Why autonomous learners get better results

by Brett Henebery10 Apr 2017
Is an autonomous worker a more productive worker?

According to Richard Maloney, founder of Engage and Grow, the answer to this question is a resounding yes – but there is much more to this practice than meets the eye.

“There is no question that giving learners more autonomy and choice over what they learn, and how they learn it, leads to a significantly better performance,” he told L&D Professional.

“Throughout my years working for others in the training and development game, I had the arduous task of surveying hundreds of participants before and after, short or long term, training programs to assess whether the program had made an impact.”

Maloney said it became evident over time that participants were much more likely to buy in and be proactive with their learning if they were given autonomy and were empowered to “self-create” their development as opposed to being forced into compulsory work place training programs.

“This is the same with education, and we are now seeing overwhelming evidence to support this,” he said, pointing to Finland as an example.

“Finland has radically reformed its education system. Subjects have now been replaced with ‘topics’ of interest and students are empowered with choices,” he explained.

“They understand that the world is changing and that competencies needed in society and working life have changed. Their system is now recognised as one of the best in the world and the results are irrefutable.

“We can partly attribute this philosophy to the extraordinary growth and success we are achieving at Engage & Grow, and why we have disrupting the L&D industries.”

However, there is much more to this, as Maloney points out.

“To empower autonomy is one thing, but then to maximise ROI you need to hold people highly accountable to their new learnings, in a group setting, in a way that is fun, dynamic and adds to the overall mission of the company,” he said.

“Our true gifts in life as humans are the ability to create and have freedom of choice, so we need to maintain that flow in the workplace.”

He added that if someone is empowered with choice, and given a voice, they are far more likely to respond, absorb information and follow through with enthusiasm and gusto.

But is this way of training best suited to younger learners, or do mature-age learners respond to autonomous learning just as well?

Firstly, Maloney said we need to understand that because of the industrial age most business people are “asleep at the wheel” when it comes to creativity, inspiration and enthusiasm.

“When I went to school we were told exactly what we needed to do to pass the subject. From there, most went on to university and we were told what we needed to do to pass again,” he said.

“Then we entered the workforce and we are generally told exactly what need to do to stay employed and receive our pay cheque each week.”

Maloney recalled that the parameters were steadfast and many people just accepted that it was normal to dislike school or dislike their job.

“This approach has impacted older generations dramatically, and as the saying goes ‘it’s hard to teach an old dog new tricks’,” he pointed out, adding that while it’s not impossible, it is nonetheless harder.

“It’s exciting to see the Millennials coming through now who are responding to the emerging trend offering more flexibility and in autonomy in the workplace.”

Maloney said that these learners are responding with such enthusiasm to the shift taking place and there is “an explosion of buy in, ideas and creativity.”

“This makes our job unbelievably rewarding,” Maloney said.

“This then flows on to the older generations through action and observation, which can unearth inspiration or even fear amongst the senior ranks.”


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