Learning at Work Week – It’s more important than you know

“No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man”

Heraclites

Liz Moody is a Senior Lecturer and Head of Executive Education at The Open University Business School. Here she talks about the relevance and importance of Learning at Work Week, and lifelong learning.

One thing that the Covid-19 pandemic has taught us all is that the world can change almost overnight and with it our way of life.  Whatever the “new normal” turns out to be post-Covid19, the ability to prepare for and adapt to change with resilience are important survival skills for the 21st Century and learning is integral to that.  The good news is that ALL learning is worthwhile and the benefits can accumulate over time for you and your employer.

Here are three reasons why:

  1. Uncertainty and Volatility: As Covid-19 has shown us, things can change quickly. We can’t always predict it or how it will impact on us.  The demand for jobs and the skills required to fulfil them can quickly switch as the circumstances change around us.  Think of who in society are currently referred to as “key workers”.  We are all having to learn how to care for our own health as well as others and some are having to learn how to teach or adapt to working with new technologies. Think too about the businesses surviving lockdown and the adaptation that has been required.
  2. Employability: The uncertain and likely precarious future of work and careers means we will all need to keep learning to remain employable.  It is extremely unlikely that people starting their careers now will remain in the same role, with the same employer doing the same things in the same way for the rest of their working lives.  We will have to learn new things to remain employable.  Some changes will be imposed by trends in technology, legislation and attitudes amongst society and customers, and others will be enforced by economic conditions and decisions by employers about how they will respond to challenges.
  3. Leveraging knowledge and experience:   You may well wonder how much of what you learned in school and other early education or training still applies. Will what you know now prepare you for 10 years’ time for a future we can’t even imagine?  The good news is that when we keep learning whether for work, for interest, out of curiosity or to develop a talent or ability, it benefits our brains. By learning, we encourage neuroplasticity which is the brain’s way of organising and re-organising the neurons (nerve cells) to make new connections. The brain responds to new stimuli to our senses and situations by strengthening connections we use to remodel itself and powering down those we don’t need.  The old adage, use it or lose it applies up to a point.  The good news is that none of this learning accumulate is wasted. It is only “stood down” until we need it.1

What does this have to do with Learning At Work Week (LAWW)?

Being curious, it seems, makes the brain more receptive to learning and can even make learning more rewarding for the learner as well as more memorable.2   In a study by Gruber et al (2014) brain activity was enhanced during states of intrigue and curiosity suggesting a link between curiosity and the neurotransmitter dopamine in the same areas of the brain that provide a “feel-good” factor in other contexts.  

The Open University Business School has supported LAWW for many years.  In keeping with its principles of being open to ideas, widening access to education and lifelong learning we are proud to support the endeavours of organisations large and small in encouraging their employees to make learning a focus for at least one week each year.  The creative and imaginative programmes have featured everything from sign language, typing competitions, to world cafes that encourage collaboration to putting sustainability and social value at the heart of the business.  The fun activities are designed to stimulate activity, create a sense of togetherness and to break down silos and hierarchies by involving people far and wide in novel and interesting ways.  People from different learning backgrounds and knowledge areas join forces to teach and learn from each other.  The benefits go beyond morale.

LAWW is an ideal opportunity to challenge yourself, gain a new perspective and in the process have fun and enhance your own productivity by networking, team-building and engaging with others who will help you to add to your knowledge and skills.

Be the Change You Want to See in the World

Mahatma Gandhi

The human race has adapted to change over thousands of years. Some of the major changes we will make in our lives overall and specifically our working lives, will come about as a result of nature, like disease and climate, where others could be the result of human endeavour. Up till now it is scientific discoveries, technological developments, artistic creations, engineering and design developments, human rights activism and industrial revolutions that have changed how we live and relate to each other, as well as how we work and experience the world. As the Heraclites quote suggests, once these changes impact on us, or we become aware of them, in some way we are changed forever. Enjoy LAWW in the knowledge that as Gandhi suggests, while life changes are inevitable, by initiating personal change, no matter if they seem small at the time, we are not only becoming more accomplished individuals, but also building our capacity to rise to challenges.

Learning at Work Week takes place in May every year. It is coordinated by the Campaign for Learning and is led by companies and organisations in their workplaces. Find our LAWW 2020 resources on our OU Business School dedicated page.

References

  1. Mercola “Use It or Lose It — the Principles of Brain Plasticity” referenced 14 May 2020 https://www.brainhq.com/news/use-it-or-lose-it-the-principles-of-brain-plasticity
  2. Gruber, M. J., Gelman, B. D. & Ranganath, C., 2014. States of curiosity modulate hippocampusdependent learning via dopaminergic circuit. Neuron 84, October(22), pp. 486-496.

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