Nonprofits Need to Integrate Learning into their Work in 2014 | Beth’s Blog

Nonprofits Need to Integrate Learning into their Work in 2014

Learning, Self-Directed Learning

Inspired by Charles Jennings 70:20:10

The Chronicle recently published an article with expert advice on what nonprofits should start doing in 2014.    If you look down the list of tactical advice and tips, there is a bigger pattern that emerges.    Nonprofits should integrate learning into their work, program delivery, and communications.       As Charles Jennings suggests there are three different frameworks for doing this at work:   Adding, Embedding, and Extracting.

Adding Learning to Work

He describes this option as sending staff to an outside workshop or seminar or enrolling in an online program.  He points out that approach has value but, by adding activities is only assisting in the learning process.   He suggests that design principle is that learning is something separate from work or ‘first we learn and then we work’.   He does not feel this approach can leverage the organizational or personal mastery.

This is the type of “learning at work” or professional development that is common in the nonprofit sector.   There are many half-day face-to-face workshops, conferences, or shorter webinars.   These learning opportunities are primarily content-driven, providing information, examples, cheat sheets, tips, and resources to help an organization or an individual get ready to use a skill.   The real learning comes in when they apply what they learned – if at all – after the webinar or workshop is over.

Embedding Learning in Work

Jennings points out that some organizations  have extended beyond ‘adding’ learning to work and have put in place support so learning is ‘embedded’ in work.   He goes on to describe some examples that may not be relevant to all nonprofits except very large ones.      In thinking about this option,  these are self-directed or group-directed learning opportunities.    On an individual staff person level, this could be the process of setting up a content curation system for professional learning as described here.   The process not only supports the nonprofits content marketing strategy, but also enhances staff expertise in a topic area related to the organization’s mission.

An excellent framework for applying embedded learning is Harold Jarche’s “Seek, Sense, Share.”       Jane Hart describes how she uses this approach and social media tools for self-directed learning.  Bryan Alexander calls it “daily information wrangling.”

Source: Learn Streaming

Some people are naturally curious and self-directed learners.  They are motivated to learn on their.  Others have a preference for directed learning, a formal structured course.   I feel that in age of too much complexity, connectivity, and flow of information, we need to get better at being self-direct learners.    This infographic, “Improve Your Learning from A to Z” some great suggestions.

It is not just about an individuals self-directed learning but also groups of self-learners or peer learning cohorts that I design and facilitate as part of my training work.   Taking it one step further are self-organized groups of self-learners or “peeragogy.”    If you are interested in this learning style,   an updated version of the handbook was released yesterday in honor of public domain day.

Self-organized learning groups can also happen inside of organizations, especially those that have adopted learning cultures.

Extracting Learning from Work

Jennings calls this the most powerful form of work place learning.   He describes what the lean start up movement has termed “validated learning. ”  He describes this as:  ‘work then learn, then work in an improved way’. Learning is not only embedded in the workflow, but new learning is continually extracted from experiences and exchanges with colleagues, stakeholders and audiences.   He references the “After Action Review” process.

I wrote up a description of the process that some nonprofits use to do an after action review.   It requires attention to documentation and documentation skills – many times a difficult process for nonprofits that don’t view this important reflection process as part of the “getting the work done.”        Here’s a few more techniques that nonprofits have used for extracting learning to improve what they’re doing.

How does your nonprofit integrate learning into your work?  How do you as a nonprofit professional incorporate professional learning into your work?

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17 Responses

  1. Marnie Webb says:

    I’ve been thinking about extracting learning from work a lot lately. What kind of documentation is necessary? How do you make sure a team keeps up with the velocity of learning? How do institutional the learning for other projects?

    And how does that fit with other kinds of learning so you can bring in more knowledge? Should there be shared reading across teams? Share classes so you develop a learning vocabulary and framework that fits together?

    All this thinking has reminded me of the utility of a wiki as a place to process learning but also a structure that assumes learning means change and that it happens best as a group.

  2. Beth says:

    Marnie: Yes! So many challenges around this, especially with organizational culture. Some many organizations view learning as separate from work or that is a waste of time.

    See some of the comments here:
    https://www.facebook.com/Beth.Kanter.Blog/posts/10153619088695408

    Also, the topic is not as well liked or popular either … I can post about tools or tactics or tips – and people love that. Yet, when I write about learning, curation, and these other techniques – much less popular. When that happens, I know I’m onto to something!! And especially since you commented …

  3. marnie webb says:

    the idea that we learn some static fact and then implement it on the job. Well, certainly that is true sometimes and can be more true for things that are operational. But it doesn’t make for very interesting work and certainly it implies that you staying the same in your work — and those of working in the field of social change want, well, change.

    But the problem is how do you create a culture that supports learning in general and has a shared sense of learning so you are moving together.

    We wrote a grant proposal recently that included reflect as a distinct step in all phases of the project with the idea that what we learned would inform the next set of work in the project. We found ourselves struggling to convey the idea that we knew the work that would happen 18 months from the onset would be different than what we envisioned and we needed to build in that expectation.

    You are on to something here…

  4. Stephanie Rudat says:

    This post is excellent. We could develop an entire capacity building program on this alone. Great work.

    Marnie – You comments are fantastic, as usual.

  5. Beth says:

    Stephanie – that’s what I’m working on – piloting it with the grad school course I’m teaching. Only half of one day though.

  6. [...] Beth Kanter explains why Nonprofits Need to Integrate Learning into their Work in 2014. [...]

  7. [...] The Chronicle recently published an article with expert advice on what nonprofits should start doing in 2014. If you look down the list of tactical advice and tips, there is a bigger pattern that emerges.  [...]

  8. There is so much amazing info out there it’s hard to keep up. This could be an amazing opportunity for technology to take this to the next level. Like Marnie mentions – this would all be more fun/engaging if it could happen in a group. Would be great if there was a place to meet-up and learn together online. An online university for non-profit professionals… who wants to start it?!

  9. [...] Trends to Watch (since then, other nonprofit supporters have written forecasts, see here and here).  The trends highlight what to expect in the Social Sector and the implications for nonprofit [...]

  10. Nice thoughts and summary on integrating work and learning. I think learning professionals can have a harder time grasping this than others. Thanks for the mention.

  11. Kirsten Shaw says:

    Excellent article, Beth! There’s so many ways we can learn to improve how we work. I find extracting learning from work especially important to a rapidly changing environment.

  12. Tim Almond says:

    The problem with this argument – which is valid in many ways – is the predicated assumption that the ‘add’ column (formal, directed) only functions in certain ways – with an emphasis on information transfer – what I call the Articulation-Reflection-Regurgitation cycle (which is what most formal training in the not-for=profit sector looks like.
    However, collective learning (a better term than training) that adopts the Action-Reflection-Articulation cycle (the learner’s articulation, not the facilitator’s) offers opportunity for embedding and extraction, with the bonus that it can happen collectively, not just individually. People learning together can discover things they would never find by themselves: a simple truth that has been submerged in the individualistic introspection of Western culture, weighed down by the tyranny of learning styles

  13. Beth says:

    Hi Tim, I think we’re on the same page. I think the collective learning approach is much more effective than formal classes.

  14. [...] Nonprofits Need to Integrate Learning into their Work in 2014 [...]

  15. [...] Inspired by Charles Jennings 70:20:10The Chronicle recently published an article with expert advice on what nonprofits should start doing in 2014. If you look down the list of tactical advice and tips, there is a bigger pattern that emerges.  [...]

  16. [...] of the e-learning space.   I was lucky enough to have a number of exchanges with them about  self-directed and peer learning models in the nonprofit sector as part of their research process and are referenced in the [...]