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Learning on demand
Read time: 5½ minutes | Published in de Hays Journal 15
In the modern workplace, traditional learning models designed around structured programmes are giving way to a more flexible style of knowledge acquisition. These are based on self-directed, social and informal learning platforms that underpin life-long learning in a way that is continuous, consumable, relevant, and available on demand.
“Self-directed employee learning is not only the future, but is very much the here and now,” says Michael Pye, Business Analyst at HR, payroll and analytics software firm MHR. “Whereas in the past, staff training was pushed from top to bottom, there is a growing desire for it be driven from the bottom up, by employees themselves.”
Self-learning empowers staff to create a more personalised training journey – one that they find continually stimulating and motivating, compared with sitting in a classroom environment, which can be disengaging and often boring.
Kevin Lyons, Senior HR Manager at Pearson, says: “Longer courses that cover every conceivable area of management training and even longer sabbaticals are becoming less relevant to the modern age; they are not even proven to actually work. Today the focus really is on the bespoke tailoring of an individual’s specific learning and development needs and on encouraging them to take more responsibility for it.”
The trend towards self-led learning is driven in part by a new generation of workers – digital natives who have grown up never having known life without the internet. They are comfortable with online learning in a real-time, bite-sized format. One aspect of self-learning growing in popularity is microlearning, examples of which include podcasts, video clips, apps and short text explanations.
They can be accessed via dedicated microlearning platforms, but equally can be found on social media platforms such as LinkedIn and Twitter. These bite-sized pieces of learning can accommodate different learning styles and media preferences, enabling everyone in the workplace to learn quickly, easily and effectively.
At the same time, however, workplace demographics are changing. Because people are living longer, they are likely to stay in work longer and will almost certainly need to learn new skills. Will self-learning resonate with older employees as easily as it does with younger generations?
“These days everybody uses a smartphone,” says Lyons. “Technology is an integral part of modern life and is not extraordinarily complicated to use. However, what employers can do is ensure that if they are providing this real-time, bite-sized content to their employees then guide them around it, and explain it to them well.”
The right attitude
Aware of the growing pressures on their employees to expand their knowledge and expertise on a near constant basis, organisations are recognising the benefits of a flexible approach that hands much of the responsibility for learning to the employee.
Leasing and business mobility company Alphabet employs people with a spectrum of skills and experience, who join the company at various stages of their lives and careers from very different backgrounds.
HR Director Adam Lupton says: “For us it is about finding people with the right attitude and mindset and empowering them to develop themselves. By taking this approach people can develop their own skills and their careers in the ways that suit their needs and lifestyle. However, for employees who prefer not to go down the self-driven learning route, the company provides conventional opportunities for guidance and development as well as the on-demand options.”
Through the company’s PACE programme, which stands for Perfecting the Alphabet Customer Experience, managers and employees have access to an online and a physical toolkit of materials, including exercises, presentations, guides and online tools.
“Some people created their own learning programmes for themselves or their teams, while others drew on these resources on a purely on-demand basis,” says Lupton.
“People are time-poor these days, so shorter, intensive, bite-sized face-to-face and online sessions equip people with the resources they need to develop further in their own time and at their own pace.”
Organisations are also allocating financial resources to support their employees’ self-directed learning and personal development.
Customer generation specialist MVF employs 400 people, all of whom are offered a £1,000 training budget per year, an unlimited book allowance and twice-monthly ‘lunch and learn’ sessions. The company also runs department academies through which new starters can get the skills they need in a way that is best suited to their preferred learning style.
However, as Chief People Officer Andrea Pattico explains, the ability to accurately measure things like usage and outcomes of real-time learning is still in the early stages.
She says: “We are still learning but, ultimately, the results that count are whether the learning is being applied on the job, increasing productivity and hitting the bottom line, and that takes time to realise.
“However, practical applications, such as creating opportunities that allow team members to use their new skills or knowledge, asking the individual to pass the knowledge on to others, as well as frequent evaluation methods, are helpful.”
Other companies may measure and benchmark self-learning outcomes through increased customer satisfaction and sales, but there is a longer-term and arguably more valuable measure of real learning.
“Empowering individuals to take control of their training content and supporting them in that endeavour fosters a learning culture built on trust, a foundation for higher levels of employee engagement and motivation, and overall greater job satisfaction, which are essential for increasing attracting and retaining talent,” adds Pye.
Ultimately, for self-directed learning to deliver maximum benefits for individuals and organisations, HR must not only take a lead role in supporting such a strategy, but also make learning and development (L&D) part of its core activities.
“The L&D department may provide the actual content and the training, but HR has a key role to play in bringing it into the business and making it relevant to employees,” says Lyons. “You can roll out a development strategy based on real-time microlearning, with high-quality online content and targeted actions and interventions, but you have to put the onus on the employee to think about their own development and where they want it to go. HR can then support them by helping them to explore and select the learning content they will need.”
The personal touch
By taking responsibility for their own learning, people will also think more about their personal brand: what excites them and what motivates them.
The result will be employees who are motivated by their own development – music to the ears of any HR professional.
While growing numbers of well-educated migrants have provided a flow of skilled labour across countries, the latest Hays Global Skills Index reveals that businesses around the world continue to struggle to find skilled professionals in a number of specialist roles and sectors.
With its flexible and tailored approach to skills and knowledge acquisition, real-time learning could potentially offer a solution that closes gaps in technical and sector-specific skills. It could also play a role in enhancing soft skills, such as communication, problem solving and teamwork.
For this reason, many experts expect to see traditional training programmes, lasting several days and covering many topics at the same time, give way to the embedding of bite-sized soft skills training. These will fit in with people’s everyday work as an effective way of tackling skills shortages and helping employees to fulfil their true potential at work.
Lyons says: “If you approach people’s personal development in a more bespoke and tailored way, you are going to be addressing particular skills and capabilities, and that has to have an impact on skills gaps. You are not simply taking a vanilla, one-size-fits-all approach, you are focusing on developing everyone as an individual.”
This article has been published in the Hays Journal 15