Learning buildings - combining the venue for work and for learning

Changes in Work and Training
How to Answer to the Needs of Performance and Development?
What Makes a Learning Building?
Who Should be Interested in Learning Building Concept?


The concept of "Learning Building" highlights how the everyday working environment (such as offices or factories) can enhance continuous professional development of its users.

The essence for any organisation to survive in the future is continuous learning and development. The organisations are urged to improve the competence of their people and to provide optimal environments for learning.

The professionally qualified personnel is becoming not only a scarce resource but also the key resource in all organizations. Thus the long-term commitment to the development of human resources is becoming a major strategic tool in competition. However, it should also be noted that the need for instance for continuing education is steadily increasing as well in all organizations. The needs are more differentiated than before due to the fact that the professional profiles and work descriptions are also more differentiated. There can not be anymore found a uniform solution for the different educational and training needs.

Learning is becoming - and must become - a natural part of everyday work. Learning and development have been seen strangely as isolated functions from the "actual work". This will not be even possible in the future - the increasing need for continuous development urges the close linkages between everyday work and learning. Effective learning is one of the key factors in creating competitive advantage on the organizational, national, or regional level. Better trained, better qualified, better motivated people are creating the advantage - not systems and machines.

I use the term Learning Building to describe such an environment which would enable effective learning and personal development at the work place. I see that in the future the physical environment of the work places and offices must encourage first of all learning and continuous development of the people. Previously learning has been taking place usually outside of the work place (in seminars, work shops etc.) and gradually also inside work places (in learning centers or training centers). I also feel strongly that we should examine also more options to create an attractive learning environment to each employee«s own work desk.

Changes in Work and Training

Five main changes are important to underline as points of departure. The first important factor is that the borderline between work and training - as discussed above - has been strongly diminishing. Simply the growing need for continuing performance improvement and professional development does not allow the strong division of work and training.

The second important factor is that also the borderline between work and information is diminishing. The division between work and information is not even often meaningful, as new information can be served in ways which are also training-driven (such as combing new information with new training-delivery mechanisms).

The third important factor is to understand the requirements of just-in-time training and training-by-demand. Training-by-demand is simply the new way to understand the functions of training - because the performance problems (which training by and large tries to predict) are not occuring due to a given schedule.

The fourth important factor is the need to improve training productivity. Many international reports highlight that the area of educational and training productivity becomes the main area in the international competition due to the increasing training needs. Combined with the need to improve training productivity is also the need to improve training flexibility.

And finally the fifth important factor is the tendency to stress the responsibility of the individuals of their personal professional development. As the organisations become more complex in their work, it is clear that the organisation as such can not anymore track the individual«s training needs and satisfy them centrally. The individuals must be empowered to take care of their own professional development and improvement of their performance.

How to Answer to the Needs of Performance and Development?

The conventional approach for solving performance problems of the work force is illustrated in Figure 1. Usually different training courses and seminars are giving the basic knowledge and after that the individuals can meet different challenges in their work. However, it is likely that there is always a "time lag" between before the training takes place etc.

Figure 1

In Figure 2 is illustrated an alternative approach to help the individual improve his or her work performance (computer-based training has been abbreviated CBT, performance support systems have been abbreviated PSS). This underlines that the individuals can find the training by demand at the time when they crucially need it. However, this underlines as well the idea of hierarchic approach - how individual«s performance can be gradually supported by demand.

Figure 2

Thus one can conclude that the tendency is to move towards "any time - any place" training and learning mode (see Figure 3). It becomes clear as well that the modern information and communication technology provide already today tools to make "any time - any place" training and learning work.

Figure 3 (applied from KOMUnity Software)

What Makes a Learning Building?

The learning building can be seen to be consisting of the following elements: In addition one must stress that also proper organisation, management and support must be facilitated for the effective learning and training to take place.

The crucial element for the learning building idea is the concept of a "networked computer". This concept underlines not only the effective stand-alone use of the PC or workstation but rather the importance of the electronic networking (the use of intranets or intranets) as a lifeline for the effective utilisation of the PC or workstation capacity. Computers are seen not only as working tools but rather more as communication tools. In workplaces this should stress the need for proper PCs or workstations but also the need for different types of networking - in many situations especially the strong utilisation of external information resources.

However, also dedicated facilities for more in-depth training and information utilisation are urged. Learning and information resource centres are needed for instance for individual training purposes with materials which can not (or are not feasible) to bring to individual«s tables. Such materials can be e.g. language training courses on audio-cassettes, video cassettes for training etc.

And finally - as shown in Figure 4, it should be stressed that only providing the physical environment does not make the training and learning work. It needs also the commitment of the organisation as well as a number of activities undertaken by the organisation itself.

Figure 4

Who Should be Interested in Learning Building Concept?

At least the following groups should be interested how to facilitate by buildings and design of work places continuous improvement of the work force: