Home Blog & Media The ‘Intent’​ in Intentional Organizational Learning

The ‘Intent’​ in Intentional Organizational Learning

January 24, 2019

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Rachel Gathagu

Senior Manager, Knowledge Management, Kenya

Generally, to be intentional means, to do something on purpose or to be deliberate – when used, the addition of the word intentional often is to add emphasis. It implies that an organization has thought about its options, discussed everything that need to be discussed, and come to this decision. As a result, resources are being allocated to make it successful.

When it comes to learning this includes having deliberate discussions within the organization or to implement something purposefuly. At an individual level, intentional learning happens when one sets out to learn something specific. One might search on the internet for advice on how to solve a problem or acquire a skill. Or one might enroll in a training course to learn how to paint or speak another language. The point is that Intentional Learning is not accidental, and it is driven by a goal or need, even if you don’t know what that is.

According to written literature, intentional learning in an organization is the persistent, continual process to acquire, understand, and use a variety of strategies to improve one’s ability to attain and apply knowledge (American Accounting Association, 1995). The cognitive processes that have learning as a goal rather than an incidental outcome (Bereiter & Scardamella, 1989)

Intentional learning has often been discussed from the learner’s (individual’s) perspective with the learner deemed as self-directed.  However, intentional learning is but solely dependent on the leaner alone, organizations who aim to become learning organizations, creating environments that nurture and support intentional learning is important.

Below are some of the tools and processes that an organisation can put in place as it journeys towards becoming a learning organisation.

1. Learning strategy

 learning strategy will help organizations and their leaders think strategically about their learning and training and helps them achieve the goals they set for themselves. It outlines how an organization develops its workforce’s capabilities, skills and competencies to remain successful. It’s an important part of an organization’s overall business strategy and its policies.

A learning strategy being mission led is designed in a way that staff (rightly referred to as human capital) adds to the attainment of organization’s objectives through personal learning and development with organizational support. The aim of the strategy is creation of an environment where learning thrives, and employees focus on personal development that adds to the organizational performance.

A learning strategy will help in developing learning goals, derive a plan on how to achieve the goal by determining what the organization wants to achieve: how they plan to achieve it or what do they need to learn to achieve their goal and what success looks like in the long term.

The strategy will also help to structure how the organisation will go about its learning. Instead of randomly engaging in attempts of learning, a structured way of learning ensures an effective learning which is organized around a clear purpose, and that’s what you want to achieve. The important thing is to take time at the start of and throughout the process to take a step back and think about how you’re learning, and if it’s the most effective way to achieve your goals.

2. Learning Ecosystem Model

 learning ecosystem is a system of people, content, technology, culture, and strategy, existing both within and outside of an organization, all of which has an impact on both the formal and informal learning that goes on in that organization.

A learning ecosystem is the Learning & Development equivalent of an ecosystem out in the wild. Just as a living ecosystem has many interacting species, environments, and the complex relationships among them, a learning ecosystem has many people and pieces of content, in different roles and learning contexts, and complex relationships.

Just like a living ecosystem, a learning ecosystem can be healthy or sick, nurtured or threatened, self-sustaining or endangered. Achieving your development goals, then, requires an organization to be aware of its own ecosystem, including its parts and the internal and external forces that shape them.

The parts of the learning ecosystem are linked and interdepended to each other, thus they support each other. The learning ecosystem will help to operationalize how learning happens as well as map out what other components exist in the organization that aid intentional learning.

A learning ecosystem can be imbedded into the Learning Strategy as a mechanism to aid intentional learning. It can also be integrated into ongoing process to avoid additional work and ease learning. In the learning ecosystem the learner is placed at the middle surrounded by all learning methodologies and opportunities available to make his/her learning experience as wholistic as possible.

Mapping out the available methodologies and opportunities brings out components that may not easily be seen that aid learning (in this case the organization to learn) and to achieve the learning goal.

3. Taking an Integrated Learning approach

An integrated learning approach helps to dissect learning that happens in four levels that is Individual; Team / Group Learning (also referred to collective learning); Organizational; and Inter-organizational level.

The integrated learning approach will help an organization to pursue learning beyond a one-off event. The different levels of learning ensure that the organization learns and shares what it is articulating internally (within departments and also from leadership to other levels) and externally with peer organisation and the world at large.

Recognizing how learning happens in different spaces (forums) and also different learning styles that individuals prefer, an organisation will acknowledge informal learning that permeates in social spaces. Encouraging such structures as communities of practice, as well as practices as knowledge sharing events and reflection circles, will foster social learning and collaboration for organizational learning.

This learning approach ensures that a learning organizational is able to :

Apply its knowledge – all knowledge has a purpose and putting the knowledge to work is an important part of understanding it. The organisation is able to make new connections that literally bring learning to life, and its also able to relate its learning to its purpose even more strongly. Putting learning and knowledge into use, helps to avoid knowledge becoming stale and keep the organisation on the innovative radar.

Reflect and review – Setting aside time to reflect on what they are learning fosters transformational reflection and reflective practice which in turn plays an important role as the driving force of organizational learning and as a crucial promoter and core of double-loop learning. Reflective learning is a way of allowing the organisation to step back from its day to day work to help develop critical thinking skills and improve on future performance by analyzing their experienceFeeding the culture of learning enables reflective work behavior to become a way of working in the organization. The ideal is to integrate the reflective practices in the present strategy and work practices. The benefit of this is that it sharpens individual learners’ perceptions of their usual methods and approaches to challenging situations, allows for the identification of the gaps between theory and practice and it is thought to contribute positively to job satisfaction.

Reflection acts a bridge between experience and learning, this means, generating new insights, seeing things in a new light by breaking out of traditional mind-sets, taking experimental actions and developing one’s competencies, scanning the external environment and being aware of the critical issues that affect one’s thinking and behavior.

Reflective practice allows the employees and the organization to slow down to critically evaluate their own thinking, but also, to investigate the shared, collective assumptions and expectations, as well as the institutionalized rules and routines.

The aim is not always to develop new tricks, but to create best practices out of present practices. In practice, this means challenging rigid mental models, cultural self-evaluation, making visible the possible apathy caused by shared assumptions about ―how we do things around here and deconstructing organizational barriers, the unrealized tensions between the managerial vision and forms of control.­

Share your learning and knowledge – the best way to learn anything is to share it with someone else. It encourages one to reorganize the way they think about the information to make it understandable for someone else, and one gets to see how they interact with it. When you share something, you find new ways to describe and illustrate it, and the interaction teaches you something new too. Think of it this way, if you share your knowledge with 10 groups, each group will have heard it one time but you will have heard it 10 times, thus making it more meaningful to you.

Knowledge sharing also enforces organizational learning and has immense benefits to the internally and externally. It promoted knowledge retention, motivation among employees and stimulates innovation and growth through reflection and review processes.

Overall, an intentional learning environment is one which fosters activity and feedback and creates a culture that encourages the learner to become aware of his or her learning process and can use to tools (mental or technological) to enhance this learning process. Emphasis is placed on the learner being able to organize and apply knowledge rather than passing tests.

In the case of organizations, striving to become learning organizations, the need to have systems, structures, and process that stimulate and nurture the culture of intentional learning is paramount.

Involvement and support from all from in the organisation from leadership all the way to the staff at lesser decision making levels. A culture shift that involves taking risks and allowing for learning to happen and creating spaces for learning on a day to day basis.

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