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Photo: CC BY-NC Some rights reserved by Sadmafioso

It's soon time to fly south to Zagreb for this year's EDEN conference and I'm looking forward to meeting lots of friends as well as making new contacts and of course learning a lot. It';s my first visit to the Croatian capital though I havehad two excellent holidays driving around the southern part of the country around Dubrovnik.

The theme of the conference is E-learning at work and in the workplace and I hope to learn more about how workplace learning is being transformed from the traditional classroom approach of so much corporate training to a community-based social learning approach. There are plenty interesting developments in progress, not least theOpen Badges initiative which promises new structures for recognizing informal and non-formal learning. Badges are already in use in many open courses and the key to their success is acceptance from employers. Although there are already some promising signs I feel the greatest obstacles are workplace culture and tradition.

Jane Hart recently outlined six key features of today's workplace learning in an excellent blog post, Small changes to make a big difference and modernise workplace learning:

  • Learner autonomy - learning my way.
  • Small and short - bite-sized learning.
  • Continuous - a steady flow of learning.
  • On demand - when I want/need it.
  • Social - community of interest.
  • Anywhere, anytime, any device

She then presents two major challenges to workplace learning: providing suitable training resources that meet the above criteria and enabling people to learn by themselves and in collaboration with others. The latter challenge is probably the harder to meet since it involves breaking down firmly entrenched attitudes and traditions. There are plenty of resources, technologies, tools, methods and gifted educators but attitudes to learning, education and training are much harder to change.

Most people are still trapped in the traditional symbolism of education: classrooms, desks, blackboard, textbook and the teacher in the centre. Even in workplace learning most people still expect to be formally trained in new skills and tools and that means classroom teaching, often at a conference centre, and returning to work a day or two later with a course folder and a certificate. Many argue that the only way to learn something new is to concentrate on the new skills without the distractions of everyday work. In addition there is still the perception that training courses are a kind of reward especially for many administrative staff; a rare chance to get away to a nice hotel and socialize with colleagues in relaxed surroundings. Moving from this comfortable consumer view of learning to taking an active role and learning as an integrated part of everyday work is not easy and is often met with considerable resistance.

It’s very much a question of changing workplace culture. Learning is ubiquitous and not restricted to the classroom. Learning is integrated into work and you learn from colleagues and networks rather than from one expert teacher (even if expert teachers are important they are not the sole source of information). Practical skills must be recognized without always being required to “do the course”.

The challenges that I hope will be discussed at EDEN are:

  • How do we facilitate a change of learning culture in the workplace?
  • How do we recognize and reward soft skills?
  • How do we break away from the monopoly of the classroom metaphor?