We have seen in the previous blog posts the prerequisites that an organisation needs to become an effective learning organisation, and the range of learning strategies an organisation needs to select from, implement and experiment with.
This blog series proposes an Organisational Bildung model as a means of analysing and ensuring that continuous learning culture is strategically embedded and put into practice in all the key organisational dimensions, externally and internally, by engaging the whole organisation through three key organs: the head, the heart, the hand. This is to enable self-cultivation, learner agency and a growth mindset to take root at all levels, individually and collectively.
If previous sections of this blog have explored the key characteristics and strategic enablers of the learning organisation, what factors enhance the development of a learning organisation and what models are available to appraise the maturity of a learning organisation?
Dealing with maturity first, this is an area in which there is extensive literature and numerous models have been proposed, mostly based on capability maturity models (CMM, now CMMI1): CMM is process improvement method that originated in US military-related research and has been extensively used to analyse process efficacy and maturity, and (especially) software maturity and effectiveness. A comprehensive analysis, applying CMM concepts to the evaluation of training and education maturity in organisations, is provided by Wagenstein and Hollis Nan2 at the US Project Management Institute.
Based closely on the original CMM levels, Gartner proposed an eLearning maturity model with 5 ascending levels of maturity:
- Repeatable (also Managed in CMM)
- Managed (Predictable in CMM)
- Optimised (Optimising in CMM)
These have subsequently been applied and developed by scholars to advance models of eLearning maturity, especially in the higher education sector; however, they are useful maturity levels for business and the private sector too, for learning and development maturity in general.
Stephen Marshall3 and Geoff Whitworth had combined CMM and SPICE4 models to develop an evolving eLearning maturity model, eMM5, for five process areas (Learning, Development, Support, Evaluation and Organisation) for institutions. Marshall also applied 5 levels of practice maturity and 5 levels of results maturity to align with the five ascending levels of CMM maturity, in a model which remains a very valuable L & D maturity evaluation tool for any type of organisation:
As a UK CIPD /Workday study6 revealed, HR or workforce analytics is a growing area within many organisations as a means of benchmarking and improving business performance in general, not only managing people-related risks and improving people management oversight in areas such as Talent Management, Business Continuity, Diversity and Equality. The Report highlighted, however, that the UK is something of a slow adopter of people analytics compared to other regions, so there appears to be considerable room for further development, although this finding also seems to be linked to a lower level of confidence, a degree of scepticism in people analytics data as a means of delivering key insights for change in people management.
This blog article is not focussed on workforce analytics, but it is obvious that people analytics have a clear overlap with, and certainly offer an opportunity for, learning organisation indicators. Some workforce analytics organisations have a track record in the learning organisation metrics area, as Wagenstein and Hollis Nan highlighted in 2006. Zeroedin, a workforce data company, produced a model of seven Key Learning Indicators, which are worth reproducing here. This model remains a very useful reference point today for those seeking to design or implement a learning organisation performance management tool.
It is striking that Change Readiness and Employee Engagement, two prerequisites that we have already established in this blog series are fundamental for the learning organisation, are included here as measurable indicators of training and development effectiveness in the organisation.
Indicators for eLearning Maturity?
Finally, focussing specifically on eLearning, a 2014 study by Rosario Cação of the University of Coimbra in Portugal classified the maturity of corporate eLearning by seven dimensions, and 38 indicators, as shown below. This classification derived from an interview-based study and analysis of 14 large corporates (10,000 employees plus), taken from across multiple sectors, each with several years’ experience in using and implementing eLearning and large eLearning budgets.
It is interesting to note that Cacao undertook a parallel research study7, using interview-based analysis, on the experience of running eLearning within the same companies, which highlighted levels of difficulty and in some cases trauma with eLearning solutions developed in-house. As these were large companies and market leaders with a long-term focus and a commitment to L&D, they wanted to develop, manage and deliver their own eLearning courses. They had problems with platforms, with trainees’ attitudes and with top management resistance, but most significantly with learning contents, since these required a high resource and time commitment to keep audio and video content up to date across multiple locations and technologies. According to the study, these difficulties had a negative impact both on the effectiveness of provision and the perception of company eLearning, so that many companies had to greatly reduce or simplify their in-house eLearning as a result. It can be safely assumed that, as the study intended, this led to consideration of alternative and more innovative eLearning strategies, sourcing and L&D approaches, in what is a fast-moving marketplace.
In the eLearning Maturity study, the indicators proposed are all qualitative, so to use and apply them meaningfully as metrics, there would need to be some form of score conversion for each indicator. Although it would rely on a shared judgement among those assessing and completing these key eLearning indicators, or an averaged mark across those surveyed/questioned, a simple measure for each indicator, such as high/medium/low would perhaps be most practical. Those indicators which are not in the format “Degree to which…” or “Ability to….” would need codified measures, such as high= strategic; medium= established: low=patchy or non-existent. The company could then benchmark its own progress on its journey towards being a mature learning organisation, via these three stages for each of the indicators across each of the seven dimensions.
Development Enablers of the Learning Organisation
As a foundation for the development of the learning organisation, a solid grounding in and continuous improvement of transversal competencies, or soft skills, among staff is a powerful enabler of the learning organisation. Transversal skills such as interpersonal skills and personal effectiveness have the enormous benefit of being by nature cross-functional and boundary-spanning. Boundary-spanning skills are those which facilitate effective interaction across organisations, cultures, departments or indeed boundaries of any nature. Effective boundary-spanning practitioners are often hybrid professionals, with experience and skills in areas on both sides of the boundary, or at the very least have had exposure to and learned from both sides of the boundary.
Boundary-spanning skills include soft skills and qualities such as collaborative problem-solving, empathy, cultural awareness and expression, and they are critical enablers of the learning organisation both at the micro internal (between individual employees and groups) and macro external scale (between the organisation and its clients and partners), i.e. for the Head, Heart and Hand of the organisation. These skills are the raw materials without which the organs of the learning organisation would struggle to function effectively.
Indeed as we have seen in the second blog of this series, the Institute of Management Services emphasises the vital importance of employees’ social, organisational and communication skills for the learning organisation. The IMS is far from alone in highlighting interpersonal skills; many international organisations such as the World Economic Forum (New Vision for Education and Future of Jobs Report, 2016) and the OECD (PISA, PIACC) have concluded from extensive research that continuous development of transversal skills such as collaboration and problem-solving is critical for organisations and individuals in the 21st century.
To survive and to thrive in this competitive, hyper-connected, technology-driven global economy, organisations, and their workers need to develop and deploy a core set of transversal competencies as the cornerstone for all their endeavours. These competencies, such as learning to learn, continuing to learn are the currency that will enable them to make sense of the complex changes and to participate as change agents and innovators, rather than merely as passengers. Even more importantly, transversal competencies will equip organisations, workers and citizens to control their own destinies, rather than be controlled by external forces.
In each domain of organisational bildung, the head, the heart and the hand, soft skills such as adaptability and resilience need to be alloyed to the appropriate applied, technical and cognitive skills if the organisation is to negotiate change and development in a sustainable way, and to continuously improve. In this way the organisation can develop a degree of systemic learner agency, which will enable it to be more agile and more adaptive in the face of rapidly changing markets, demographics and technology.
Open Learning Principles for the Learning Organisation
One final area I would like to highlight as a key development enabler of the learning organisation is that of an open learning culture. An open learning culture requires the committed leadership and stewardship described in the second blog post of this series, as well as the willingness and motivation of staff at all levels to maintain open minds and open learning attitudes. What do we mean by an open learning culture? There is no one answer to this question, but without launching into a lengthy analysis, one can try and identify a range of indicators of an open learning organisation. I would propose the following 10 open learning principles, as indicators of what being a learning organisation means – in practice:
- Keeping the organisation secure but knowledge-porous for open innovation;
- being operationally agile, but consistent, with a clear identity;
- looking after and engaging the employees and partners;
- ensuring it is a place where people enjoy working and are stimulated;
- providing continuous learning opportunities, both at the individual level and within and across groups and organisational boundaries;
- stimulating self-learning, empowering and developing staff to continuously strive to better themselves, using creative methods such as games and contests sensitively;
- encouraging curiosity, being culturally open to new ideas and experimentation;
- in development projects, being unafraid of failure but balancing investment, risk and learning dividend judiciously;
- accommodating different opinions and learning styles;
- harnessing diversity and pluralism, to reflect the diversity and pluralism in society and in the actual and potential markets served.
Besides exploring what being a learning organisation means in practice, this blog series has proposed conceptual framework, Organisational Bildung, to help organisations ensure that learning culture and practice is effectively integrated and embedded across the key organisational dimensions, dynamics and domains.
A learning organisation develops an environment conducive to learning, embeds training and self-learning opportunities operationally, puts in place strategic levers and improvement actions to apply the learning by modifications and changes, and embeds the practice of ongoing reciprocal engagement with wider community and society to ensure it does not lose touch.
Organisational bildung is a model of learning that systemically involves the head, the heart and the hand of the organisation. I suggest that the concept of organisational bildung can help us understand how to put the learning organisation into practice and enable it to become an open learning organisation. In short, we can deploy bildung as an organisational principle.
If we apply the bildung ideal as an organising principle, it is clear that it is not only the individual learner who is empowered and self-motivated to strive for the full cultivation and development of his/her talents and abilities in order to realise their full potential. The learning organisation too is driven by commitment to its own cultivation and maturation as a collective endeavour in order to operate effectively in the ever-changing economic, demographic and cultural context.
4Software Process Improvement and Capability dEtermination, El Emam et al, 1998; SPIC Evaluation, SPICE, 2002