Reevaluating our learning culture in a time of major uncertainty

learning and digital technology
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In today’s ‘always on’ digital culture, is there still space for traditional forms of learning? Yes, but much like planning your gym workout, you should consider all the different cognitive muscles that need to work together in order to plan a well balanced learning programme.

The digital revolution and significant technological advancements in recent years have significantly increased the amount of information available to us which, in turn, raises many questions about what we should learn and how best to do it.

This poses many challenges for our learning culture, and encourages us to question existing methods. Training institutions are, naturally, giving this serious thought and, in particular, the questions being asked are:

  • How can we identify what we should learn (and teach)?
  • How do we assess the learning of an individual and of a group?
  • How do we increase our learning by engaging more actively with technological devices? Does it really matter?

This article will consider these questions and offer some thoughts and proposals.

How to identify what we should learn and teach

Schools and training institutions often have well defined processes to identify what should be learned and taught. This has positively evolved over the years from being knowledge-centric towards being more competency-focused, with the involvement of companies.

Learners are part of the process but still have a very limited voice. It’s now widely acknowledged that learner involvement needs to increase, as they may have their own ideas about what they want and need to learn. Simply asking the question would be progress in most cases.

On the corporate side, hearing and paying attention to what companies say is also important, even if they can sometimes be misleading when they over-emphasise management fads.

The value of external and non-traditional voices

In today’s market, where knowledge is more widely accessible and organisations increasingly value hybrid competencies (i.e. job roles where candidates have other useful skills in addition to their core job role), it’s more important than ever to look beyond the traditional stakeholders when identifying what should be taught. External and non-traditional voices are now essential to the process.

Studies have shown that an extensive use of electronic devices can diminish our concentration, but it can also help us develop new skills.

For instance, in order to identify hybrid competencies for the future, Audencia Business School has worked with is partner schools Centrale Nantes Engineering School and Ensa Architecture, as well as with corporates like Orange and Manpower.

Over 18 months, 72 individuals, helped by experts from diverse backgrounds and a futurologist, have collectively defined a new methodology. As a result, new hybrid competencies have been developed into training programmes.

A mixed approach to assessing the learning of individuals and groups

Can we really assess the learning of an individual or a group? Just naming the multiple forms of assessment (initial, formative, summative and diagnostic assessment, objective and subjective. referencing [criterion-referenced, norm-referenced, and ipsative], informal and formal, internal and external) shows the complexity of assessment and its inherent limitations.

Individual in-class exams are still the dominant format for most teachers and students. This offers an instant snapshot, but it doesn’t say much about context, progress, and acquisition of real competencies. A video would show a different story.

One promising area of development is adaptive digital learning, which uses a computer algorithm to orchestrate the interaction with the learner and deliver customised resources and learning activities to address the specific needs of each learner.

Peeragogy (or paragogy), despite the strangeness of its naming, is gaining ground as it shows that peers can produce a useful and supportive context for self-directed learning.

The act of learning itself is useful in that it reinforces our cognitive function – like exercising your muscles in the gym – it gives you the tools you need to adapt and take on new challenges.

In this approach, the teacher/student relationship evolves towards a more egalitarian student/student environment, where trust and fairness are embedded. Even where learners have not been familiar with this approach, the feedback has been highly positive.

This kind of peer-to-peer learning has already been successfully integrated into the C4B (Competencies for Business) programme developed by Audencia Business School, and offers a dynamic 360° tool that allows students to track and reflect on their progress in terms of competencies.

Combine electronic devices with traditional tools

Electronic devices are part of our life, so it stands to reason that they must be part of our learning culture. However, this doesn’t mean that they have to be everywhere all the time.

Studies have shown that an extensive use of electronic devices can diminish our concentration, but it can also help us develop new skills.

Our brains and bodies interact differently depending on whether we are using a PC, a smartphone, a tablet, a sheet of paper or a textbook.

The ultimate goal, quite simply, is to create a learning culture in which all forms of learning are embraced, and where individuals have the space to apply them.  

Using a combination of methods might give us a better understanding or how we read, focus our brains and memorise things.

As cognitive sciences introduce us to new and better ways of training our brains and bodies, we’ll find new ways to create stronger leaner engagement.

Keeping pace with social and economic change

A learning culture disconnected from major changes in the social, economic and business environment is problematic.

Scientific advancement and time make most knowledge obsolete in the end, and the time spent learning may seem wasted.

On the other hand, the act of learning itself is useful in that it reinforces our cognitive function – like exercising your muscles in the gym – it gives you the tools you need to adapt and take on new challenges.

Keep it balanced

A well-balanced learning culture, much like a full body workout, should combine different forms of exercise.

Different modes of learning (e.g. individual, group, traditional face-to-face, digital learning), when combined in the right way allow the individual to be exposed to new situations and challenges, and therefore to learn better.

Time for feedback loops and reflection is also key, as are trust in the learning provider and process, and enjoyment.

The ultimate goal, quite simply, is to create a learning culture in which all forms of learning are embraced, and where individuals have the space to apply them.  

For the latest thinking, practical tips and expert advice on fostering a learning culture in your organisation, check out the TrainingZone.co.uk learning culture hub

About Valerie Claude - Gaudillat

Valérie

Professor Valerie Claude Gaudillat is Director of Innovation / Professor of Strategy at Audencia Business School.

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