I experienced an “aha!” moment when I attended one of my first association conferences. I had been a casual Twitter user – a lurker mainly who would scan streams for interesting insights. At this conference, my approach shifted, as instead of taking notes by hand, which I rarely went back to, I started tweeting about what I was learning at the conference. During sessions, I had people responding in real time. I was learning from people sitting around me, and even those not in the same room. Afterwards, I found that the process of writing tweets made me remember what I learned long after the session was over. Social media became not just a communications tool but a learning tool for me. This experience using Twitter was a lesson in how we use the tools around us to better imprint, understand and retain what we learn – and it is one I continue to employ today.
I open with this because learning theory teaches us that one of the best ways to engage a learner is through narrative and storytelling, rather than questions and answers. Now that I have your attention, we can zoom out on the larger questions about learning and workforce development that are at stake for all of our organizations. Aside from social media, what are the other learning paths and tools we can pursue in the hopes of building a stronger workforce, stronger organizations and stronger people?
A main challenge when discussing learning is its sheer magnitude. As an overarching term, it’s the means by which we prepare for the future by individually and collectively becoming better today. Under a magnifying glass, it’s a world of unique experiences and approaches.
For many of our organizations, learning has transformed from the isolated topics covered at conferences into partnering within and supporting an industry by actively developing a workforce. Developing a workforce is not something that happens overnight. Aiming for incremental improvements and milestones of success can help us understand that it is a journey and that we are all on the right path.
For example, one milestone might be the retention of star members learners within the organization. There is opportunity to take those students who have a positive experience with an organization’s learning programs and bring them back as ambassadors to guide new learners. They might even become teachers. Are you reincorporating past and present learners into the process as teachers and storytellers? Learning doesn’t have to come from the inside of the organization out. It can be an ever-growing network of teachers, mentors and learners guiding each other through the resources offered by the organization. One member might wear many hats over the lifespan of their membership.
This approach is reflective of the changes we are seeing in the professional landscape today. The traditional pathways of any career are being shaken up. A professional used to belong to one company for 50 years. Nowadays there’s a lot more fluidity. People might go from being part of an industry, to servicing the same industry, to being a consultant, to circling back into the industry, all in one career. People can make multiple career changes over the course of their professional life. This complicates, but also opens up possibilities, for developing a workforce fit for the 21st century.
Developing a workforce through learning is a task monumental in its scope. Learning has the potential to be a real core reason why our organizations will exist and succeed in the future. It will become central as we enter times of disruption where there is greater competition in traditional lines of organizational revenue, like networking. Learning can be at the core of how we improve industries through our members, and ultimately improve society.