Modeling Learning

This content was created as part of Infopeople’s Building a Learning Culture initiative.

Learning is social. Most workplace learning happens as a natural part of our jobs – through daily experiences and in our interactions with coworkers and customers. We learn by doing, but we also learn by observing others. Albert Bandura is a psychologist who has studied the social nature of learning. He states, “Most of the behaviors that people display are learned, either deliberately or inadvertently, through the influence of example.”

How do you learn? Consider customer service, for example. If you feel that delivering effective customer service is a skill or ability that you possess, how did you learn that skill? In part, you probably acquired your skills through trial and error. It’s likely, however, that you also learned customer service skills by observing others. Watching others can be a way to learn what to do (and also what not to do).

Be a learning role model. If we recognize that people learn by observing others, then how can we use that awareness to foster a strong culture of learning in our library? One of the most effectual strategies we can use to inspire greater workplace learning is simply to model it ourselves. In an organization with an effective learning culture, employees and leaders are intentional about prioritizing learning.


How can you model learning behaviors? Here are 4 strategies to try:


1. Share what you’re learning.


You have probably noticed email signatures that share “What I’m Reading”. It’s fun to see what others are reading and sometimes you will serendipitously discover a title you would like to try or you might just feel more connected to the individual if you discover they are reading a title that you have read, too.

This type of sharing works for more than book titles. Consider sharing “What I’m Learning”!  Are you taking a MOOC that you think others might enjoy, too? Did you find a course that effectively helped you learn a new skill? Has an article from Harvard Business Review really got you thinking? Are you experimenting with the soldering iron in your library’s makerspace? Tell others about it!

You could add “What I’m Learning” as an email signature or you could find other ways to share, too. Consider a bulletin board in the staff break room or a discussion area on the staff intranet. Do you want to share with others beyond library staff? Is there a place on the library’s website or a bulletin board within the library that could feature current learning that’s taking place?   By sharing your learning, you might inspire someone to learn something new or you might connect with someone who wants to learn the same things.

2. Ask others what they are learning. ask-learn

In addition to sharing what you are learning, it’s a great idea to ask others what they are learning, too. Your co-worker just returned from a library conference. Ask about it. Questions like “What was the best session you attended?” or “What trends did you notice?” can elicit useful information. You can do this informally or you may also want to find ways to formalize this type of sharing.What if every time someone goes to a conference, they take time to share highlights, maybe in an email or at a staff meeting?

3. Grow from mistakes (and talk about them). messed-up

I spent years providing library technology training and something I realized is that trying to create a perfectly smooth training experience for learners was actually doing them a disservice. Being a fluent user of technology requires the ability to troubleshoot and to figure out how to do things we’ve never done. Letting learners see me troubleshoot tech issues as they came up was an excellent opportunity for learning.

Learning from mistakes or issues is something that is important in other realms, too, not just technology. When you’re helping someone learn to do something (from processing materials to dealing with tricky customer service issues), don’t be afraid to share stories of times you made mistakes. Your experiences, and reflection about those experiences, can help someone else avoid them.

4. Get intentional about reflection.  program

Learning happens through an ongoing process of action and reflection. When teams reflect together, they are being intentional about learning. Take time to talk about successes and failures and lessons learned.

When a library’s Summer Reading Program wraps up at the end of the season, for example, staff could spend time talking about what went well and what they would change as they start to plan the next year.


What do you think? Are there strategies you would like to try in order to model learning behaviors? Are there successful techniques that you have already been using? Please share in the comments on this post!