If only learning at work could be...

If only learning at work could be… innate, natural, social, collaborative, self-motivated, free from ego and pride, informal, learning from anyone not just peers, continuous, more of a priority, integrated into work, enjoyable.

This was the wishlist from our guests at Brand Learning’s Singapore Kickstarter event this week. We hadn’t even primed them – just asked the question before sharing the key themes from our latest learning point of view. Happily, the themes married perfectly.

Learning at work has changed. This is inevitable given the massive changes in the workplace. The changes have been driven by individual learners: their behaviours have shifted in line with new ways of learning outside work, and, in many cases, learning and development functions are catching up.

Think of the last time you learned something at work. What was the first step you took? Are you picturing yourself in a workshop? Reading an online manual? Clicking through an etutorial? It’s possible. But unlikely. Research[1] shows that the first port of call for learners is their boss or mentor (69%), the second their colleagues (55%) and the third an internet search engine (47%). L&D resources come way after – 28%. Of course that doesn’t invalidate formal learning resources – they play a vital role – but it does mean that learning plans need to recognise the realities of how people learn, and adapt accordingly.

The best learning now is on the job, on-demand, self-directed, in-the moment and in-person.


This doesn’t start with new technologies – although we all love a good app, a gamified approach or a new social collaboration tool. It starts with designing learner journeys that tap into resources from outside and inside the organisation.

Learning specialists have long talked about 70:20:10 – a ratio for learning that suggests 70% of learning is on-the-job, 20% from relationships and 10% formal learning. The precise percentages can be debated but the principles ring true. The trouble with this is that it is often applied in a stratified manner – and with the attention of learners as well as leaders on the 10%. Instead the 3 sources need to be tightly blended. Learning strategies need to centre on real-work learning experiences, weaving in learning from, and with others, and resources from workshops and tools, to YouTube films and public-blogs that will help lift real work performance.

Take for example, a programme we recently designed with a global foods company. The goal was to improve shopper marketing skills by helping people learn about a new shopper experience design process. It started with a real business issue that teams worked on, learning together and at the same time creating a solution for the business. Leaders were involved from the outset – getting together first to agree the business issue for their teams, brief them on the new approach, and equip them to coach and role model what they were now seeking. Then teams were trained on the new approach – with a formal learning workshop to ensure they understood what was being asked of them. But the learning really accelerated when they then worked together on the issue – tapping into online (mobile-accessible) learning materials and resources, coaches, and being supported in key experiences like shopper immersions. At the end of an intense period of working together (within their day-jobs), they were facilitated through a workshop to put together their plans, propose it back to the senior leader who would sponsor (and allocate resources) to their ideas, and continued to learn as the implemented their solutions.

This is just one way of approaching new workplace learning– but it worked well. Learning in teams was successful in maintaining momentum, enabling social learning, and in helping people change not only what they did but their behaviours in doing it. Having leaders involved from the start was key – as was their coaching throughout. And centering the approach on real-work made it relevant, applicable, and sustained the learning beyond the formal elements.

We were fortunate to work with a client with leaders and line managers who were prepared to support the programme – not only with a mandate to their teams but also with a commitment to ongoing support and a capacity to coach. What was clear from our Singapore breakfast was that this is not always the case. It requires curiosity, humility and commitment from leaders and managers to recognise that they are the first to have to learn new approaches, and to work with their teams to shift their behaviours. But, as Ross McEwan, CEO RBS said in our 2016 research, leaders need to "keep upgrading the skills in your organisation, otherwise you find your staff can't keep up and your customers move on".

For more on what makes learning work at work today, you can read more, or get in touch with our experts.

BRAND LEARNING: Inspiring people. Lifting capabilities. Growing organisations.


[1]Degreed – How the workplace learns in 2016.