One of the common pieces of rhetoric that comes with the social learning brigade is that the accessibility of information for improving your knowledge about a hobby is at your fingertips, and so should be the same at work. Except this is completely the wrong analogy and just doesn’t compare to the reality of what it means to learn a hobby.
When we have a hobby, it’s because something has sparked an interest in us to such an extent that we want to pursue that activity on a regular basis. It holds a personal meaning to us and we find value in doing the hobby. It might even be that the hobby is a strength of ours and allows us to find a way to express our strength in a way that is useful to us. Ultimately, though, a hobby is often about our self identity. It’s something we do regularly enough that it can define us in a certain way.
With the ease of technology we can create or find communities of people who share that hobby and we can have a proper discussion about it. That’s pretty awesome when it happens. You feel like you belong. You have a kinship with others. You share a common language. You’re prepared to accept words of wisdom and criticism and feedback. It’s all ok, because you have the support of others. Hobbies rule.
When we spend time learning about a hobby, there’s often no outcome in mind. We’re not setting out to do it to achieve a goal or an objective. We’re doing it because we want to do it. We’ll learn things along the way, and find information that helps us learn more. Technicalities become important. The right language becomes important. Development of skills becomes important. Feedback on what you’ve achieved becomes important. Nuances and subtleties become important. And it’s all with time as a non-factor. It doesn’t matter if it takes two years or two weeks to learn more. It’s a hobby, and so by nature is something done in pastime.
At some point, you might become so skilled at your hobby that you’re willing to share your knowledge with others. It’s never a given, and is always the option of the individual. If they choose to share their knowledge, that could happen in so many ways, and it might even become an option to be paid for that knowledge.
For sure, though, as part of the hobby, learning is a constant activity, and in the digital age, learning can happen instantly.
Everything I’ve described above just can’t happen at work because the context of workplace learning and development is vastly different.
The primary thing is that workplace L&D is fundamentally about skills development of some sort and is often timebound. If you need to use MS Excel, you can’t meander and take your time over a six month period. It has to be immediate and it has to improve performance. If it doesn’t then the L&D activity is worthless and useless. The social learning brigade argue that when people need to learn MS Excel they will search Google or YouTube to find the knowledge they need. Sure they will, but that’s not how learning or development occurs. It’s the discussions, the Q&A with a community and the testing and practise which support the L&D to happen.
What we’re now learning about our roles as L&D practitioners is how to better argue the case for embedding learning using holistic methods. What we’re also learning as L&D practitioners is how to design those holistic learning methods into the L&D provision. You can take the principles of hobby based learning and adapt them to workplace learning, but the analogy just doesn’t translate.
Add to that also the fact that most workplace learning tends to be centred around activities and tasks which most of us don’t care about and never want to care about. You use tools and models and techniques and systems at work because you have to, not because you have a deep seated desire to. I like using our LMS to help support the learning we offer to our workforce, but I don’t spend my spare time tinkering with it week after week, in forums, reading blog posts, discussing with others or any other type of activity with it. Partly because I don’t need to, but mostly because it’s just not that important to me.
Performance support, job aids, online communities of practise, open learning access, social network access, e-learning, face to face sessions are all useful and helpful ways to create holistic learning solutions. But just because someone has to use a system or learn about the culture of the workplace, doesn’t mean they want to spend their personal time actively doing exactly that.