Management Insights

Actionable articles and insights for busy executives

8 Principles of Learning

In the late 1990s, a team of researchers including staff from Xerox PARC (Palo Alto Research Center) studied how learning takes place in organizations. Their conclusions which were very insightful then are even more relevant today. Another dimension that is interesting about these findings is equal relevance to any kind of learning, whether within a corporate organization, an NGO or public sector entity, or indeed with study and learning in an MBA program. In the global knowledge economy, success is all about knowledge. Can you afford therefore not to know these 8 principles of learning..

To conduct the study, the research team used observations at various offices, in different cities in the US, and at multiple customer locations. The goal was to observe not just what people in a specific organization do, but also how they do it

1. Learning is fundamentally social. Many of the greatest benefits of training and study are unintentional. When you come out of a training or study program, you often perform better. But is it the instruction that’s critical or the interaction during the sessions? You may be able to perform better simply because you have better relationships with people with whom you can interact. You experience a sense of unity with a group and an accompanying desire to share your knowledge with them and use their knowledge for yourself. The proliferation of all the web communities like MySpace or Yahoo Groups is a modern-day manifestation of this need.

2. Cracking the whip stifles learning. As a supervisor or instructor, if you see two people talking in the hallway, don’t say, `Get back to work.’ Recognize that this interaction creates a community of practice that stimulates learning — and it may be precisely what is needed.

3. Learning needs a conducive environment. For learning to flourish, you need to think about a space that encourages interaction, social learning, and peer learning. And remember where and when learning happens most effectively — informally. It is no wonder that faciltation techniques such as Open Space, World Cafe etc emphasize that the learning environment is flexible and informal.

4. Learning crosses hierarchical bounds. Levels of learning and the motivation to learn all take a quantum jump when all levels of hierarchy are included. Managers, first-line supervisors, operators training together means inclusiveness – this inclusiveness inspires cross-functional learning — it’s a powerful motivating factor.

5. Self-directed learning fuels the fire. Who knows better what needs to be learned than the people doing the learning? Throw away the model of HR-driven training. People have a say in structuring their own training, their own learning, and that means more ownership.

6. Learning by doing is more powerful than memorizing. In training programs, in MBA classes, use role plays, simulation exercises, case studies of workplace relevance. Think about policies, or strategies, or implementation methods, or specific customer type situations from the workplace. Use the experience and knowledge gained from these to create “learning hooks” in your mind on which you can hang bits of knowledge.

7. Failure to learn is often the fault of the system, not the people. Rather than blaming people for lack of motivation, examine how the situation is either motivating or debilitating. Look for patterns of participation and exclusion.

8. Sometimes the best learning is unlearning. People have learned over a long time that it’s safer in many situations, particularly in organizational settings, that it is best to keep their mouths shut and do what they’re told. The key is to break this habit and make engagement and participation something that’s not only encouraged but also rewarded.


  1. Thank you Tushar

  2. Tushar Patel

    14/03/2014 at 12:51 am

    Really nice explanation.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

© 2018 Management Insights

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑

%d bloggers like this: