Learning To Learn For Greater Innovation Returns

Developing personnel through technology, hyper-personalisation and customised learning

There is much discussion about the role of technology in education reform. If you consider education today compared with 10 or 20 years ago, not a huge amount has changed. While the teaching methods may have evolved, the focus on learning from theory and to a standard applied to all, so it can be evaluated and assessed, remains. Cast your mind back to your own education, and consider the application of that learning in your everyday lives.

This is not intended to provoke a debate about the theory of education, instead there is need to focus on different types of learning at various stages of an individual’s development and education. Technology provides the possibility for hyper-personalisation to support the education of all, no matter their age, learning rate and development. It can provide a pathway to build a brighter future and ensure education serves the purpose of helping everyone learn and continue to learn.

As a father of four daughters I’ve had the privilege of supporting their different stages of education. Currently they are equally split across primary and secondary education. In the early years education there is a greater emphasis on practical learning, engagement with others and the surrounding environment. This playfulness to learning, engages their imagination and helps focus their inquisitive minds on learning to learn. The teaching of phonics is a great example of learning to learn, which when taught in a structured way, is one of the most effective ways of teaching children to read.

Unfortunately, the same emphasis of learning to learn isn’t applied in my two eldest daughter’s educations with seemingly endless theory tests, and little applied learning that supports their long-term development. Similarly, my experience of corporate education is broadly the same. There is little focus on applied learning with the practical development of skills being secondary. Corporate life seems to encourage tick-box learning that becomes part of an annual appraisal or to serve the purpose of promotion.

Lessons for business

Yet for today’s corporations the requirement for new thinking and development of new capabilities is paramount. In a world moving faster than ever, the ability to innovate quickly is critical given the dynamic state of the market, competitive threat and risk of both value creation and destruction. This means creating innovative products and services, which in turn requires innovative ways to discover, learn and develop new skills.

Organisations should therefore look to early years education to support the development of its personnel and create a mindset of experimentation, learning, and growth. This might seem counter-intuitive, but at a time when every organisation needs to innovate, so does its need to rethink how it supports the development of new skills in the very source of capital that will enable long term transformation and growth.

There has been a resurgence of interest in alternative teaching methods, such as Montessori and others. Montessori education is designed to lead children to learning, without formal lessons. Created by Dr Maria Montessori, a doctor and educator, her teaching method is based on the practice of self-directed learning through experience, rather than formal, strict lessons to develop sensory, numeric, language and practical skills. Montessori pre-school and primary schools have become popular in the UK with around 700 early years and primary institutions, four of which are state-funded, according to a report in The Telegraph last year. Montessori Place is the UKs first AMI endorsed Montessori secondary school which opened in 2017.

Sensory and self-directed learning, and practices such as Montessori, is one approach organisations could consider in order to further the skills and development of its staff, particularly those involved in developing new products and services. There is a battle for talent, and retention is more difficult than ever. Creating stickiness with employees, supporting their ability to learn to learn, that encourages a spirit of experimentation and playfulness to their learning is essential to create a more agile organisation, a culture that empowers and also supports long term transformation.

The implications for a large organisation is to rethink how they train and redeploy their budgets. Learning and development is costly, it’s also a cost centre. It’s difficult to determine the ROI and direct returns for the business, very much like innovation activities. But what if learning and development could become a profit centre and drive bottom line returns by reframing innovation as learning and development?

Instead of creating extensive courses of traditional learning, or contracting out learning and development to providers, there’s an opportunity to focus on self-directed learning for the employee. Provide them with the freedom to think about their growth to create the potential growth for the business.

In this regard organisations can redeploy their learning and development budget to focus instead on engagement on innovation, to explore their ideas and test. One such tangible example is Adobe’s kickbox. Since 2013 some 2,000 Adobe employees have taken a box and in 2017 more than 960 Adobe employees filed a patent application, with only 130 being generated from the company’s official research team. That has real value for the business, demonstrates a return while building a stronger culture of engagement and how we all learn as adults inside large organisations in the future.