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How the Internet Affects Learners

K.C. Blonski, Vice President of Corporate Learning Solutions at American Management Association, described how the Internet helps—or hinders—self-learning.  

Blonski began his thought leadership presentation at the 2019 Human Resources Leadership Forum: Creating the Workplace of the Future, held on October 29 in San Francisco, by observing that learner centricity is a relatively new idea. “It’s becoming more apparent that employees are taking it upon themselves to conduct their own learning and development. Why? Organizations are constantly changing. Younger employees are tech savvy, and tenured employees are looking to refresh their skills. Also, among L&D teams, there are fewer members and competing priorities. Budgets are constrained, and there’s a desire for immediacy. And, the updating of skills is critical,” he said.

“While accessibility to learning content is immediately available, the ability to process this information is a relevant consideration and the subject of important research. As we process information obtained from online sources, we use what’s called transactional capability. This means we’re focused more on the search process than what we’re actually reading and absorbing,” Blonski explained.

“A colleague of ours at Yale, Dr. Matthew Fisher, did research into how accessing information affects our knowledge. Specifically, does the Internet change how much we want to learn, and do we conflate external knowledge with internal knowledge? He discovered that those who access the Internet for information assess themselves as having a higher level of mastery than those who don’t. The Internet adds an artificial boost in confidence about one’s knowledge—because we find an answer, we believe we have expertise in that topic, and that’s all we need,” he said.

“Additional findings from the study showed there’s an important tipping point between being a motivated and engaged learner and lacking the emotional intelligence to know what we don’t know. The problem is that this arrogance creates an unwillingness to learn in more constructive environments. What this means is that management needs to be actively involved in the development of their people,” Blonksi pointed out.

“There was a study that found 86% of Millennials are asking for more constructed learning from their organizations and, if they receive that, they’re more loyal to their organization. So, questions for us to consider are, as our learners acquire knowledge through online sources, are they acquiring the right skill set to support organizational objectives, what are they doing with that knowledge, and does it create any potential exposures for the company?”

Blonski continued, “To embrace learner-centric learning, we have to be aware of the availability and amount of content, and we need to help our learners find content that’s most relevant to them. We need to partner with internal or external subject-matter experts to develop curricula that’s relevant to developing critical skills that drive organizational outcomes. We also need to help our leaders become part of the solution by working with them to identify relevant performance metrics that show the impact of effective learning on the individual and the organization. Managers ultimately own the relationship between the learner and the objectives. It’s not L&D, and it’s not HR. We’re here to guide, not do.”

In summary, Blonski asked, “How are we equipping our people to actively develop the right skill set for the next change?”

An audience member asked him to talk about a strategy for implementing learner centricity.

Blonksi replied that it was first necessary to define the gap between the current and future state of the learner and identify that from a skills standpoint. It’s then necessary to communicate the importance of that. “We need to determine how we’re developing our people. Are we providing them with the right skills in the right work and learning environment so they’re applicable and installed? If there’s some type of formal application process, that increases the likelihood that the behaviors will be installed in the culture and the organization. The strategy of implementation is critical.”

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