Recently I had the opportunity to attend Europe’s premier HR conference, HR Tech Europe in Amsterdam. The two day event had five parallel session tracks. I was the session chair as well as a speaker in the FUTURE OF WORKFORCE LEARNING track. The track had as many as 10 speakers- all experts and practitioners in their own right in L&D space. What was really striking to notice was that the sessions in the learning track were all packed. Almost all sessions in the learning track ran full house. This shows that there is a lot of interest in learning and development among organizations today. Organizations are increasingly realizing that they need to become learning organizations, if they have to stay ahead of the curve. Charles Jennings put this aptly as the opening speaker: “If the rate of learning is faster than the rate of change, the result is positive business outcomes.”
Through this article, I am making a small attempt to summarize the key insights shared by the outstanding speakers during the sessions in the future of workforce learning track. I am presenting these insights broadly under three sections: i) Emerging Trends ii) Timeless Principles and iii) Key Imperatives. Now let’s look at each one of them in a little more detail:-
The following are six key trends we are seeing in the learning space today:
- Technology is going to revolutionize workforce learning.
We would see organizations leveraging technology more and more to train their workforce. Some of these technologies include web-based learning, videos, mobile learning, gamification, Apps, byte-sized learning etc. While technology is a boon and it has put a lot of control in our hands, the onus is really on us. How we leverage technology and how we turn it into practical usefulness for learning is going to be a key skill for the L&D practitioner.
- Learner (and not the trainer) is going to be at the center of all learning activities.
In the earlier days, the instructor used to be at the heart of all learning activities in any organization. That is slowly changing now. In future, the learner is going to be at the center-stage. The other shift related to this will be from ‘push’ learning to ‘pull’ learning. Organizations are moving from pushing learning to employees to helping employees pull (find) answers by leveraging mobile, web, videos and other forms of just-in-time learning described above.
- There would a shift from Content to Context
In the old world, the focus was on knowledge transfer. This was a content rich exercise and the result was usually poor learning. In the new world the focus is going to be on building ‘know how’ and understanding ‘context’ and the result is going to be rich learning.
- Learning will move to workplace.
As the pace of technological change speeds up, many jobs will require constant adaptation because of new information and new task requirements. In this context, the distinction between learning and work will disappear. A trend towards integrating training with on-job activities will be the result. Employees will increasingly rely on Electronic Performance Support Tools, knowledge repositories etc. to seek and receive knowledge in real time.
- MOOCs are going to be crucial part of learning in organizations.
While MOOCs have already become popular for students in general, we would see MOOCs making an entry into the corporate world as well. HR and L&D functions in organizations would encourage employees to take up MOOC courses to further enhance their career development and growth. L&D practitioners will start embedding relevant MOOC courses into the curriculum for different roles.
- There will be greater emphasis on social and informal learning. While the novices will learn a greater portion formally, veterans will rely more on informal learning and social learning. The truth is that formal learning works best with explicit knowledge and informal learning works best with implicit knowledge.
Here I have called out four principles which govern workforce learning. These principles have stood the test of time. They are relevant today and would remain relevant in future too.
- Usability drives design.
Usability and purpose always drive the design of learning solution. It should never be the other way round. Whenever, you are planning to design a program or a learning solution, always ask these questions before you start: What is the purpose? Where and how will this be used? Then craft your design basis the answers you have got.
- The most successful technology is that which makes us more human.
The most successful learning technology is the one which enables people to connect and collaborate with each other seamlessly. Technology that creates barriers and increases the distance between human beings is useless.
- Learning is a journey and not an event or a project.
If your leaders take a ‘project’ view of employee development, you will fall short on delivering real value before and after a program and the impact will never be carried beyond the program. When leaders view learning as a journey, positive behaviours become part of the DNA of the organization. Continuous learning is the only sustainable advantage an organization has today.
- Collaboration and Knowledge Sharing are essential for the survival of your Organization.
If your organization wants to stay ahead of the curve, you must encourage employees to share knowledge and information with one another without inhibitions. They must collaborate to co-create new knowledge. The truth is either you collaborate or perish.
An L&D practitioner has to be cognizant of these aforesaid trends and principles. From these emerging trends and timeless principles emerge the key imperatives for the L&D practitioner. Her role is going to shift from curriculum developer and distributor to learning enabler. Here are the seven key imperatives for the L&D practitioner:
- Align training to Business Strategy.
Training is no longer a nice gesture or just another intervention. It is today a critical part of business. As L&D leaders, you must align your learning and development strategy to enable your business to reach its goals. Identify what the organization goals (e.g. customer satisfaction, higher sales, improved productivity, an overall increase in the bottom line, or better regulation compliance) are and build an L&D strategy around these goals.
- Focus on Action Learning.
Learning is most effective when people have opportunities to practice and learn through new and challenging experiences. Create an environment where people can take up stretch assignments, job rotations, projects etc. They also need to have an opportunity to receive feedback on their performance during the action learning process.
- Enable employees to learn through reflection.
Unfortunately, most business leaders complain that there is no time for their people to reflect because their people are too busy. L&D leaders must reverse this trend. Learning is maximized when the learner gets an opportunity to reflect on her experience as part of the learning process. It deepens understanding and enhances learning.
- Drive Social Learning.
L&D leaders must create an environment in the organization where people can seamlessly engage in informal and social learning. People learn the best when they have rich conversations and social or professional networks. Encourage and champions communities of practice in your organization where people can actively seek and share knowledge.
- Have Content Curators and not mere Content Creators.
Today content is there everywhere- in the web, youtube, wikis, blogs, knowledge repositories and numerous others digital spaces. The challenge today is not the paucity of content but the abundance of content. Employees do not know which content is relevant to them and where they can find it. Therefore, L&D practitioners need not recreate the content which already exists. Instead of content writers they should have content curators. These curators can direct employees to the right place where relevant content is available.
- Facilitate ‘Training on Demand’
Build an infrastructure and support model where training will be more ‘on demand in your organization. This can be delivered largely through bite-sized chunks enabled by technology. In other words, training should be much less of an offline activity and more seamlessly integrated into workflows.
- Inspire people.
While Organizations invest in technology, innovation, process improvements, operational excellence etc., the key differentiator for any organization is its people. The primary role of the L&D leaders is to inspire people in their organizations to help them reach their full potential. L&D Leaders must motivate and inspire people to learn, grow and take on new challenges.
Before I sign off, I hope you would find these insights useful. I would like to thank the speakers at the workforce learning track at HR Tech Europe 2014, Charles Jennings, Jan Neuweboer, Wissam Hachem, David Jones, Timothy Groh, David P Havis, Chris Schultz, Nick Shackleton Jones and David Perring for their wonderful insights.