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In 1968, Malcolm Knowles coined the term “andragogy"—the science of adult learning—and proposed guidelines for creating content geared towards adult learners. According to Knowles, the content must be relevant, draw on life experience and be immediately useful. Additionally, adult learning must shift from dependence on the teacher to self-directed learning and the motivation to learn should come from inside the learner.

Content that adheres to Knowles' recommendations is proven to be more effective for adult minds. Still, organizations continue to push learning content through lengthy PowerPoint decks—expecting employees to learn and retain content in a classroom setting that is traditionally used to teach children and adolescents.

Not only does classroom training disregard Knowles' guidelines, but traditional organizational training is also not what employees want (or need). Some employees are naturally life-long learners, while others need a little help to get motivated. In either case, there are ways to spot a thirst for learning and nurture it. To answer this call, learning and development teams should shift the way they deliver information in order to create interest and motivation.

Here are four ways to help your organization stop passively training employees and start inspiring intellectual curiosity:

1) Make Learning a Requirement

Employees at all levels, including leadership, need to know that learning is their responsibility, both as individuals and as teams. This may sound obvious, but think about it—employees have come to assume that we will train them. We provide orientation, skills training, new manager training, new product training and sales training. But chances are we've never actually told them that learning is their responsibility.

To ensure employees take ownership of learning from day one, look for intellectual curiosity in new hires. Intellectual curiosity is a key attribute of any good employee—it fuels self-directed learning, innovation and process improvement. An employee who is intellectually curious will seek out knowledge when it is needed and is more likely to come up with innovative solutions to problems. Intellectual curiosity is not difficult to spot, even during a job interview. Asking a candidate how she learned to perform her last job, for example, can help identify an active learner.

2) Help Leaders Become Talent Developers

Leaders know best when it comes to their teams' learning needs, whether that means hard or soft skills. They are accountable for unit performance, and can identify the skills and behaviors necessary for improvement. Once they identify a gap, leaders can partner with learning and development teams to determine how to best close it.

This type of learning environment is a very different approach than the traditional “send 'em to training" strategy. A leader who can pinpoint problem areas, offer learning opportunities and coach the employee post-learning to build the skill or change the behavior creates a fertile environment for intellectual curiosity.

3) Embrace Technology

If you have a learning platform, use it to the fullest. Break skills down into bite-size pieces of content, and present the content in a clear, concise way.

The right learning technology can help employees identify relevant skills and knowledge they need and provides a menu of tools to facilitate learning. But technology can't do all the work for you—clearly pinpointing the skills and knowledge required for specific roles enables learning platforms to deliver the right content.

Learning technology is the best way to drive learning down to the individual employee. But if you don't yet have a learning platform, you can still identify key skills and behaviors, help leaders learn to curate content and facilitate post-learning dialogue. This will give you a head start when you do begin using a tool. Show leaders how they can serve the same purpose by teaching their teams certain skills or relaying knowledge, sharing relevant content and facilitating dialogue around what was learned.

4) Create the Environment for Intellectual Curiosity

While learning is the employee's responsibility, it's up to leaders and learning and development teams to help them learn how to learn.

First, talk about a knowledge or behavior gap with your employee, then send her on a mission to learn what she needs to. If she needs to learn how to better organize and prioritize work, for example, have her research some ideas and bring them back for discussion. Let her explain her research and how she will put it into practice. Set a time to follow up and see if the gap is closing.

Want to know more? There are links to articles about intellectual curiosity scattered throughout this post. Are you intellectually curious enough to keep learning?

Photo: Creative Commons