Ask. Search. Learn.

dreamstime_xs_55039048I’ve written before about how we need to consider how our learners prefer to learn when designing our learning solutions.  In that piece I concentrated on the amount of effort each learner chooses to put in.

Whilst walking around last week’s Learning Technologies Exhibition in London, the constant referencing to 70:20:10 got me thinking about how we can make sense of that in our organisations and incorporate it into our learning strategies.   After all, informal and social learning is nothing new – and some may argue as it’s been doing all right on its own up to now, why should we even attempt to manage it (or worst case formalise it) – but it got me thinking about how informal, social and formal learning are core components of a learner’s journey.

Consider a learner faced with the question:  “How do I do that?”.

What might their first step be?  What would your or my first step be?  And let’s assume that trial and error – one of the most common forms of informal learning – hasn’t yielded any success.


I’ll take a guess that the quickest and easiest way would be to ask someone more knowledgeable.  So immediately we are in the realms of social learning, described rudimentarily as learning from someone else.

All being well, the person sitting next to me might know the answer.  And if they did, how can we ensure that this newly shared knowledge is captured for the benefit of all – for the next person to ask that same question?  This will be my only mention of gamification in this piece, but finding ways to encourage and reward the sharing of knowledge is a good starting point.

But what if they didn’t know the answer and perhaps the next person to them also didn’t know.  What then?  Phone a friend?  After ask, I would suggest our second approach would be to search.


Search…but where?  Thanks to Google, we can probably predict the most popular answer.  Using the Internet to find something out – even to “learn” – is a now widely recognised source of informal learning.  The alternative – and most likely the initial choice for internal work process enquiries -would be in the intranet.

With Google there is sure to be a wealth of information out there.  The trouble is sorting through it to find the good stuff; and the most accurate and appropriate content.  With the intranet, the usual struggle is actually finding what you’re looking for.  It should be accurate and appropriate.  It’s just most likely hidden away so you can’t find it.  Search is informal learning, but fraught with difficulties.  With our increasingly short attention spans and a need to have the facts – any facts – at our fingertips immediately, search will always be prone to problems.

But if we can support informal with some digital social, then here L&D can add value.  Setting up learning communities or channels should provide a focal point for learners to search for answers.  Enrolling subject matter experts – and raising their internal online profiles – should ensure that quality answers are found.  Making it easy for subject matter experts to create, curate and then share relevant and timely content is also an important dimension to creating a valuable social learning space.  Providing a well indexed knowledge base alongside finding ways for learners to ask digitally will go a long way to meet the day-to-day learning needs of the business.  And again, we need to find a way for learners to share the results of their successful external searches and to be able to signpost and reward the successful outcomes from internal search activity.

But what about that other – and probably already-existing – source of learning, the learning management system (LMS)?


If asking hasn’t worked, nor searching or seeking help digitally, then the learner will turn to the L&D team for an answer.

“If L&D can only put their name to about 10 per cent of learning, what opportunities are we missing to support our learners elsewhere?  Is L&D really the source of last resort?”

But the LMS needn’t be the place that learners turn to last.  If it is, then it’s due to the fact that it’s not populated with all the content that the organisation needs.  It might also suffer from a poor search experience.  And I’ll hold my hand up to say that the fault partially lies with us through poor – or sometimes non-existent – labelling, tagging and categorising.  You soon lose the will to live when it comes to writing the umpteenth course description.

If the LMS only supports 10 per cent of what people need, then we need to add to it.  But I don’t mean adding in more courses.  Instead we should look to the Ask and Search stages of our learner’s learning journey.  The LMS should be a place where people can ask questions and be connected to experts and knowledge bases packed with content created and curated by users for the benefit of other users.

The chances are that their own successful searches led learners to bite-sizes chunks of content that were easy to digest and put to use straightaway.  So our augmented suite of content should take that lead and micro-learning should play a much more significant part in our content portfolios.  In the world of ask-search-learn, a full course is bottom of the learner’s list.ask-search-learnOver the last two years, I’ve come to appreciate the value from better understanding the learner’s journey, not just in terms of how they interact with learning systems, but in broader terms of how someone actually learns.  Take time to consider how you can best support and facilitate the ask-search-learn approach.  It might just unlock 70:20:10!


Ask. Search. Learn.

3 thoughts on “Ask. Search. Learn.

  1. The problem with learning entirely through asking is that you also have to know what questions to ask. Now I’m not saying such a platform wouldn’t be interesting – because it would, and it would most likely be great, but we also need traditional LMS’.


  2. Indeed, that’s very true. And have people willing to publicly ask a question in the first place. I’m certain we could build in support tools to help people ask the right sorts of question and just as Google uncannily seems to know what you want to ask and may even suggest a different and better question, that functionality should be possible to build in too.


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