I’m keen on fostering a learning culture within teams and was drawn to this article on InfoQ “Creating a Culture of Learning and Innovation by Jeff Plummer” which shows what can be achieved through community learning. In the article Jeff outlines how a learning culture was developed within his organisation using simple yet effective crowd sourcing methods.
I have implemented a community learning approach on a smaller scale using informal Lunch & Learns where dev’s give up their lunch break routine to eat their lunch together whilst learning something new, with the presenter\teacher being one of the team who has volunteered to share their knowledge on a particular subject. Sometimes the presenter will already have the knowledge they are sharing but other times they have volunteered to go and learn a subject first and then present it back to the group. Lunch & Learns work even better if you can convince your company to buy the lunch (it’s much cheaper per head than most other training options).
It’s hard to justify expensive training courses these days but that said it’s also never been easier to find free or low cost training by looking online. As Jeff points out innovation often comes from learning subjects not directly relevant to your day job. In my approach to learning with team I have always tried to mix specific job relevant subjects with seemingly less relevant ones. For example a session on Node.js for a team of .Net developers would be hard to justify in monetary terms however I’ve no doubt the developers took away important points around new web paradigms, non-blocking threads, web server models, and much more. Developers like to learn something new and innovation often comes from taking ideas that already exist elsewhere in a different domain and applying them to the current problem.
I agree with Jeff’s point that the champions are key to the success of this initiative. It is likely that the first few subjects will be taught by the champion(s) and they will need to promote the process to others. One tip to take some of the load off the champions is to mix in video sessions as well as presenter based learning sessions. There are a lot of excellent conference session videos and these can make a good Lunch & Learn sessions. Once the momentum builds it becomes the norm for everyone to be involved and this crucially triggers a general sense of learning and of sharing that learning experience with others.