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Introduction to “what I have been noticing” by Stephen Yates

As a curious facilitator and coach at The Oxford Group, I have always been interested in what makes us tick and the way we interact, connect and learn from each other (others might call it plain simple nosey).

I have always spent time watching and listening to others, trying to understand how people make connections and how important they are to our identity and sense of being.

It is with this lens that following – and during the pandemic as we have all seen our lives shaken up – I have been even more curious about how we stay connected, learn and grow both in the workplace and personally.

I have captured these observations in several quick reads, each with a different theme but always questioning and exploring the core elements that are essential to learning.

I haven’t any answers, just reflections on what may or may not be missing in the new learning environment, as well as seeking to understand what makes learning memorable, fun and spontaneous.

Part two – Turn the clock back to 1977 – bringing social learning back to the hybrid workplace

A great friend of mine shared the poetry of Danusha Lameris on Small Kindnesses, this really hit the spot and builds on the theme of casual connections from my first article:

“And sometimes, when you spill lemons

from your grocery bag, someone else will help you

pick them up. Mostly, we don’t want to harm each other.

We want to be handed our cup of coffee hot,

and to say thank you to the person handing it”

Indeed, it is this that creates and develops our personality – it was way back in 1977 that Albert Bandura discussed Social Learning – our personality is shaped by the environment, behaviour and our psychological processes.

Yet how do we start to re-create a social learning environment where essential bumping into one another occurs and thus we learn from each other’s behaviour and connection?

Content over learning

The trend you will have all noticed is bite-sized digital learning. Quick interactions with limited impact on the learners’ day job; how many times have you had participants leave for other meetings during your meetings or workshops?

  • Research by Fosway suggests that the successful learning and impact on the business has been interventions that involved video and micro-learning. Interestingly there is often little mention about the actual participants’ needs and experiences. Where are the weak ties and casual connections in an online, self-driven, micro-learning module?
  • In other pre-pandemic research by NovoEd, participants are 5 times more engaged when connecting as a team online and 16 times more likely to complete an online course when part of a team (and a 13% increase in logins when allocated an actual mentor).

Traditionally we share models, skills and knowledge. It is this push/pull between sharing models and theory, versus letting participants create connections, talk listen and breathe that as facilitators and designers we have to influence businesses and start listening to the participants.

With the current world, we have to build these connections in. We need to let go of content and create the space for people to learn from each other, model from others’ best practices and just be heard in order to create meaning and personal development in their professional and personal lives.

We could really take a leaf out of Bandura’s 1977 work and remember what and why social learning is more important than a gluttony of models, theories and PowerPoint slides.

Where does the pressure come from?

I was asked by a participant in a workshop this week, “How do I build trust; I haven’t got time and there is too much to do.” It was a great question and this made me realise the pressure we feel as facilitators and managers is in our mindset and beliefs in what constitutes work and professionalism. When I suggested, “Why not create more open spaces in your meetings, a time to just check-in and connect,” I could feel the unease at what was seen as time wasting non-action-based agendas.

As facilitators, managers and workshop designers, there needs to be a shift in our own mindset in what constitutes learning (and indeed the concept of work).

We have all gone through, and are continuing to go through, a complete upheaval in the definition of work and indeed our own identities and what this volatile world means to us.

The pressure is coming from our own difficulty in adjusting to the new way we learn and connect.

Our very own idea of a “new normal” is counter-intuitive to staying in the fluid, ever-changing workplace environment. The “new normal” is just not normal, there is no normal and that can be hard to accept. This is especially true when we and our stakeholders may be stuck in the idea that sharing models and theories are what is required to learn and going to work means simple delivery and tick box exercises on Gannt charts and spreadsheets.

If anything, that the pandemic and current ongoing global disruption has taught us is that the stories and personal ability to change and learn is what matters. It’s others’ stories and experience that resonates, stays with us and makes us reflect on our own skills and abilities.

How do we juggle the business needs and the needs of the participant?

If we are to really grab the concept of Social Learning, we need to have the difficult conversations with others, push back and let go. This is easier said than done.

I have noticed many articles saying we need to create connection and yet simultaneously suggesting learning platforms and technology that will create learning modules.

The conversation we need to have is how can we stop the gluttony of content, let go of fixed agendas or learning maps and start to create space to develop the social aspect of learning?

There is no one answer, no easy way we can adapt to the new and very real needs of our colleagues.

I return to some of the first ideas I explored; that the small consequential connections and relationships create the purpose we need to get comfortable with the idea that leading, facilitating and managing is not just about creating outcomes. It is about creating the space that organically allows unforeseen and usually much more meaningful outputs that help everyone move forward, learn and be Okay.

I was listening to one of my favourite podcasts (Fortunately with Fi Glover and Jane Garvey on BBC Sounds) Fi and Jane had a listener who had written in asking why this “drivel” and chatty podcast had even been considered to be commissioned. The popularity of that podcast is not to have world changing debate and well considered arguments. Like the workplace, Fi and Jane just create those light, trusting and human connections that we all share and need to grab hold of whether in facilitating or managing.

Now back to my PowerPoint deck….

References and research

Social Learning Theory (Bandura) – Learning Theories (