Understanding the learning needs of individuals

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Learning shouldn’t really be something we push on people, it should be the natural response of an individual to their inability to achieve a desired outcome or behave in a desired way. Education on the other hand tends to be pushed as the decision is made for the learner at at a time when they are deemed unable to make that decision and then that continues as it is seen as a rite of passage, a compliance obligation. It only ever really becomes a choice linked to a personal goal or outcome when the individual sees connects the outcomes of education to personal goals.

I find that an educational perspective of employee learning and development dominates the organisational learning practices and thinking. This is compounded in part by the demands of compliance training as an obligation and necessary evidence to show the organisation is doing all it can to manage regulatory and compliance risks associated with the choices and actions of employees.

Given my view that learning should be a natural response to a perceived inability to achieve desired outcomes or behave in a desired way, I find that often for an individual, the absence of learning behaviour is often linked to

  • An acceptance of  the outcomes currently being achieved or
  • Current levels of behaviour or
  • A lack of  awareness or confidence in their ability to learn what is needed to overcome the inability experienced.

In the organisational context where jobs are designed around performance expectations and talent assessments are based on performance potential in more complex roles, the question becomes this – how can we approach learning needs analysis in a way that recognises and scaffolds this natural learning response and avoid disabling it? I mention ‘disabling it’ because any approach to learning needs analysis that does not focus on the individual’s awareness and ownership of the need for learning will ultimately disable the learning behaviour described above. It will drive what I call the compliance response –  ‘I have to complete this because it is expected of me’ rather than the learning response  – ‘I need to learn this if I really want to achieve that’.

In view of this, the 4 quadrant analysis framework above is positioned from the perspective of the manager and the individual. The focus is to contextualise the type of learning and development support needed to the actual realities experienced by the individual in the role. In order for the approach to work, the individual needs to possess a certain level of knowledge (i.e. awareness and understanding) about results and activities:

  1. The expected results must be clear and the individual should be able to self assess if they are achieving those results or not
  2. The expected approach to activities, i.e. how the results are to be achieved, or the principles or boundaries governing decisions and actions must be clear and well understood such that the individual can make informed judgements about their actions in relation to the expectations.

In the 4 quadrants, the analysis is done using the 4 frames:

  • Frame A: Doing what is expected and achieving expected results
  • Frame B: Doing what is expected but not achieving results
  • Frame C: Not doing what is expected but achieving results
  • Frame D: Not doing what is expected and not achieving results


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