Self Directed Learning Supercharged with Mentoring

As we enter the new digital age of AI and machine learning we face a number of uncertainties. But none greater than what does the future of work look like? What are the skills that will not only be needed but also demanded?

It’s a question both employers and employees must address. But it’s a BIG question. And who really knows with any great certainty how we can future proof ourselves and our workforce.

The one thing we can be certain of is the need to be adaptable, agile and innovative. All the buzz words! The only way we can translate these words into tangible outcomes is by embracing a continuous approach to learning.

The age of self directed learning

The 70:20:10 learning framework has long been accepted as a valid approach to learning, however most organisations have been slow or unable to actually implement this theory into practice. Self directed learning is not a new concept either with the most prominent work being done by Malcolm Knowles in the 1970s. He defined SDL as “a process in which individuals take the initiative, with or without the help of others, in diagnosing their learning needs, formulating learning goals, identifying human and material resources for learning, choosing and implementing appropriate learning strategies, and evaluating learning outcomes“.

So how do organisations move beyond the theory and implement this to deliver tangible outcomes where we start to see an uplift in skills?

Look beyond the top talent

Organisations are often very good at identifying their top talent and it makes sense. These people are often self motivated, self driven and ultimately take responsibility for their own learning. What makes less sense is the disproportionate amount of resources allocated to this group. It’s not to say that programs shouldn’t be specifically designed and offered to this group, but it should be proportionate to what can ultimately be achieved. Research by Roderick Swaab and colleagues (The Too-Much-Talent Effect:  Team Interdependence Determines When More Talent Is Too Much or Not Enough, 2014) into elite athletes and top performing sports teams, found that there are diminishing returns on focusing and expecting more from your best performers within a team context.

Why? Think teamwork. In many situations, success requires collaborative, cooperative work towards a goal that is beyond the capability of any one individual.

Instead, the real opportunity in terms of productivity gains are to be achieved by diverting some of this attention to the wider group and creating an inclusive culture in which all can thrive.

People thrive with some constraints

The 2016 Global Human Capital Trends report by Bersin identified learning as a top 5 trend where they proposed the following:

The pressure on organizations to improve learning and development continues to intensify. Advances in technology, shifts in demographics, and the constant competitive necessity to upgrade workforce skills are disrupting corporate learning. These forces are pushing companies to develop new ways to put employees in charge of the learning experience and foster a culture of learning throughout the organization.

There is no doubt that technology has a role to play in making learning more accessible and more relevant. However, in working towards creating a culture of learning, leaving it simply up to all individuals to opt-in and drive their own learning in the first instance is ambitious.

If we are opening learning opportunities up to all employees, and not just the high performers, we can’t assume they all have the same motivation, determination or capacity to learn in the same way. Having a smorgasbord of learning opportunities available to employees can be a little overwhelming and sometimes the paralysis of choice stops us from getting started.

Instead what you need is your own learning counsellor – someone to help identify where the greatest learning opportunities for you are and help you navigate a path to get there.

Mentoring to Support Productive Learning Outcomes

This year, the big change is a shift beyond internal programs aimed at developing people to innovative platforms that enable people to develop themselves (Global Human Capital Trends, 2016).

Allowing an inclusive opt-in approach to learning is only half way there in ensuring we are going to have the right skills needed for future work. Without the right structure, constraints and guidance organisations and people are at risk of wasting time, effort and money on developing redundant skills.

Large companies have long recognised this when applying learning frameworks to their top talent, often overlapping and supporting their professional development program with a career coach. While a valid method, the investment required to support this approach to learning is not scalable.

But mentoring is.

Deploying mentors to support individuals in their learning journey is complementary to the very core of what a mentoring relationship is all about.

Taking the time to understand one’s goals, objectives and desires is critical in designing an appropriate learning path that is going to deliver tangible and relevant outcomes for both the organisation and the individual.

Once a structure and a pathway has been determined, the role of the mentor moves to coach, someone who is there to consistently check-in, monitor performance, keep them accountable and intervene with timely advice if needed.

But where do we find all these mentors?

Organisations have an untapped wealth of knowledge sitting on the sidelines in their business, within their alumni communities and across their suppliers and strategic partners. You just need a structured and simple way to unlock this talent and this is where a mentoring software platform can help.

Whether starting a new job or learning something new, a comprehensive and engaging onboarding process is often key to ensuring people feel prepared and confident in taking on whatever the task in front of them is. This is especially important in the context of scaling a mentor program within your business and inviting and matching mentees and mentors to support a self directed learning approach.  

Finding the right balance

As we embrace new technologies in this new age of learning, it should not be at the expense of what we know has worked well in the past. While ‘self directed learning’ implies a certain autonomy in managing one’s own learning, there is a case to be made for this to be supported by a collaborative and relationship based approach to learning. This includes sharing experiences as well as exposing ourselves to new learning opportunities that are centred around goals and objectives that are going to deliver relevant outcomes for the new world of work.

Interested in seeing mentoring software in action? Request a live demo of the Mentorloop platform.

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Heidi is the Co-founder and COO of Mentorloop. She's passionate about all things mentoring, Kenny Rogers and Italian Greyhounds.

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