4. Learning without training
So far, we’ve talked a lot about training, training courses or sessions and their practicalities. That’s because you often need to, or are being asked to deliver a course or session. You need to know what you’re doing on that, and how to make it worthwhile.
There are lots of other ways of learning, away from training though. As a manager or adviser, many of these will be open to you. They may be quicker, they may be cheaper, and they may be more effective. Just remember that often more structured training can be the fastest, most effective way of learning.
Coaching is a more subtle process. Often you are helping people to find their own solutions to specific challenges they face.
Advantages of coaching:
Each session can be quick
Flexible – can find a time that works; if that is morning, lunch or evening, it isn’t so critical
Directly targeted for application – based on solving real problems the person is currently facing
Disadvantages of coaching:
Needs extended time – weeks or months
Doesn’t really scale – needs one on one work
Easy to slip into “telling” rather than coaching
Easy to slip into “doing for” rather than coaching – especially if you’re managing the person
Needs some time and practice to learn how to coach effectively (but not more than learning to train)
People learn a lot on the job, from colleagues, managers and others
Advantages of learning on the job:
Doesn’t require time to be set aside
Apply it straight away, so likely to remember it
Have a direct, immediate impact on improving work
Disadvantages of learning on the job:
May miss critical pieces of how to perform well
Difficult if everyone is new – who do you learn from?
Easy to perpetuate mistakes and bad practices
Miss “best” ways of doing things – get to average rather than outstanding
If the office is weak in a specific area, can’t improve through on the job learning
A huge amount of information and tutorials are available for free online. YouTube is full of instructional videos on everything from pivot tables to bicycle repair – both of which could be vital! Books and references are available on many important topics in the sector.
Easy for staff – they can learn at their own pace
Easy for staff – they don’t have to admit to a weakness to a manager or colleague
Easy for staff – they are already familiar with the approaches
Cheap or free
Just in time – staff learn when they need to know. Typically, they apply it right away.
Learn what they need to know – they won’t waste time on things they already know. They can skip through a book to the chapter they need.
Can be distracting
Can’t guarantee quality or correctness – people may be learning the wrong thing
Can’t be sure of comprehensiveness – the learner may meet an immediate need, but miss something critical
Generic by nature – unlikely to be adapted for the CARE context, or for the specific challenges
Can be hard to apply to their context – it may be abstract.
Needs a good internet connection or access to books/materials that will often be hard to find.
No guarantee of finding something in the right language for learners.
CARE Academy has online learning courses for CARE staff and partners. Other providers in the sector also have free resources (Kaya, Disaster Ready) and there are also other sites (Alison.com, Coursera, FutureLearn that have useful free resources.
A lot is available for free
Both sector specific and general content is available
Learners can make them fit around their own schedule
Long ones can be boring
Completion rates are often low
The content may not be specific or relevant enough
Quality can be low – may be better to read a report or book!
Requires reasonable internet access
In communities of practice, people with similar job profiles, responsibilities or interests come together to share experiences, challenges and lessons. It can be more structured – with common assignments, reading lists, or reflection and application tasks. It can be less structured as primarily a forum for thoughts, ideas etc.
Can be organized through social media or messager app groups (e.g. WhatsApp or Skype)
Helps share new information quickly
Gives depth and background
Creates support and community for learners – a safe space to exchange ideas
Likely to stop functioning after some time without a moderator or facilitator to keep it together
Needs significant organizational effort and time commitment – from organizers and participants
May need participants to stick to a meeting schedule
Unlikely to learn specific skills or pieces of information
What a learner gets out of it will vary based on the group members. Some groups may be very helpful or have a lot of ideas – others won’t
Not a fast process
This is particularly helpful for staff to understand what good performance looks like. This is a vital and overlooked part of helping staff learn.
Happening anyway (hopefully!)
Can be right on time
Should be very specific and applied right away
Get a clear understanding of how they compare to the performance CARE wants
Can change things quickly
May not focus enough on learning – tendency to assume telling is enough
May tend towards criticism, which is unlikely to motivate people
May tend towards not addressing issues to preserve a relationship, which reduces learning
Difficult for learners – it may be hard for them to admit to weaknesses or seek help from a direct line manager
One way to learn is by taking on a (temporary) assignment outside the current responsibilities – perhaps in a more senior position, or in a different department or team
Natural way of learning
Highly motivating – benefits the individual and their career as a whole
Provides rich experience with new and different perspectives
Can see the challenges others are facing, get an appreciation for their colleagues work – at a level that would be impossible through other approaches
Continue to contribute whilst learning
An opportunity may not be available when needed
Learning is unlikely to be structured. If a specific skill is needed, that may not be learned.
Hard to scale if multiple people need the same skills or experiences
Often confusing about cost charging
Not a “safe” learning environment – mistakes have real-world consequences