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Fellowships Are The Future Of Learning and Development

Like so many things, the needs for workplace learning and development have changed dramatically this year. There has a been a shift from learning and development being seen as a nice-to-have to a must have as employees navigate parallel pandemics of Covid-19, systemic racism, climate change, and economic instability.

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This shift was already underway, but 2020 has raised the stakes of professionals’ needs for connectivity, inclusion, innovation, and resilience. Those of us who design and deliver professional training must adapt to support employees so they can lead our organizations through this challenging time to a better way of living and working.

As with so many 2020 circumstances, there are real challenges for learning and development in this remote-work, uncertain, high-anxiety context, but there is also a massive opportunity for learning and development to lead us toward a better way of living and working. Well-conceived leadership programs offer win-win-wins: guiding employees’ growth, improving teams’ performance, and ultimately having more positive impact on the people and planet surrounding the company.

Fellowships are a model for leadership development that achieve exactly those win-win-wins, for professionals, their employers, and society around them; fellowships create impact on the Me, We, and World Levels. Fellowships are ideally suited to professionals’ most pressing 2020 needs: connectivity, inclusion, collaboration, innovation, and resilience. They are flexible in terms of time and content for the participants, effective at building authentic relationships among peers, and are highly cost effective for employers.

What Is A Fellowship?

The word ‘fellowship’ comes from Middle English, in which ‘fellow’ was a companion, peer, partner, or colleague. This peer learning element is a tragically overlooked and underutilized element of much professional training. We pay tens of thousands of dollars for best-selling authors to give an inspiring Lunch & Learn talk. And we pay pennies per license for software subscriptions to tools for employees to meditate or read or take online courses. But we overlook the powerful – and cost effective – potential of facilitated group learning.

Now that everything is know-able within seconds via Google, and much of our work is done remotely, we lack the dialog that leads to true learning and growth, and ultimately creativity. Here are the three essential pillars of an effective Fellowship: 

–      Self-paced, multimedia learning and reflection

People’s lives are busier than ever, but that doesn’t mean we can let go of learning. Indeed, being exposed to new information and knowledge is a critical element of staying sane and focused among stress, as well as important to guide our adaptation to new ways of working and living. Successful Fellowships present well-curated resources in a variety of styles that Fellows can work through on their own time, based on their own learning styles. The resources are a blend of informational and interactive, asking Fellows to reflect on thought questions and exercises.

–      Live inputs with experts

Lunch and learns with inspiring, experienced speakers can be powerful. It’s refreshing to hear what is possible and how someone made it happen. These sessions must include preparation and/or follow-up work so the speakers’ ideas influence participants’ behavior, rather than being isolated, feel-good events. The best speakers are honest, represent varied demographic and professional backgrounds, and provide actionable tools for participants to use in their work and lives.

–      Peer reflection and accountability

Learning in cohorts, with a set group of participants starting together and progressing through the Fellowship together, enables powerful peer learning and accountability. With skilled facilitation and proven processes, trust is established in the group early on. This trust, combined with rich dialog, in the form of facilitated discussion sessions and informal opportunities to connect, is what makes Fellows valuable resources for each other’s learning through the course of the Fellowship and beyond.

Why Are Fellowships The Future Of Professional Learning And Development?

Savvy CEOs, board members, and Chief People Officers recognize that learning is the key to twenty-first century success. Businesses need their people to be learning continuously to keep up with fast-evolving industries and business practices more generally. Employees demand support of their own learning and growth as a benefit and critical career development tool. But companies are not experts in training, and much of what’s available today is expensive, irrelevant, ineffective, or some combination thereof.

Fellowships deliver critical content with inherent customization to the employer’s unique context because of the peer learning sessions. This approach to learning unlocks employees’ natural ambition to improve as professionals and as people. Specifically, Fellowships offer three major benefits for twenty-first century leadership development.

–      Behavior Change

The knowledge and insights gained in a Fellowship setting stick, and cross over into real behavior change. Multi-month, multimedia programs provide the repeated exposure, reflection, and practice required for real behavior change. Further, because the learning is both self-driven and peer-supported, it passes the neurological bar for retention. When we merely read about something, it is less likely we will take the risk to apply it in a real life setting than if we have talked through the concept with the peers who will be there when it comes time to try it out.

–      More Inclusive Teams

Learning within a trusting group creates authentic relationships that extend beyond the interactions required of a team’s core responsibilities. Discussing topics that touch one’s own sense of purpose and identity enriches existing connections and builds new ones, across functional relationships of levels of hierarchy. Because learning and contributing are universal human drives, the Fellowship experience offers an inclusive setting for employees to share and grow authentically.

–      Exponential Return on Time and Money Invested

Since the majority of Fellowship work is self-scheduling, they are an appealing model for busy professionals with different demands on their time. Further, fellowships are cost effective, since formal and informal peer support drives a lot of the magic, reducing the expense of outside speakers and trainers. Upfront investments in well-curated content and trust-building among the cohorts pays off royally for years to come in the form of authentic relationships, inclusive learning teams, and employees with tools for their own growth. Fellows become culture-carriers, and the community of Fellowship ‘alumni’ expands to become a critical mass who will shape an inclusive, innovative, and trusting future for your firm!

The Fellowship model can be used to teach a wide variety of content to a wide variety of audiences, across levels, functional areas, and stages. What’s important is to identify participants who are ready and willing to grow, and then invest in designing the three Fellowship pillars (self-directed learning and reflection; expert inputs; and trusting peer cohorts). Help your people grow, so that they can grow your company. The returns on the time and money spent on Fellowships are exponentially greater than one-off or individual approaches to learning. In today’s remote working world, Fellowships meet your people’s needs and desires for connectivity, inclusion, collaboration, innovation, and resilience. And that is good for twenty-first century business.

Source: Forbes

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