30 years in HR, part 15: Self managed learning HaHa…

The Business We Are In

In Part 13 I described my positive experience with the Product Management Course at Philips Consumer Electronics. In the same period I also had my worst training & development experience. I had read about “self-managed learning”, and I wanted to introduce that. We had a program for young professionals (2-5 years experience) we called “The Business We Are In”. Most of the participants were young engineers, working on the development of new generations of TV’s and audio equipment. We (but I certainly take the blame) decided to deviate from the usual format, and to make the participants responsible for the program.
I clearly remember the first session. 24 participants, eager to get instructions what to do, and three training & development staff responsible for the program. We outlined our intentions to the participants. That they would know best what they would need to do their work better, now and in the future. That we were there just to facilitate and help them, but that they had to take ownership of their own learning. I can still see the fear in their eyes. Step one: define your learning needs. Away they went is small groups, to brainstorm about their learning needs. Luckily they came back with long lists with relevant subjects (“Strategy”, “Teamwork”, “Our competition”, “Career management” etc). We threw in some teamwork (outdoor exercise, where they had to build bridges from a pile of wood) and then they had to divide themselves in groups to prepare the next sessions of the program.

We need more structure!

To cut a long story short: after two weeks we decided to intervene. This was one step too far, and clearly we should have not started this self-managed learning project without some more experience in our team. We were able to redirect, and the program was not bad after all. In a more structured way it ran for a couple of years.

Real action learning is scarce

Even today self-managed learning is very difficult. Most training programs use very traditional and safe formats. Sometimes it is called “Action Learning”, but most of the time the action is with strategic long-term projects where the participants can do no harm.
Real action learning is very scarce. Learning-on-the-job is often a euphemism for no reflection and learning at all. My hope is on the millennials, as I have heard they are self-managed learners by nature!

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