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Purpose-driven learning - what is learning without meaning?

Set a place for purpose at the learning table

Learning without meaning is one of the most depressing experiences we can be subjected to. We’ve all been there. Whether at school or home or work, we’re presented with something we are told we must learn yet we have no understanding why it is of any use to us whatsoever. A teacher may try to explain it away as theoretical knowledge which will serve us at some time in the distant future. We might not know it yet, but algebra will make our entire world click into place one day. At work, the explanation is often more careless. Meaningless learning is simply branded compliance training. There. Done. Now get on and learn it.

None of this is to say that the learning has no point to someone or something somewhere. The education system of today is meant to serve the industry needs of tomorrow. A training programme funded by a business serves the needs of said business. But meaning, by its sheer nature, is in the eye of the beholder. If we cannot see why something is useful to us as we are learning it, we are much less likely to engage with it.

When designing and delivering learning for a group, this can be particularly tricky to navigate. You’ve considered the business goals, you’ve translated these into learning objectives, you’ve created your learning intervention and your stakeholders have signed off on all of the above. But on delivery, the response is mixed. Some people are attached to the big picture already. They’ve aligned their success with the organisation’s success and have thereby created meaning for themselves. Others decide to go with it whatever the outcome. They just enjoy the experience of learning with others. But some just don’t engage in the way you hoped. “How does this make my life any easier?” “Why bother when they’ll just change things again in six months’ time?”

What is more worrying is those that struggle to find meaning in this learning are often excused as passive passengers. “You can’t accommodate everyone, can you?” “That’s just Barry from Accounts. He’s always like that. Just ignore him.” But Barry from Accounts may have insights and inner strengths which remain locked just because he can’t see a good reason to explore them. Now multiply these potential insights and strengths by the amount of Barrys in an organisation, what is the cost to a business of writing off these employees as anomalies just because they cannot see a purpose in what is being proposed to them?

At Teamscapes, we look to target purpose in the programmes we design and deliver. Not all clients are ready to consider this at first. For this reason, we go at the pace of the organisation we are serving. We do it at three main stages.

Client Consultation

During our initial consultation with the client - and often their leadership team - we look to understand their goals, their challenges, and their why. Why their business and their teams exist. The purpose they serve in their world.

Some organisations are a long way down this path already and are reaping the benefits. According to one of our clients, Deloitte, “Purpose-driven companies witness higher market share gains and grow three times faster on average than their competitors, all while achieving higher workforce and customer satisfaction.” It is certainly easier for people to find meaning in their learning when it is aligned to a purpose and not just a set of hard business goals.

For organisations which aren’t in a position to articulate their purpose; we are still able to explore it in other stages of our design and delivery.

Online Surveys

We can use bespoke online surveys to consult with your people during the initial fact-finding phase to help ascertain their priorities and reach under the skin of their requirements. This includes understanding why the proposed learning is important to them and what would make it more meaningful. This, in turn, is then factored into the design of any programme or day of learning.

For continued tracking of return on investment, we are also able to incorporate surveys in the deliver phase. These can include the continued monitoring of purpose; invaluable when delivering multiple interventions over a period of time.

In Facilitation

In every discussion and feedback session after every activity we run, we also create space for purpose. Experiential Learning teaches us to explore what went well, what didn’t go so well, what would we do differently and how we would translate this into our working world. But there is another crucial step in this thought process. How does what we’ve just discovered help you? What did you learn about yourself? What does it mean to your world?

By giving every learner the opportunity to identify their own meaning to their discoveries before attaching it to a business priority, we increase the opportunity for individuals to realise their own talents. They are then able to consider how these talents can be harnessed within their teams.


Setting a place for purpose at the learning table should be an important consideration for any business investing in a learning provider.

For us at Teamscapes, it is vital. One of the core principles of Experiential Learning is that learning never ends. A learning outcome should never be considered an end point. Old ideas should constantly make way for new ones. When you are purpose-led rather than purely objective-driven in your learning approach, these principles are allowed more space to live and breathe.


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