19 Jun 2021 18:22 IST

Executive education engine drives continuous learning

Organisations need to provide the right environment for execs to burnish new skills

The merits of learning in organisations cannot and should not be debated especially at such trying and turbulent times. It is education which is a saviour when all roads lead to a dead end. Many organisations fail to recognise this. This is because for most organisations, executive education is the imparting of knowledge in a classroom for use in the short term to solve and deal with problems and situations at hand. For some others, it is a means to retain or reward high potential employees. The truth is that executive training puts the whole organisation onto the path of learning and growth (or survival).

Much of the cherished work on education, done by Kolb (1984) and inspired by Lewin (1951), refers to the ongoing experience playing a key role in learning. It is from such experiences that learning is facilitated. The actual doing provides an opportunity for observation and reflection, which in turn leads to abstractions and generalisations, which are then inputs for subsequent experiences. This makes learning both enduring and sustainable.

Making personal development a priority

If it is so much about current experience then maximum learning should take place in organisations which are able to provide for these experiences, including very challenging ones like those during a crisis. In other words, there is then no excuse for organisations to not learn and certainly not at the time of a crisis.

Since experiences are individualistic in nature, learning is individual-centric as well. In fact, the earliest work on experiential learning, done by John Dewey in 1910, puts the student at the centre of learning, and he called it the centre of gravity. According to him, the starting point of all education is the ‘Internal Conditions’ which is the student’s own instincts and powers. Does this imply that learning organisations rely overtly on individuals to take the onus and responsibility of their own learning? Though the answer to this question is a yes, it does not completely allay the organisation of its own responsibility.

Mark Smith (1980) outlined three important ingredients — personal involvement, discovery of knowledge by the individual, and freedom to set one’s own learning objectives. Organisations, through providing the right environment for these ingredients and by rewarding learning, can play their part. Executive training and development to be effective has to therefore be more facilitative than instructive. Using tools of knowledge in relevant experiences leading to reflective inferences used in future experiences characterises the virtuous cycle of continuous learning.

Views are personal

(The writer is Associate Dean, Executive Education and Modular Programmes, Bhavan’s SPJIMR.)