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Learning at Work Week 2022: Uncovering the truth behind lifelong learning

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Learning at Work Week’s 2022 theme, ‘Learning Uncovered’, seeks to raise awareness of lifelong learning. But for organisations to reap the benefits of continual self-directed development, we need to look beyond ‘uncovering’ and strip away the barriers preventing employees from reaching their full potential.

13th May 2022
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L&D professionals well know the value lifelong learners bring to an organisation. Employees who are empowered and energised to continually invest in their personal development will also likely be the innovators, complex problem solvers and mastered crafters within the business.

The annual Learning at Work Week event allows L&D teams to wave the flag for lifelong learning among the wider workforce, where the value of continual upskilling may not be so well understood.

The theme this year, Learning Uncovered, has three strands: 

  • Uncover learning potential

  • Uncover hidden powers 

  • Uncover new dimensions. 

Below we explore these strands, the role L&D plays in supporting lifelong learning, and why the act of uncovering does not go far enough.

Uncover learning potential

Assessing the current state of learning through the lens of diversity and inclusion is important when considering how we can better unlock potential. Too often, learning and development efforts are targeted toward leaders, managers and those in the running for these positions. 

We need to widen the scope and ensure that a far more inclusive approach to learning is harnessed, where barriers such as lack of accessibility, flexibility and confidence are addressed. Only then will we uncover the hidden talent we can no longer afford to overlook in the current complex climate.

In the opening address of Learning Technologies 2022, author, speaker and broadcaster Matthew Syed spoke about this era of rapid change and the ingredients needed to create a high-performance culture within it. Carol Dweck’s well-known growth mindset is “rocket fuel” for business success, he argued. 

But this mindset in isolation won’t cut it today. Cognitive diversity must be incorporated to ensure we escape the echo chamber that hinders progression and “plug gaps in our collective understanding”.

How can we carve out this space for cognitive diversity? In a report published by TrainingZone, industry analyst Laura Overton argues that digital lifelong learning is essential to unlocking the potential of diverse and inclusive workforces. “Technology allows organisations to open up life-changing learning opportunities to a wider audience in ways that can personally tailor the experience to an individual's circumstances,” she states.

“Effective digital learning environments model access to learning and education for all by combining accessible tools and techniques to remove barriers and connect, engage and grow individuals.”

Alongside harnessing the power of technology, we also need to reevaluate how we design learning for different audiences, taking into consideration cognitive diversity, demographics and disabilities, for example. 

If we want to unlock the learning potential in all of our colleagues, we need to honestly assess who is currently being left behind and how a more inclusive learning design can enable overlooked talent to flourish. 

Uncover hidden powers

Lurking in all corners of the business will be workers doing exceptional things but going unnoticed. For diverse thought and action to shine through in our organisations, how can L&D folk seek out these hidden powers and break down the barriers to sharing these across the business?

Jackie Clifford, Director of Clarity Learning and Development, asserts that L&D should embody the role of the ‘Curious Connector.’

“The Curious Connector has the ability to see what others don’t see in themselves and to make links between different people and scenarios. The Curious Connector asks questions and has no qualms about building bridges between different people. The Curious Connector becomes a catalyst by speeding up the networking across the organisation and therefore supporting collaborations which may not have happened otherwise.”

“By seeking out connectivity and encouraging people to get together, knowledge sharing will happen in a natural and organic way which can then cause magic to happen!”

For Ekua Cant, Head Cheerleader for Career Magic, there are four ways you can help unlock these hidden skills and make the ‘magic’ happen:

  1. Carve out easy and bite-sized upskilling opportunities

  2. Encourage peer coaching

  3. Reward staff for upskilling efforts

  4. Encourage teams members to turn their hidden skills into resources for others (eg. video tutorials)

Uncover new dimensions

For organisations aspiring to innovate and help solve society’s myriad complex problems, curiosity should not be left to L&D professionals alone. Liggy Webb, Director of The Learning Architect, believes developing an organisation-wide culture of curiosity is critical to ensuring people’s skills remain relevant and successful in a rapidly evolving environment.

“Building a culture of curiosity encourages a willingness and desire in people to want to learn and understand new things and actively seek out challenges and new experiences to broaden their horizons. In many ways, curiosity is the engine of innovation and curious people have an ongoing, intrinsic interest in both their inner experience and the world around them.”

We do, however, need to pay attention to digital noise and the overwhelming choices and distractions available to our learners. “With the volume of content that is currently available, this could lead to information anxiety,” Webb flags.

“A good set of critical thinking skills and the understanding of how to apply these will help people to draw conclusions from information and discriminate between what is useful and what is not.”

Simon Gibson, an international learning and organisational development director, also raises concerns over our ‘always on’ world: “To me it feels like there is never enough time to do any learning in the middle of all this noise.”

In our quest to unlock new dimensions, we run the risk of contributing to this noise by throwing another unwanted distraction into the mix. How do we avoid this? Gibson argues that L&D need to stop focusing on solutions and make sure they are addressing the right problem. 

 “My advice is to keep it simple, make sure it helps with the real issue by questioning and deeply understanding the opportunity (it may not be a learning one). Look to ensure you are learning from your own learning. What is the evidence you are collecting, seeing, hearing and reading telling you about what worked and what didn’t? Don’t contribute to the noise and make the world more complex. Listen, challenge the norm and see where it can take you.”

Removing barriers

From exploring Learning At Work Week’s 2022 strands, it’s clear that L&D’s role is not simply to uncover lifelong learning but remove the barriers to it.

How are we unlocking the potential of all our people, and not the most apparent pockets of talent? How are we creating spaces and opportunities for employees to share their covert knowledge and skills with others and ensure we’re not missing an invaluable trick? How can we encourage learners to explore new avenues without adding to the problem of unnecessary noise?

For organisations to embed a culture of lifelong learning and reap its rewards, these are some of the questions that cannot be ignored.

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