Originally posted 05-Oct-23

Stan Garfield

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Michelle Ockers is Co-Founder and Director of Learning Uncut. As an Organizational Learning Strategist and Learning and Development (L&D) Team Capability Builder, she helps leaders build a high impact L&D function.

Michelle is a strategist, mentor, facilitator, trainer, and speaker who believes that everyone deserves the opportunity to learn and perform at their best. She is based in Tuross Head, New South Wales, Australia.

Michelle introduced Communities of Practice for strategic capabilities at Coca-Cola Amatil, including supply planning, manufacturing, and engineering. She coached others, including business leaders and subject matter experts, to build and sustain effective communities. Michelle was an early proponent of Working Out Loud (WOL) in Australia. She established WOL Circles both inside organizations and across the learning profession.

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  • University of Southern Queensland — Bachelor of Business in Economics and Human Resource Management, 1987 with University Medal

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  • Learning Uncut , Co-Founder, Director, Consultant, and Podcast Host
  • Emerging Stronger, Co-Creator
  • Australian Institute of Training & Development (AITD), Divisional President
  • Qantas , Training Manager
  • Coca-Cola Amatil , National Supply Chain Technical Capability Manager, Technical Training Consultant
  • Andragogy , Learning Consultant

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L&D: Leverage Community to Breakthrough

Applying Learning Science to Workplace Communities

Enterprise collaboration tools keep people connected across the many spaces where they now work. It feels like learning in the flow of work may finally be within our grasp, particularly as we are swimming in content and people are increasingly comfortable using collaboration technology.

Just as a successful gardener applies findings from the natural science of botany, taking an approach informed by learning science will help learning in a community to grow and thrive. Let’s explore three compelling myths that too often lead us up the garden path and see how learning science can help us nip them in the bud!

Myth #1 — Consuming content means learning is happening

When the pandemic hit, we saw an explosion in people accessing digital content. Research by Fosway in May 2020 showed that 71% of L&D leaders experienced an increased demand for digital learning content from learners. It’s easy to measure content ‘hits’ — and of course, helpful to know what content people are finding useful. Accurate, relevant content is critical to learning.

However, consumption of content alone does not mean that learning is happening. Even if we are thoughtfully curating content and sharing it in workplace communities, we are missing a significant opportunity to seed learning in richer ways.

Questions are a powerful way to improve recall and deepen understanding. Try these two approaches to using questions when you post content in communities:

  • Reflection — Invite individual reflection on key takeaways and how they compare to their own experience.
  • Elaboration — Ask people whether they agree with key points in the content, and why or why not, inviting them to explain their thinking.

Myth #2 — We no longer need knowledge, as we can look it up

We can look up almost anything online inside or outside of our organization when and where we need it. It’s enticing to think that there’s no point learning and memorizing things when we can look everything up online. Of course, we can — and should — look up facts and simple processes online rather than having to remember them.

However, information and knowledge are different things. When we look things up what we find is largely facts or information. We have to judge the validity of what we find and interpret it to make it meaningful.

This requires that we have a ‘map of the world’ to make sense of and use what we find. Knowledge is this map, composed of existing mental frameworks, experience and expertise. In short, we need knowledge to do something useful with information.

Grow knowledge in workplace communities using proven methods such as:

  • Retrieval practice — Post case studies and scenarios or run activities where people can seek input on challenges, providing an opportunity to retrieve and apply knowledge, deepening understanding.
  • Elaboration — Encourage people to relate new concepts or ideas to existing knowledge and create connections by asking how they could use the concepts in their work.

Myth #3 — Digital means people are learning differently

Technology has provided new digital spaces for people to work and learn. It provides access to a far greater volume of content, both inside and outside of organizations. Searching the internet has been likened to trying to drink from a firehose. By necessity, how we search for and filter information has changed as we seek to quickly decide what content is worthy of our attention.

However, it has not fundamentally changed the mechanisms by which we learn. In his book Millennials, Goldfish & Other Training Misconceptions, Clark Quinn debunks the myth that digital means we learn differently. He points out that “learning itself, which changes the brain wiring, is a process of action and reflection.” While digital spaces may have changed the environment in which learning is occurring, “it’s using the same mechanisms of neural strengthening.”

So, if our brains work in the same way, we need to tune into how we can encourage people to learn in workplace communities. We can do this by sowing questions and activities in ways such as:

  • Spaced practice — Set challenges or run activities that provide multiple practice opportunities over a period of time.
  • Feedback — Invite people to demonstrate or walk through how they do something and guide constructive peer feedback.

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Stan Garfield

Knowledge Management Author and Speaker, Founder of SIKM Leaders Community, Community Evangelist, Knowledge Manager https://sites.google.com/site/stangarfield/