Author / business / leadership

Using Transformational Learning in Organizations

In an earlier paper (which you can read here), we discussed the differences between the generations in terms of motivation and expectations of the workplace. Tied to these differences is one that many overlook: learning style.  Informal or transformational learning has been slowly brought to the work place by Gen-X’s and Gen-Y’s, who, having grown up with huge leaps in technology, were looking for a learning style that kept up with the flow of information they were accustomed to. While traditional or formal training allows employees to learn the base skills, transformational learning allows emerging leaders to fill the gaps in their knowledge and excel. By providing opportunities for employees to collaborate and learn through experience, organizations have seen increases in employee satisfaction, retention rates, and, in some cases, their bottom line.  In this paper, we will first look at differences between the styles, the evolution of organizational training, and finally how organizations can increase transformational learning.

Traditional Learning

From a very young age, most are taught using informational learning. Traditional education is based on this style, where there is a one-way stream of information coming from an authority figure (teacher or boss) and the audience (class or staff) is expected to memorize and regurgitate the information. This style has a limited retention rate (unless the information is used frequently) and limits autonomy and creativity. However, there are certainly times where this is necessary, such as safety training or manufacturing processes.

For Boomers, this is the style of learning they are accustomed to. The majority of their education and training were delivered in this style and this process-driven style matches the hierarchal workplace where they got their experience., Employees were “not paid to think” so training was limited to only the skills required for the job. If there was a problem, you would check with your colleagues on either side of you and if neither had a solution, you would have to go to the manager.

Transformational Learning

This mentality started to shift when Gen-X’s entered the workforce. Gen-X’s wanted more freedom in decision making and started asking for additional training, collaboration, and a flattening corporate structure. To address this, companies starting to focus on breakout sessions and an emphasis on team building. This was the beginning of organizations integrating transformational or social learning into training, which allows individuals to figure out solutions on their own. While it is a slower way of learning, it increases creativity, empowerment, and problem solving. They recognized that involvement and discussion lead to greater employee satisfaction and retention rate.

Gen-X’s influenced the education system. In kindergarten students are given “free play”, which gives them a choice of activities to choose from, each with a learning objective. High schools are starting to look at “flipped classrooms”, where the teacher is a coach and students work in small groups to solve problems (read about one teachers experience here).  The result of this is that Gen-Y’s grew up being accustomed to collaborating and team work. This was enhanced as advances in technology and the creation of social media allowed Gen-Y’s to become accustomed to a non-stop flow of information and almost constant communication with others. When they entered the workforce, they brought their drive to learn, create, and collaborate with them. They wanted to figure things out with others, have a flat organizational structure, and have a coach or mentor, not a boss. Emerging leaders want the opportunities to apply their knowledge, working in a team to take risks. e-Learning provided the constant flow of learning, but in many cases it lacked the break-out sessions and team discussion that Gen-Y’s wanted.

The article continues at Witz Education, highlighting organizations that get it and ways to encourage social learning in your business.

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