Corporate Learning and Creativity

Imagine you’re the CEO and your goal is to make your organization more innovative.  Where would you start?  No doubt, you would start with your people.  And the part of the organization responsible for your staff’s professional growth and development is human resources.  “Human resources” gets a bad rap; in the Dilbert comic strip, the evil Catbert symbolizes the senseless bureaucracy too often associated with the human resources department.  But thriving, innovative companies are learning organizations.  Learning organizations provide constant opportunities for everyone to reach their fullest creative potential.

I touched down in the human resources world last week, when I gave the keynote address at the annual meeting of the eLearning Guild.  (Listen to a pre-conference audio interview.)  The members of the Guild are the people that design web-based learning applications for corporate training, certification, licensing, legal guidelines…we’ve all worked through at least one such on-line application.  Most of them are far from innovative–you’re presented with a bunch of information, then afterwards you’re tested with multiple choice, true-false items.  This is simple information delivery, and all the research shows that this sort of learning does not result in creative employees.

So, in my talk, I drew from the latest research in both the innovation process and in the learning sciences.  This research gives us a pretty good idea of how to design learning environments that foster creative learning, rather than simple memorization of facts.  The problem is that this research is just now starting to emerge from university research labs, and most people “down in the trenches” haven’t encountered it yet.

But instructional designers in HR departments can’t make the transformation to innovative learning all by themselves.  The transformation has to be initiated by senior management, and they have to push hard to create a culture of organizational learning, and of innovation.  Only with top management support can an HR department shift to designing innovative learning applications that do more than simply deliver information.

I was extremely impressed by the knowledge and talent of the professionals in attendance at this event.  They’re exploring some truly exciting and innovative technologies: immersive learning simulations, multi-player online games, even using cell phones to deliver on-demand instruction.  Keep your eye on this sector; you’re going to see dramatic changes in the next three to five years.

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