a challenge initially.
- I thought education was a linear process
I’ve never expected the learning process to be as chaotic as it is in real life. I had the model I received in my school years, where someone would teach you, generally a lot of theory, delivered from simple to complex in a well structured manner in terms of time and level of difficulty.
The flood of information, requirements and expectations and the complex needs of an organization that an employee faces on a daily basis come to complicate everything we know from school.
Those who successfully navigate the learning environment in organizations are those who can identify order in chaos and who have the ability to manage a high level of ambiguity.
- The process was focused on theory and less on practice
Although I knew I was getting far too much information, I didn’t understand how important practice, feedback and the courage to experiment were.
Too much theory makes us fearful and insecure when it comes to practice. The fear of making mistakes when putting into practice something I haven’t yet mastered 100% without supervision or without having someone to answer my question, all stem from the lack of practice.
When you play the game at this level, procrastination is only one step away. What else do you do when you’re not sure of what to do?
If mistakes in school were sanctioned and reflected in lower grades, the same was true in some of the organizational cultures where work is expected to be flawless despite the complexity encountered. Otherwise, you were not doing a good job.
- Personal responsibility
If in school I would sometimes allow myself to be passive and less engaged in classes, things were quite different in the workplace.
As an adult, it is your responsibility to continuously improve, ask questions and learn. At first, I expected someone to know better than me what I would need to learn.
Just like in school, where there was a set curriculum and schedule that I followed, I thought there needs to be a training I should follow. In fact, no one can force you to learn anything but they can support and guide you in the process.
- Cost versus investment
I’ve learned to look at any education process as an investment rather than as a cost.
What makes the right investment depends on many factors but overall, the most important one has been getting to know myself much better.
How do I learn most easily, through what channel, in what form, what works and what doesn’t for me? These are just a few questions that help me make good choices.
Then, my level of motivation, curiosity, energy but also the amount of time available are some other aspects I consider before making a decision. Last but not least, I pay attention to who is the person who teaches the course.
How can these findings be translated into an organization?
In order to choose the right topic, format, channel and mix of practice and theory, any company needs to know its employees very well, take into account the organizational culture as well as the context in which they operate.
When you activate in a massive structure, spread across continents, with staff movements, project closures and reorganizations at every turn, the learning process can be daunting and cumbersome.