The Way We Learn : Redefining Learning

May 24, 2023
The Way We Learn : Redefining Learning

Changing business models, emerging new technologies, and evolving customer behavior put organizations in constant flux. Organizations and individuals have to sustain the capability to understand and respond to massive external changes. Till recently, most management systems focused on execution efficiency, systematic production, managerial and supervisory capabilities. More often than not, the focus to get the job done right (execution) left little scope for experimentation and innovation. As a result, learning was always an afterthought. In the Future of Work, however, learning is integral to business and a critical strategic advantage. When viewed strategically, learning is not an event or program. It is a mindset that flows through the organization's culture and individuals’ attitudes.

"While General Motors placed its faith in its execution efficiencies, Toyota took a different route, focusing on bottom-up process improvements, famously allowing any employee who saw a problem—small or large—to stop the line."* While the former's focus was on excecution, the latter was inclinded to learning and making improvements. With an exceution driven mindset, it is easy to fall behind in the current agile , digital age.

General Motors Vs The Market

Since going public in late 2010, GM’s stock has underperformed.Chart shows monthly stock return since GM’s IPO date.

Learning to learn: The Need

“The ability to learn faster than your competitors may be the only sustainable competitive advantage.” - Arie de Geus, business theorist.

According to the World Economic Forum, 42% of core skills required to perform existing jobs will change by 2022. It's time to upskill in real-time. The advent of digital technologies has impacted the workforce and L&D strategies. Organizations put in efforts to ensure that employees gain knowledge without spending much time and effort. Organizations are leaving no stone unturned, whether keeping up with the trends or investing in new learning modalities.

So if individuals are empowered and enabled to learn, what stops them from learning?

Imagine constricting a toddler's learning only to a set curriculum or a structure. The parents may think it will work. However, learning is intuitive and need-based. Now consider the parents who allow the child to explore and follow the child while supporting the learning process. Wouldn't that make a world of difference in creating impact through learning? Instead of being mandated, l is most impactful when it supports a self-driven and in-demand need. The modern learner is more engaged with a seamless, on-demand, collaborative and empowered approach to learning. Although humans are intrinsically curious, our interest and learnability plummet (fluid and crystallized intelligence) over time.


As training moves to more digital formats, it’s colliding with new realities in learner’s jobs, behaviours, habits, and preferences. Today’s employees are overwhelmed, distracted, and impatient. Flexiability in where and how they learn is increasingly important. They want to learn from their peers and managers as much as from experts. And they’re taking more control over their own development.

Learning to learn: Understanding how people learn

Organizations and L&D teams try to design, structure and deploy modules to give the employee the best and timely learning experience. But it is also essential to focus on the attributes that create impactful and meaningful learning experiences in this context.

These attributes help us understand what drives people to learn:


One reason that inspires people to learn is interest based on a need or purpose. When individuals are interested in learning something new in the digital age, they rarely encounter a shortage of learning avenues. Similarly, when a need inspires learning, people are self-motivated to learn as they foresee a goal and a positive result or outcome by applying that learning. This approach creates a positive feedback loop and increases learning stickiness. Focusing on the benefits or positive results is advantageous to the need-inspired learning process.


Most learning at the workplace happens by 'doing' and through interactions. Intentional learning is about treating every experience and interaction as an opportunity to learn. It is a deliberate effort to upskill. It is when the learner chooses to learn. For example, intentional learners wouldn't wait for a workshop to come by. Instead, they would either

  1. Learn by observing and implementing what a colleague who is good at the particular trait is doing
  2. Look up something on the internal learning app/ LMS or YouTube or
  3. Sign up for an online course. According to McKinsey, one of the most fundamental skills for individuals to be future of work ready is being an intentional learner. A growth mindset and curiosity are two elements that propel intentional learning. Intentional learning is a trait, and it can be acquired, developed, and mastered.

Learning is fundamentally a social process. Every interaction is an opportunity to develop and grow. Individuals are constantly learning through their experiences and conversations with others. Making learning inclusive and social augments the learning experience as every meeting, presentation, discussion, or interaction provides learning. Also, people tend to learn better when they feel like they belong to a particular group. When people feel like teams have their back, they are more open to facing their fears while experimenting and trying something new.

To increase engagement and adoption of learning, organizations can leverage the 3 Is that drive learning. Aligning learning modalities to these attributes supports learning in the flow of work.

Implementing the 3 Is in Learning Approaches

While there are several formal learning initiatives, the main challenge that organizations and L&D teams face is 'how do we get people to learn?'. Organizations need to align to the inherent way that people learn and nudge learners in their learning process.


According to a report by Accenture, 68% of employees believe that it is not the employer's but their own responsibility to update their skills. Organizations can utilize this natural ownership of employees by having learner-centric systems and content.

Democratization of learning choices lies at the heart of learner centricity. For example, Helen Smyth, Group Digital Learning and Design Manager at Sainsbury's, points out that learning opportunities are often established based on what centralized groups think would be helpful or possible. They should instead focus on what would enable individuals to do something better or differently at work.

Below are a few more steps that L&D teams can use to establish learner centricity.

  • Spend time understanding the practical realities of working to align
  • Make self-directed and self-corrective platforms available to learners
  • Encourage self-reflective learning
  • Leverage mobile learning platforms to cater to ease of access of learning
  • Focus efforts on careful curation and customization of content
  • Help functions mine hidden talent within the organization and leverage internal trainers.


While feeding the curiosity of intentional learners, L&D teams need to keep in mind the concept of 'focus.' ‘Focus’ can include

  1. Setting developmental goals with timelines
  2. Providing a structure to make learning relevant to business
  3. Setting up leader boards to encourage and nurture more intentional learners.

Here are some things that should be considered to drive intentional learning:

  • Enabling tools and technology to help individuals assess which topics they can focus their learning on and where they can access these topics.
  • Adopting a learning platform that allows the learner to take up a self-assessment and then proceed with self-paced learning.
  • Designing training with action-oriented learning plans and self-reflection to set the desired outcome within a specified time frame.
  • Encouraging the freedom to experiment and fail.


Organizations have realized that social learning fosters more conversations and increased collaboration between functions and departments.

Inclusive or social learning can be fuelled by:

  • Using technology to make learning/content shareable.
  • Making learning gamified.
  • Incorporating 'learner comments' to be part of blended learning approaches driving discussion on different points of view.
  • Making learning fluid to include different generational learning styles.
  • Engaging through collaborative project-based learning approaches, group coaching, mentoring, surveys, polls, Q&A, etc.

Organizations are exploring a new way of social learning called The Human Library . It is a safe space for dialogue where topics are discussed openly between 'human books' (volunteers) and their readers. For example, Masco, a home improvement giant, engaged in virtual visits with the Human Library for their Diversity & Inclusion initiative. Rather than the traditional instructor-led training, the Human Library offers more organic, authentic, and experiential learning.

To support the 3 Is that drive learning, L&D teams need to go beyond the classroom and e-learning experience. Initiatives like plugging in tools to introduce learning in the flow of work and incorporating digital platforms that are experiential and blended can help implement the 3I framework. However, irrespective of the methodologies used, knowledge of the underlying understanding of how learners learn is critical.

Learning at an accelerated speed is no longer a competitive advantage but a competitive imperative. In this digital age, when enough tools are available to help learn, it is time to nudge the wonder and curiosity in individuals to rekindle the innate human skill to learn constantly. After all, learning is discovery. And as seen in the past, such discoveries could lead to transformations that organizations are looking for.

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