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Work is learning, and learning is work.

Welcome to my blog. In this first piece, I want to lay out the premise for future posts, sharing some of my core beliefs about the need for learning at work and the role of learning & development in meeting that need. To kick things off, let me share my motto:

Work is learning, and learning is work. James McKenna

Work in the 21st century requires innovation and adaptation at all levels. People need to reskill (get better at their current jobs) and upskill (learn to do new jobs) in order to survive and thrive in the ever-changing world of work. Organizations need to leverage the knowledge and creativity of their people, harnessing collective learning as a strategic advantage. Work is learning.

Learning is, in essence, a change in behavior brought about by the onboarding of new knowledge and skills. When I learn, I can do something I could not do before. That learning has to be intentional – we need to think strategically about what we should learn, why we should learn it, and how to turn that learning into impact. We’re not learning for learning’s sake – we’re doing it so we can reach our goals, as individuals, as teams, and as organizations. Learning can be messy and hard. It takes sustained effort, self-reflection, practice, and collaboration. Learning is work.

People ignore designs that ignore people. Frank Chimero

Supporting learning, as we in learning and development know all too well, is challenging work. Just as the work our people do has gotten drastically less algorithmic, the job of supporting, sustaining, and measuring learning has become increasingly more complex. Why? Because we know that one-size fits none, and if we’re really going to increase performance across the organization, we can’t implement learning strategies that ignore the diversity of our audience.

We’re seeing more and more emphasis on personalization. Organizations across the globe are increasing their efforts to make learning and work more personalized in the hopes that their people will not only learn, but also feel more connected and valued, that they belong. Belonging boost engagement, so providing learning and work environments that say “I see you” can positively impact the bottom line.

But how do you design for individuality at scale? Seems like a daunting job for L&D. Just a tailor has limits on how many people she can clothe, individualized learning environments at scale seem beyond the capacity of instructional designers and trainers to provide. Many think that’s the job of AI. I disagree. The Netflix-style approach to recommending learning, though certainly helpful in suggesting learning and individualizing paths, falls short of true personalization. There are limits to what the algorithms will consider – they don’t know my immediate needs, or how much time I have, or the level of psychological safety in my work environment. They’re not ignoring my individuality, but they can’t see the whole picture.

The only way to have truly personalized learning is to build the capacity and context so people can personalize it for themselves. We need to partner with our people, harnessing the increasingly self-directed nature of modern learners, and provide them with flexible paths to meeting high expectations. If our people can own their own learning, connect that learning to their work and the organization’s goals, and strategically apply that learning to improve their performance, then everybody wins. The work of L&D, then, is to understand how to foster, sustain, and harness our people’s will and skill to learn and improve.

That’s what my blog is about – partnering with our people, honoring and leveraging their individuality, and supporting learning where learning happens – in training, in interpersonal exchanges, and in the flow of work. I’ll talk about how we build learner capacity and how we provide the right context for people to learn and work as their best selves.

James McKenna

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Until next time,


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Headshot for James McKenna

I'm James

I love to learn, and l love to help others do the same. I write, I appear on podcasts, and sometimes speak at conferences. I share content here and hope you'll find it helpful. 

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