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What type of learner are you?

No, I’m not asking about learning styles. Rather, I’m thinking about a distinction recently made by John Seely Brown. He talked about the difference between entrepreneurial learners and enterprise learners.

What does this mean? Well, as I understand it, the term entrepreneurial learner refers to learners who are actively engaged in creating their own learning experience. Entrepreneurial learners are those who learn by making things and trying things out; they’re those learners who forge their own networks and make use of social media to learn. In the past, we might have referred to these people as self-directed learners.

On the other hand, an enterprise learner is someone who learns primarily via courses which are crafted for them and directed to them.

This distinction resonated with me.

In the current economic environment, people are spending less of their lives working in permanent positions with larger organisations. Instead, more people are spending at least part of their careers working for themselves, working as freelancers or working for smaller start-ups. All of these people are less likely to find themselves in designed and directed development programmes, and instead are more likely to find themselves organising their own development.

At the same time, organisations may be less willing to hire someone without the requisite skills for a position and invest time in training them from scratch, and more inclined to hire people who already have the relevant skills and experience. In order to gain those skills and experience, people are increasingly looking to invest their own time in acquiring the necessary skills to develop.

This surely means that there is ever more of a market for social learning, peer support and relationship-based learning. In the future, more and more people will expect to learn in this way, and it will be the job of learning designers to create resources, which can be built into individual courses, for learners who are forming their own learning paths. The rise of MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) underlines the appetite for this approach to learning.

As learning designers, we need to remain acutely aware of our audience. If there is a culture of enterprise learning within an organisation, it’s unlikely that learners will immediately make the transition to entrepreneurial learning. They probably won’t actively seek out and seize opportunities to learn and develop, and social media sites and resources may remain under-used. For these cultures and environments, we need to design campaigns to help people transition from one approach to the other.

Recently, I was involved in an exciting collaboration with Barclaycard, to help facilitate a change in thinking about learning. We created a mobile game that was designed as a light-hearted activity to be played in teams. The aim of the game, so to speak, was to get people thinking about the most effective way to learn, and to question whether a formal training session would always be best. The game was well-received by users in user testing sessions, and helped raise understanding and shift thinking about learning.

So ask yourself: what kind of learning culture do you want to be a part of?