Learning what is needed, not what we want to teach

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Written by Jo Cook on 30 December 2016

I was preparing a face to face session about facilitation skills, which needs to include dealing with cultures different to our own. Part of my preparation is obviously reflection and creative thinking, and I remembered back to a time when I was travelling a lot for the L&D role I was in.

I was in the Munich office delivering some formal, planned training sessions. I also scheduled time to be available in the office to help people at their desks as well as discuss other learning at work and technical issues; my role reported into the technical function of the business and smaller offices outside of the London HQ didn’t always have staff or infrastructure to easily deal with remotely.

One person I helped I distinctly remember: I’d gone to her desk to help with some Outlook email questions. Partly there was a technical element in setting something up, but there was also a ‘how do I’ element where I could teach her what to do. My German colleague was very pleased with what I’d managed to fix and teach her.

I recall quite clearly sitting beside her and seeing how she had set up Outlook, some of the things she was obviously trying to do and/or not doing well at. So many things popped into my brain that I wanted to share, to teach, to help with! I did, of course, ask if there was anything else she wanted help with, and the answer was a “no, I don’t think so”. I offered a few suggestions of what I could help with. There was consideration from my colleague and then, “thank you, but I’ve learnt enough for today, you really helped with what I needed to do”.

Was it frustrating not to improve her workflow? A little, yes.

Did I feel a failure for not sharing all I knew that could help? Well maybe failure is the wrong word but… It was my job to share information, so a little bit!

These were fleeting, in-the-moment thoughts. There was a much bigger issue I really felt that day: learning at the point of need.

Perhaps I hadn’t been around at the exact moment my colleague had the question or challenge, and as L&D professionals that won’t usually be the case. However I was there and available to answer the specific questions she had, all in about ten minutes or so.

For the points she was struggling with at the time, my colleague didn’t need to go on a training course. She didn’t need to find a half or full day, travel outside of the office, get a headset to attend online, wade through e-learning… nothing. Those things might well benefit her broader learning and performance with Outlook and the time and task management that goes with it, but they weren’t the barriers she needed to address at the time.

Sometimes we just need to learn what we need to learn and move on with our work. This is what things like Bob Mosher and Conrad Gottfredson’s Moments of Learning Needs are all about, and the 70:20:10 framework. It’s not about the formal learning or the menu of Outlook courses that I could have offered her. It was about being able to do something that was blocking her performance at work.

There is a need for us in L&D to support those moments of learning need. What if I had not been there? Maybe she had already Googled and not found an answer, perhaps no one in the office could help?

What I did do after helping my colleague was source some quick reference guides, make them available and promote them within the organisation. It’s a small thing, but they were popular and helped people as they were performance support tools – something that they could quickly look at in that moment of need.


About the author

Jo Cook is deputy editor of TJ and an independent L&D specialist focusing on blended programme design and live online virtual classrooms. She can be contacted through her blog at www.lightbulbmoment.info and via Twitter: @LightbulbJo


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