Work in Learning/Learning at Work

Written in response for Rupa’s Work and Learning Blog Carnival 🙂

I recently met someone who was just starting a new job. She lamented the fact that she had to sit through an entire week of orientation training.

“Wow, they still do that?” I responded.

She said she just finished the fourth day of the training and it was brutal, boring. To her point, most of that information would just be lost or forgotten trivia shortly after the training sessions. But I suppose this approach alleviates the training organization’s responsibility. Once you expose the students to it, it’s simply up to them to learn and absorb it.

It makes sense to have some orientation as a group for newbies, but to cram everything into one session at the beginning doesn’t make any sense. What about doing the following instead:

  1. Hit the main/and crucial points (anti-sexual harassment, benefits information, safety, brief rah-rah about company philosophy/policy) in a one day session. Give everyone their continental breakfast with bagels, croissants and fruit.
  2. During the session point out or give the students a reminder of where to get training and information about the different areas both online or in actual face to face sessions.
  3. Set up a training plan and schedule for individuals that covers both general company/organization information and specific job related information. The latter is the responsibility of the manager and immediate parent group. It’s a pain in the ass, managers, but it is your job.
  4. Most importantly set each new employee up with one or two buddies and mentors. Make mentorship an job responsibility expectation for all company employees. These mentors are responsible for meeting with the employee, more frequently at first, in order to gauge their progress. The mentors should have a checklist or progress plan for the new employees to check whether or not they’ve completed training or reviewed guidelines for their area or role. I think having a mentor specific your job role would be important as well. This is someone who a new employee can shadow to learn about specific group or job role training items. My first group at my old job did an excellent job of facilitating this buddy training.
  5. Finally, actively cultivate a culture of social learning through networking. Younger and newer employees who haven’t be indoctrinated by a culture of competition and hoarding information seem to take to this more naturally.

The best jobs I’ve ever had actually provided the above training/mentorship in some shape or form. I think that there’s the old Protestant Work Ethic assumption that learning is not work, and that you’re not supposed to do it on company time. It’s a stupid assumption, I know, but old habits in old dogs are hard to break. I think that some forward-thinking companies are now challenging this assumption. They now see learning/training as the vehicle that allows their employees to become more productive in a shorter period of time. They also view learning and sharing as a key element to fostering creativity and innovation amongst their employees, but wherever you have management who only cares about the appearances of productivity (not a bright bunch to begin with) and short term goals, you won’t find a culture of learning an growth.

4 Responses to “Work in Learning/Learning at Work”

  1. 1 Rupa May 15, 2008 at 5:08 am

    Nice points Natalie 🙂

    I have also felt that trainings done as a formality never work.
    No one can learn something well in a day or two. Learning is a process and people have make learning a part of their daily activities. Mentorship must be promoted and practised. This will do a lot more good than conventional training programs.

  2. 2 dferriero May 20, 2008 at 6:53 pm

    Great post, Natalie. I am a business student, and have worked for several firms that use the old-fashioned training process you mention. Currently, I am working as intern at SyberWorks, Inc., a leading provider of custom e-Learning solutions and the learning management system (LMS) industry. Our products are helping companies update their training methods. To learn more about these products, visit us at the SyberWorks website ( to learn more about our custom LMS and e-Learning solutions. Also, check out our new video podcast on the SyberWorks Police Training Management System (, a new product aimed at bringing e-Learning to the law enforcement industry. Thanks! 🙂

  3. 3 Viplav Baxi May 21, 2008 at 8:02 pm

    HI Natalie,

    Great thoughts! Traditional learning methodologies lean on measurement and control (however ineffective these might be) to demonstrate training effectiveness and tie in to business needs. When we start suggesting that a decentralized “network” approach be taken, it is probably perceived as a loss of control and ability to measure against business needs. That is why it is critical to define formal methodologies for this type of learning.
    Secondly, each group, as also the individuals that constitute it, have their own behavioural dynamics that must be talen into account if we need to make this an effective approach. Not everyone can be a mentor or a buddy!

  4. 4 nkilkenny May 21, 2008 at 11:41 pm

    Thank you for your thoughtful comments, Viplav. I agree, not everyone can be a good mentor or buddy. I do think that making the expectation that it is everyone’s responsibility to bring others up to speed is helpful to creating a true learning organization. Whether or not people live up to these expectations… I guess leaders who model this behavior for all employees are helping them out.

    Assessment and tying results back to training is very problematic. I’ve seen many training depts. suffer because they could not provide adequate numbers. But isn’t this the problem with education in general and why we rely so heavily on standardized tests. We really don’t have a failsafe way of attributing learner success to the training/trainers past first few levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy. We don’t understand how to evaluate success wholistically.

    I can’t put my finger on it, but there’s got to be a balance between providing data (and making connections to business goals) and building a strong learning culture and environment. Also, I’m sure that there are stronger/quicker minds than me out there who are solving these problems. In the long run… everyone’s success at work is important when it contributes to the profitability of the company. It’s just that proving that training and ‘a good company’ culture can help achieve that profitability is not an easy task… and sometimes even a sisyphean one at that.

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