Digital Learning Strategy –

Frugal Learning: the movement towards lateral, experience-oriented, and holistic learning methods

Article by Sophie Cohendet, Co-Founder of LearnAssembly, originally published on the FocusRH website

Frugal learning… sorry, come again? Is this no more than the latest invention after “snack learning” and “nugget learning”? Not exactly… it’s more about exploring what learning systems could look like when certain principles of frugal innovation for businesses are applied!

Mission impossible, a stylistic exercise, or good old-fashioned common sense?

At the annual conference Education With A French Touch, Navi Radjou—researcher, frugal innovation specialist and author of the bestseller Jugaad Innovation—was invited to share his thoughts on the concept.

“Less is more!” the now-famous formula from architect and designer Mies Van Der Rohe states. Navi Radjou borrowed the expression to sum up the essence of frugal innovation: to break the cycles of overly indulgent and greedy innovation when it comes to resources and to make “clever” with very little.

Frugal innovation rests on three fundamental cornerstones: the sustainability and economizing of resources, the sharing of knowledge, and, finally, the application of experience in value-creation.

But what is the connection between these principles and our current learning problems? Well, that’s where the magic starts… these three principles are precisely the same underlying ideas driving new learning systems which are growing more lateral, experience-oriented and holistic in their approach.

The verticality of the passing of knowledge from one generation to the next, from one knowing party to a group of learners, is losing ground. Meanwhile, peer learning methods are expanding at blinding speeds. Mentoring, companionship and co-development programs are growing ever more widespread.

French learning institute Ecole 42 has helped shine a light on this by betting on horizontality, giving many training teams cause for reflection.**


This laterality in learning is catalyzed by the new collaborative principle of our companies.

While knowledge has long since been assimilated into power, it is today the concept of sharing that carries the most force. Some companies even go so far as to imagine processes that encourage sharing.

One example of this is the case of SAP, which integrated a “Pay It Forward” logic into its mentoring program. This means you can be trained by and reap the benefits of the SAP mentor community by systematically acting as a trainer yourself when your turn is up. Navi Radjou highlights this acerbically with his play of words “Teach-it-Forward Learning.”

In the same vein, the Digital Eagles program created by Barclays investment bank is a good example of circularity. Employees receive company training to learn the basics of digital culture, and they in turn voluntarily train bank clients at individual branches.

This circularity can also be seen through the prism of the various generations present in the company. Chip Conley, the author of last month’s newly-released book Wisdom at Work, introduces the concept of “Mentern,” a portmanteau word marrying “mentor” and “intern” to illustrate this circularity between generations. The term describes the contribution of the “older generations” who still have their finest hours ahead of them and possess a keen ability to feed the “digital native” generations. While they are by nature novices on these transformations, the more experienced team members bring both fresh eyes and the wisdom of a learned adviser to the organization.


And what exactly is fueling this circularity and these lateral learning systems? Experience, life!

There’s little doubt that the acquisition of knowledge is growing more empirical, and companies seek to minimize the time spent training “outside production.” The many labs and incubators in larger companies are neither more nor less than learning bodies pushing on-the-job training in the service of business (a relic of the sacrosanct 70-20-10 of learning).

In this learning environment, employees come up with the company’s next practices and take a step back from the best practices that are often highly theoretical. In this same logic, initial training endeavors such as S.T.E.A.M. (launched by CRI and Maker’s Asylum) bring problem-solving experiences to multi-disciplinary students by equipping them with advanced prototyping methods.

These students, coming from a variety of academic backgrounds, are driven to strive for mutual development and unending experimentation to challenge their assumptions. Yet, this learning method is based on two fundamental prerequisites that companies struggle to provide to its employees: time for experimentation on one hand, and the right to make mistakes on the other…

This begs the question: have we chosen the right battles at companies in terms of training investment? Should we not pump the brakes on spending countless sums on flashy learning devices—each more technologically challenging than the next, with at times dubious efficacy—in an effort to bring back a touch of common sense by divesting these funds into “production time invested in learning”? Are systems like the 20% time-off scenario at Google not ultimately better investments?


Finally, in a world considered to be in a constant state of change, where soft skills are pushed to their highest summit, the individual must engage their entire beingmind, heart, soul and body.

Our long-term learning methods, which put emphasis on the mind and forms of intelligence, are evolving towards an overall consideration of the individual.

The inscription on the Temple of Apollo at Delphi was never more fitting: “Know thyself.” What better way to describe ultimate knowledge?

At companies, these new holistic approaches are emerging tentatively. On an individual basis, full consciousness practices are branded like the panacea for all the ills of the world. Could this mean we are one step closer to adapting to the unending acceleration of life and restoring a sense of meaning to our lives? Absolutely!

In any event, our ways of learning and thus training are in a state of drastic evolution: laterality, circularity, the preponderance of experience and the holistic approach will all come to guide our learning approaches.

The principles of frugal innovation are an interesting framework for questioning our business training practices and bringing a touch of common sense back into investment by keeping a central focus on “less is more.

“Education with a French Touch” is an event organized by LearnAssembly.

** For example, an internal MOOC on artificial intelligence, which we worked on with BNP Paribas, was awarded last June for its Ecole 42-inspired approach.

About LearnAssembly

Created in end 2013, LearnAssembly is an actor for employability preservation at the time of digital. Through our solutions which melt a wide range of pedagogical modalities, we conceive learning strategies and experiences which transform the uses and minds. We believe that training has become a societal responsibility challenge and that the companies which will maintain their performances will be the ones which will know how to learn in continuously.

At LearnAssembly, we are persuaded that the learning team must be internally upgraded inside the added value chain in order to develop a permanent learning culture. This learning agility override the capacity of corporate universities and trainings in anticipating the transformations, in proposing innovative pedagogical modalities and in astonishing the collaborators. Discover our programs that will make of your training teams the indispensable actors of change.

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