Learning organizations have always contributed to its success. Due to the winds of change and increasing career transitions the focus from learning organization is shifting to personal learning university. The question evolves as, in a situation of inconsistent employment, sudden financial depressions and economic downturn how do an individual sustain learning? The winning edge lies in the excellence of professional experience. One’s knowledge in their field is the only edge over others. So how would an individual continue to work towards their knowledge during these changing times?
Let’s take a closer look to understand learning. It is defined as a marked change in behaviour due to acquired information. This acquiring of the information may happen through different sources. For some it may be through formal learning process whereas for others it would happen through task-conscious process. The learning for the executives, during the professional years happen through the job , hence it is task conscious learning. When a professional enrolls for a Management Development course or a PhD it becomes the formal learning process. Here we discuss a situation independent of a formal or even a task, i.e., where the learning happens even when a formal process such as a management education is missing and job are not there for action learning.
In absence of a formal system, let’s understand how learning can be enunciated by an individual. It begins on a daily basis. Every individual is required to produce a certain range of values at work. Tacit learning is gained by an individual through the tasks delivered, which cannot be learnt, during the formal education. For instance, when an individual starts working as an HR they may have read about recruitment during their MBA course, but learning the key points in screening a candidate comes from a live job. The vendor management and software can be learnt during the course, but points such as how to manage multiple vendors for hiring the same skill sets or how the software can be used effectively to download more relevant resumes come through experience, which is, tacit learning. Business intelligence is gained by managing an expansion or a ramp down that requires an unique solution. The learning gained through being on the job will become as strong as the formal study, when it is organised and realised.
Now, let us consider how an individual would manage their learning, on their own to create credible results. Create a Personal Learning Program. This program is created to manage the learning and identify the gaps. The top to bottom flow reinforce focus for an individual. This program have a flow starting with ‘Body of Knowledge’ followed by ‘Areas’ trail by ‘Units’ which includes the ‘Topic’, finally ending at the ‘Atomic Knowledge Unit’. Set the goal, decide the time frame and plan accordingly. To begin with, identify the areas for learning. It can be about a function, a sector or even the complete process on how to run a company. Here, let’s assume the body of knowledge is HR. Identify the areas within HR where to be learnt, such as Strategic HR. Decide the unit within Strategic HR which is intended, e.g. Organizational development or change management. Focus on the topic within Organizational development such as leadership development. Zero down on the Atomic Knowledge Unit, i.e. identifying the leaders, planning their careers through succession planning programs.
Similarly, during the career transition, let’s consider how an individual would manage ‘Personal learning university. We assume that the individual have been in a series of jobs so far. During the transition phase, re-focus and look back at the learning gained. Follow the same PLP and find out the gaps in the learning. Identify the main Body of Knowledge gained so far. The vertical in which the individual have worked so far is the body of knowledge. Such as if the job was in HR field it will remain the BoK. Thereafter identify the areas managed. Most of the time, the individual may have managed more than one or all the areas within HR, including HR operation, Strategy and Statutory. This needs to be followed by identifying those units within them. It is possible that few units within the Strategic HR remain to be learnt. Even if it was learnt, the learning wasn’t implemented. Therefore re-group the learning gained and fill the gap. For instance, if Compensation and Benefit was managed during the employment, but it remained limited to drawing salary structure for few roles or rather reviewing the current structure. A complete compensation drawing exercise may not have been done. Hence take up an individual study of the compensation mapping within the same vertical and write a review to the new learning gained. Similarly, when every other unit have been identified, focus on the topics. Let the topic here be the variable or even the benefits offered within the compensation program. Zero down on the atomic knowledge units within the topics and check if there are any gaps . The same PLP can be repeated to gain knowledge in a newer area in case there are career transition and a role switch, i.e. from HR to Marketing or teaching. The studies done to clear the interviews add on to this program. The result should be measured in the readiness to take up a role with greater understanding and decision making skills, to what was managed earlier. The job offers would depend on many objective factors. Hence, attainment of the job through the interview remains independent to the parameter of this learning.
Sustain the learning with an effective support system through mentors, cohorts and online learning communities such as CiteHR. Maintain a map of seeking, learning and tracking progress. Take up project to test knowledge. Share the learning through posts in the community. Develop it with the comments received on it. As explained by Tom Peters in The Project 50: Re-invent Work, “Become a benchmarking fanatic: look at every small thing that happens to you as a golden learning opportunity. Collect cool people, turn them into your personal university faculty. There are no small projects: In every little form or procedure, in every little problem there usually lurks a big project. Keep each learning project succinct.” It helps in staying focus and can be relooked easily. Each time the learning completes a full circle move on to the next level. As noted by Daniel Pink in A Whole New Mind, we are moving from the Information age to conceptual age, the shift is targeted from remaining knowledge workers to becoming creators and empathisers.