In these highly disruptive times, individuals need to continue learning new skills to increase their knowledge, skills and competencies. Recent studies reveal, however, that while many workers are willing to learn new skills or completely retrain to improve their future employability, few feel they are given the time or opportunity to do so. It seems that the urgency of work often trumps the luxury of learning. For learning to take place within busy schedules, learning should fit within the flow of daily work life. Finding opportunities to learn “on the job” and “in the job” is a practical way to accelerate life-long learning in organizations.
According to a Linkedin survey, opportunities for employee development have become the second most important factor in workplace happiness (after the nature of the work itself). But most knowledge workers, those who sit in front of their computers to conduct their work, are only able to carve out five minutes of formal learning every day. This lack of learning comes at a cost to organizations, as benefits such as enhanced productivity, increased innovation and accelerated digital transformation are often lost.
Learning “on-and-in the job”
Many executives have told us they work long hours “from eight to late,” which doesn’t give them a lot of time to sit in a classroom. Learning programs are no longer a destination; but something that is employee-centred and delivered at the right time and place. Technology platforms and applications are significant enablers for just-in-time learning, but not enough. Organizations need to create a learning-for-all culture where people are encouraged to continue learning as part of their everyday work.
Even with a lifelong learning culture, it’s up to the individual to have the right mindset. Encouraging what Carol Dweck, a psychologist at Stanford University, calls a “growth mindset” is a good start. Individuals who believe their talents can be developed through hard work, good strategies and input from others have a growth mindset. To become a life-long learner, individuals first need to believe that they have the opportunities and an unlimited capacity to learn and grow.
Organizations that embody a growth mindset encourage appropriate risk-taking, and reward employees for lessons learned. They support collaboration across organizational boundaries and make learning accessible and broadly available.
Some tactics to encourage learning during the normal flow of work include:
The value of personalized instruction has been long recognized for not only fostering technical competence, but mastery of skills and an independence of thought and action. Sydney Finkelstein, author of Superbosses (2016), writes about how managers emphasize on-going, intensive one-on-one tutoring of their direct reports. Their teaching was informal and organic, flowing out of the tasks at hand. Commonly used techniques by what Finkelstein calls the “Teacher-Leader” include questioning, role-modelling and targeted advice.
Sharing Learnings with others
Singapore-based DBS bank set out to create a learning environment that sparks employees’ curiosity. One notable initiative has been their GANDALF scholars initiative, where employees apply to receive $725 (1,000 Singapore dollars) grants they can use towards training on any work-related topic. There’s a catch. Recipients must agree to teach what they learned to a least ten others. But learning isn’t only limited between humans. An increasing number of organizations need people to ensure that AI systems are functioning properly, safely, and responsibly. For example, safety engineers should focus on anticipating, training and trying to prevent harm by artificial intelligence.
Personalize, Digitize, Atomize
Many companies are using a variety of media and innovations to accommodate the different preferences of how employees choose to learn. At Cargill, employees “microlearn” by being taught concepts or small lessons which they have to immediately apply. Then are then requested to fill out a field report describing the results, lessons learned, questions raised as well as show a sample of their product. Organizations are increasingly moving beyond content management to content curation to reduce the impact of information overload on their employees. At Accenture, content curation allows the company to constantly provide most current insights on emerging technologies to help train their consultants to deliver innovation to their clients. They identify useful external content and combine it with internal content developed in consultation with their inhouse subject matter experts. As of early 2019, subject matter experts had created more than 2,500 learning topics that are delivered as on-demand learning modules.
Life-long learning starts with creating an environment that enables employees to have the time to learn. Successful companies find ways to make learning fit within the flow of daily work life.