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New Roles for the Connected Learning Experience

To create a valuable and connected learning experience, it’s important to consider the range of learning types and the roles people in your organization play throughout the learning lifecycle. Identifying the different types of learning moments, learners, and learning facilitators enables us to take full advantage of our ecosystem of assets and take charge of the learning process.

Moments of Learning Need

We should frequently consider the resources we make available to our employees during a learning experience, but it shouldn’t end there. We need to consider the moment of need learners are encountering.

The concept of moments of learning need was discovered by Conrad Gottfredson and Bob Mosher, and it is powerfully learning centric. This perspective focuses on when and under what conditions a performer will need to learn something in order to drive a desired outcome.

The moments of learning need are:

  • Learning for the first time
  • Learning more
  • Applying/refining
  • Adjusting to change
  • Reacting to failure

Each of these moments has different requirements. When someone is learning something for the first time, they are building a new concept, a new foundation they will be able to use and apply to get better at something. In this context, you need the most structure and scaffolding.

If you’re adjusting to change or reacting to failure, however, you will need more performance support in real time. If you’re trying to fix something or address an issue, you don’t need all the same history and context about the subject that you needed when you were learning it for the first time or learning more; you just need insight on how to fix or change your current performance to get to your desired outcome.

Emerging moments of learning need:

  • Innovating
  • Growing for the next role

Two other emerging moments of need that are crucial to consider outside of Gottfredson and Mosher’s work are innovating and growing for the next role. These moments of need are more about driving toward something new, taking original approaches, gaining insight, and expanding.

As we consider these moments of learning, we also need to think about how we set systems up to make the resources needed for different learning moments available to help learners reach their objectives. Expanding our concept of a learner to one of several distinct types of learning roles is useful when supporting someone throughout an entire learning experience.

Expanded Learner Roles

We’re no longer subscribing to the traditional mindset of organizations merely providing content that a learner consumes and then regurgitates at some point. When we move beyond the first two learning moments—learning for the first time and learning more—and move into adjusting, refining, reacting, innovating, and growing, it becomes critical to understand the expanded learner roles at play during different moments of learning.

Expanded Learner Roles:

  1. Consumer
  2. Moderator
  3. Curator
  4. Contributor
  5. Creator
  6. Collaborator

When we pull people into the learning experience and treat them like active participants, we’re expanding beyond the mindset of just a consumer learning experience, and we begin to consider the roles of moderators, curators, contributors, and so on.

We can use an understanding of expanded learner roles and the needs of each learning role to apply, refine, and amplify the learning experience in innovative ways. When learning moments of need and learner roles are identified and nurtured, we can see real response to change and in conflict resolution.

Connected Organizational Learning Roles

Another equally important yet often overlooked component of building a connected learning organization lies in how humans in an organization facilitate learning and provide support throughout the learning life cycle.

The following list or organizational learning roles is largely inspired by Robert Cross’s work on organizational network analysis, which studies how organizations actually become productive. When we think about how people in an organization learn or how an organization transforms itself from the workforce perspective, these folks really become a critical part of it.

We have four main organizational learning roles:

  • Learning connectors – people inside the business who have access to resources. These people are who you know you can call when you need help with something.
  • Learning bridges – individuals who make connections across the organization or team by bringing insights and different perspectives. They know where to find and how to share resources.
  • Coaches and mentors – these people are your topic specialists, the people who have an area of expertise and can help facilitate specific types of projects so you can move quickly onto your next task or learning challenge.
  • Information brokers – these people have access to information in a very fluid state. They not only enable us to learn but ultimately to perform.

All of these roles are critical inside a transforming organization. It’s important that we uncover who is performing these roles, identify how to nurture them, and make sure we retain them, especially if we wish to grow our workforce with valuable individuals.

Once we start to truly see how the entire organizational learning ecosystem operates and contributes resources and information, learning itself will flourish without much formal intervention. We’re now pulling full value from our entire community and making real strides toward success.

About the Authors

Matt Donovan
Chief Learning & Innovation Officer
Early in life, I found that I had a natural curiosity that not only led to a passion for learning and sharing with others, but it also got me into trouble. Although not a bad kid, I often found overly structured classrooms a challenge. I could be a bit disruptive as I would explore the content and activities in a manner that made sense to me. I found that classes and teachers that nurtured a personalized approach really resonated with me, while those that did not were demotivating and affected my relationship with the content. Too often, the conversation would come to a head where the teacher would ask, “Why can’t you learn it this way?” I would push back with, “Why can’t you teach it in a variety of ways?” The only path for success was when I would deconstruct and reconstruct the lessons in a meaningful way for myself. I would say that this early experience has shaped my career. I have been blessed with a range of opportunities to work with innovative organizations that advocate for the learner, endeavor to deliver relevance, and look to bend technology to further these goals. For example, while working at Unext.com, I had the opportunity to experience over 3,000 hours of “learnability” testing on my blended learning designs. I could see for my own eyes how learners would react to my designs and how they made meaning of it. Learners asked two common questions: Is it relevant to me? Is it authentic? Through observations of and conversations with learners, I began to sharpen my skills and designed for inclusion and relevance rather than control. This lesson has served me well. In our industry, we have become overly focused on the volume and arrangement of content, instead of its value. Not surprising—content is static and easier to define. Value (relevance), on the other hand, is fluid and much harder to describe. The real insight is that you can’t really design relevance; you can only design the environment or systems that promote it. Relevance ultimately is in the eye of the learner—not the designer. So, this is why, when asked for an elevator pitch, I share my passion of being an advocate for the learner and a warrior for relevance.

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