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.

Today’s learning landscape – how L&D is supporting democratisation, creativity & innovation, leadership & change

Sue Parr

Guest blogger: Sue Parr, Head of Executive Education at The Open University Business School looks at the business challenges behind the buzzwords.

This content first appeared on HR Magazine, an online HR publication for people-focused, forward-thinking, business leaders who want insight into, and examples of, business-contextualised HR to develop high-performing organisations.

Many managers are recognising that they have to adapt to new ways of working to meet the expectations of their employers and their employees.  New behaviours and ways of working are being driven by changes all around them, but what changes can be supported through developing capability and skillsets?

Complexity: Today’s managers contend with the complexity created by the many different perspectives of a multi- cultural, cross- functional, often geographically dispersed workforce spanning as many as three generations. In fact, there are more generations in our workforce than at any other time as those previously of retirement age extend their working lives.

For example, in areas of manufacturing companies who are increasingly aware of the benefits of sharing best practice and collaborating to drive innovation, in surprising ways, but ultimately to the benefit of all.  Commercial sensitivity is being nuanced and boundaries pushed.

Creativity and innovation: We’re not talking about being good with colour here!  We are talking about turning problems around, not going for same old safe solutions because ‘this is the way we’ve always done it ’. Organisations need their people thinking more broadly.  For managers who had stages 1, 2 and 3 of their career in a technically specific function, creative practice techniques can start to get them thinking more holistically about their whole organisation, the needs of their current market and exploring opportunities in new markets.  Although these tools and techniques can be learnt, but the prospect can be daunting for those who have bought in to a self-image of not ‘being’ creative.

Change: The themes of leadership and change have always been high on the management agenda but the focus of these has changed. As organisations recognise increasingly that what is needed to stay competitive is to be more responsive, agile and comfortable with increasing ambiguity, they are investing in their middle managers. As a result there has been a democratisation of management and responsibility. Where once the focus of executive education was on the most senior of senior teams, today’s companies recognise the need for developing leadership excellence at every level.

Connection not Control: The traditional workplace had a top down structure, hierarchies where orders were given and carried out. As more organisations use project teams spread across locations, remotely connected, the skills of influencing become much more important. Managers need to learn how to influence people to achieve outcomes where they don’t have direct authority or control.

Career Development: As the economy gets back on track the scales are tipping and businesses need to make the effort to retain good people. L&D has a proven track record as a powerful retention tool. Generation Y workers are much more likely to move onto new jobs quickly. Restless for new experiences, employees need to see a development pathway within their organisation or they will be tempted to move on. A structured, embedded talent management programme can help employees visualise their personal growth plan.

But on top of this, the managers on-the-ground, are expected to satisfy this quest for knowledge, development and progression. Coaching is a skill that can meet many of these needs, but how much should, or can, individual managers be ‘expected’ to fulfil this role?

(l&d) Centricity: Increasingly HR departments are embedding elements of leadership in learning and development right from the start of employees’ careers. Advanced organisations are incorporating leadership development and L&D at the centre of their organisational strategy. The leaders of these organisations act as ambassadors for this approach, realising that when L&D becomes a part of the DNA of a company it is much more successful.

We worked with a large UK-based retailer who wanted to change the whole way people accessed L&D and highlighting at every career stage, why it’s important. This cultural shift led to a company-wide holistic approach that supported the company’s strategy and goals.

(bite size) Content There is a definite shift towards a blended learning approach to executive development. Rather than taking people out of their workplace for long periods of time, face-to-face delivery is being supported by shorter chunks of online learning and interaction.

In the past executive education frequently included an online facility – a library of content. However this approach often wasn’t successful.  People simply didn’t use the library.  Now online is used to prepare for, and follow-on from, face-to-face learning.It’s all about making people more responsible for their own development, learning at their own pace and accessing information when they need it.

The virtual academy, or online campus, gives people the opportunity to access the content they need.  This can be particularly helpful for senior managers who are often expected to have achieved “sage status” or business “omniscience”.  The virtual academy provides a safe environment for them to fill in the gaps in their knowledge.

Overall, managers are expected to have a much broader repertoire of skills, often earlier in their careers: effective management will require highly developed communication and interpersonal skills, capability building though coaching and mentoring, problem solving through creativity, networking through social media savvy.  The pace of change is heady and the combination of developing hard and soft skills at all levels to enable individuals and organisations to adapt and thrive requires a commitment to professional development for a career-lifetime; both from the employee and the employer.