The term learnscape was coined during the 1970s to denote areas set aside in schools where pupils could interact with the environment and learn from that interaction. It could have been a special plot in the grounds where they planted seeds, a frog pond to observe the frog’s life cycle, or an ant farm in the classroom. The whole concept was about interaction and the involvement of all concerned: pupils, teachers and also parents and the community.
The term has evolved somewhat for use in an organizational context, but it still embodies the central ideas of collaboration, involvement and integration across different groups and stakeholders.
Every organisation has a learning environment, or learnscape. It is the ecosystem that comprises all that is within or around an organization that has an impact on learning. Employees, and sometimes customers and suppliers, exist within this learnscape; how much or how easily they learn is dependent on how well the learnscape is functioning.
Now, here is the critical thing about a learnscape, and it’s something that many people don’t realize and need to understand: very little of the learning that happens is due to formal training. The majority of what people know how to do in order to fulfil their job roles, they have learnt outside the classroom or any formal training initiative. Most of the learning that goes on within any learnscape is informal learning and you can’t force informal learning. All you can do is provide a backdrop and an environment in which it is more likely to occur. To do this you need to manage your learnscape.
A learnscape is a learning ecosystem. You don’t create it; it is already there. You tend it and manage it to enhance it. This is analogous to a garden. You don’t create a garden out of thin air: the ground already exists, but you can tend it to bring harmony and beauty. You do this by ensuring the garden provides all that the plants need to thrive, including nutrients, water, shelter and so on. Gardeners do not control the growth of a plant directly, any more than managers can control learning. Gardeners know they can influence, but not control, the plants. All the same, they’ll be delighted when a plant bursts into bloom unexpectedly. It’s the same with a learnscape.
If people are working in an environment where they can flourish, most of them will. There are lots of elements you can introduce into a landscape to make things grow better, but how you introduce them makes a difference. You can pour fertilizer onto a garden, but if it’s not soluble in water, it won’t make any difference to the plants. It’s not bio-available. It’s the same with the learnscape. You can pour information into a learnscape, but if it’s not available for people to use, it won’t be of any benefit to them.
I see this happening in some companies. They say, “We have a glut of information. It’s all on the Intranet.” I ask them to show me some of the information and often they can’t find it because it’s not easily accessible. So, if you’re feeding information into a learnscape, you need to make sure that the information is bio-available.
With a plant, you can put a trellis up a wall for it to grow around, but you can’t make it grow the way you want it to. It will grow the way it pleases. You can direct plants, but there’s always a point at which the plants grow the way they want. It’s the same with people. You can encourage career progression. You can encourage learning and development in a certain direction, but ultimately it’s down to individuals to do what they want. Some will use the information and produce results and some, unfortunately, will not.
With new people, you can nurture their introduction into the organization, just as a gardener protects and nurtures seedlings until they are strong enough to cope. You can take newcomers through induction processes and protect them until they’re strong enough to stand on their own. For example, they might go through a training course on product knowledge, or shadow a veteran before you let them loose with real-life customers.
Occasionally in a garden, you may find that a plant is doing badly or that weeds have begun to flourish. What do you do? You remove the poor performing plant or weeds. In an organization, people who aren’t pulling their weight are usually removed if all attempts at helping them to do better have failed. Not everybody is right for every company. Also, when you are pulling weeds, you need to be careful you don’t damage the good plants.
My best wishes, Paul