Training, Learning, and Context

Sometimes we need to go to London to be reminded of what is here at home.

A virtual trip to the London-based Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) via the organization’s website reveals that a first-rate online report remains available to offer more support to trainer-teacher-learners who believe that effective learning must be integrated into a learner’s workplace.

There’s nothing revolutionary here, but the report does offer a useful summary of what an effective learning program should include. At the heart of “How People Learn Systems,”  written for CIPD by Stephen Gourlay and Carol Baily from Kingston University, is the idea that learning includes a social component and is more effective if it involves colleague-to-colleague assistance in the workplace rather than being treated “primarily as something that happened away from where the learning was to be applied.”

It’s all about context, which “(a)dult learning theory typically overlooks,” Gourlay and Baily contend. Since “professionals…are more likely to learn from their peers (as co-workers or as mentors), effective training programs include workshops away from the worksite, but must also include connections to onsite co-workers/mentors who are trained and formally designated to provide learning assistance when and where the learners need it.

This is not a ground-breaking concept in libraries, but it is not extremely common, either.  The Newport Beach Public Library in Southern California, for example, has a “Geek Squad” of employees who are well versed in the Library’s technological tools; staff is encouraged to seek help with tech questions by calling Geek Squad members whenever the need arises. The Contra Costa County Library system in the San Francisco Bay Area also provides a great example of how training continues beyond a one-time workshop: after Infopeople trainer Cheryl Gould reached every member of the Library’s staff with a basic one-day computer-proficiency workshop, she also worked with Contra Costa County Library staff to train a group of Library employees who would serve the Geek Squad function long after Cheryl’s initial workshops ended.

Infopeople itself is continuing to experiment with ways of assuring that lessons learned will carry over into libraries after workshop participants complete their coursework. Recent online courses have included opportunities for students to have telephone conferences with instructors—which helps to build a lasting relationship between instructors and students, and perhaps even among the students themselves. Infopeople Director Holly Hinman takes this a step further: before her online grant-writing workshops begin, she conducts a brief survey to better understand the needs of each student. She uses that information to guide participants through the lessons and sometimes works with them on grants which they are preparing for their own library systems. The fact that some students remain in contact with Holly for a year or two after a workshop ends provides a here-at-home example of what Gourlay and Baily propose, and reminds us that it sometimes is not all that hard to give our trainings life.

N.B.: An earlier version of this article was originally posted on Infoblog.

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