Learning Doesn't Always Take Place in a Classroom.
By Chris Longstreet ~ Society for Hospitality Management
Thursday, 25th August 2005
How different learning opportunities can improve Performance in the workplace.

Each of us learns in a different way. We all have preferences in the way we learn and how we maximize our learning experiences. And, we all have different preferences on how we like to learn.

Recently, I asked my twelve year old daughter if she would like to take golf lessons. She likes to play, or tries too, but lessons would serve her well in learning the proper techniques. She told me no and that she would rather learn on her own, practice on her own, and see if that would work first. She doesn't want the formal instruction that a group session or individual session with a teacher would provide her. Reluctantly, I decided to let her learn on her own and allow her to try it by herself first.

Hospitality professionals learn in different ways. The employees we lead also learn in different ways. Some people are visual learners. These people learn through seeing. Visual learners think in pictures and learn bestfrom visual displays including diagrams, charts, illustrations, overheads, videos, flipcharts, and hand-outs.

Some people are auditory learners. These people learn best through hearing and listening. They learn best through verbal lectures, discussions, talking things through and listening to what others have to say. Finally, some people are tactile or kinesthetic learners. These people learn best through doing. These people take a hands-on approach and actively explore the physical world around them. They want to get their hands dirty, move around, touch, feel, and learn through the process.

Types of Learning Experiences in the Workplace

Marcia Connor, author of Learn More Now, differentiates learning experiences by analyzing them by formality and intentionality. These categories can easily be applied to the hospitality workplace. She defines the spectrums in the following way:

  • Formal learning includes the hierarchically structured school system that runs from primary school through the university and organized school-like programs created in business for technical and professional training.
  • Informal learning describes a lifelong process whereby individuals acquire attitudes, values, skills and knowledge from daily experience and the educative influences and resources in his or her environment, from family and neighbors, from work and play, from the market place, the library and the mass media.
  • Intentional learning is the process whereby an individual aims to learn something and goes about achieving that objective.
  • Accidental learning happens when in everyday activities an individual learns something that he or she had not intended or expected.1
Marcia Connor also refers to one more category: Non-formal learning. She defines it as any organized educational activity outside the established formal system whether operating separately or as an important feature of some broader activity intended to serve identifiable learning objectives.

Where Do You and Your Employees Really Learn?

The most noted method for learning is in a formal environment. Educational institutions provide classes. There are conferences to attend on any subject. Seminars are offered locally, regionally, and nationally. Professionals can take classes online. Corporations coordinate meetings and training sessions for their employees to learn new information and skills. These are valuable programs and provide tremendous value to the work environment.

But as we've seen, learning doesn't just happen in the formal environment. How would you respond to the following question: "How do you learn outside of the formal educational and training programs you participate in?" Do you read trade journals, magazines, or books? Do you have a coach or mentor that aids in your learning? Do your peers help you learn? Do you learn by discovery when surfing the internet to solve a problem? Do you learn on the job as you solve problems and deal with your daily work duties?

CapitalWorks, a human capital performance consulting company, reports that we learn at work from the following ways:

In their research, CapitalWorks discovered:

  • Informal learning was three times more important in becoming proficient on the job than company-provided training.
  • Workers learn as much during breaks and lunch as during on- and off-site meetings.
  • Most workers report that they often need to work around formal procedures and processes to get their jobs done.
  • Most workers developed many of their skills by modeling the behavior of co-workers.
So, what does all this tell us? As CapitalWorks research shows, most learning in the workplace doesn't happen in the classroom!

Marcia Conner states that "Informal learning accounts for over 75% of the learning taking place in organizations today. Often, the most valuable learning takes place serendipitously, by random chance.

Most companies, however, focus only on formal learning programs, losing valuable opportunities and outcomes.

To truly understand the learning in your organization you might want to recognize the informal learning already taking place and put in practices to cultivate and capture more of what people learn. This includes strategies for improving learning opportunities for everyone and tactics for managing and sharing what you know."2

Here's Your Chance
Take a moment and list the learning opportunities for you OR for your employees. Then review them and see where you or your employees learn best and the most. Where are you placing your investment in time and money?


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1 Conner, M. L. "Learning Styles," Learnativity, 1997-2002. http://www.learnativity.com/learningstyles.html
2 Conner, M. L. "Learning Styles," Learnativity, 1997-2002. http://www.learnativity.com/learningstyles.html

Chris Longstreet is President & CEO of the Society for Hospitality Management. He also serves as a visiting instructor for the Hospitality & Tourism Management Program at Grand Valley State University. For more information, visit the SHM website at www.hospitalitysociety.org or contact Chris at clongstreet@hospitalitysociety.org.

For a free subscription to the SHM Training Bulletin, visit
www.hospitalitysociety.org or email info@hospitalitysociety.org.

Society for Hospitality Management, August 2005

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