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Why Learning in the Flow of Life Is Key to Improving L&D

Cornerstone Editors

In today's tight labor market, organizations can't depend solely on recruitment to fill vital roles.

The low unemployment rate makes it tough to find qualified candidates—and for that reason, an increasing number of organizational leaders are turning to learning and development to foster crucial skills in existing employees. In fact, according to Deloitte’s 2019 Global Human Capital Trends report, improving L&D was the top ranked trend for the year.

Yet, despite this focus, many organizations aren't addressing a core issue. To create a workforce able to meet the challenges of the current market, characterized by a growing need for technological prowess, they need to create a profound culture of life-long learning. And that means focusing not on traditional learning workflows (think: Powerpoint presentations) but, instead, on the outcome of learning for employees, according to David Mallon, chief analyst at Bersin™, Deloitte Consulting LLP.

Mallon argues that organizations need to look at learning through the employees' eyes to find ways to incorporate it into the flow of their day-to-day life. That way, learning is much more enjoyable, effective and long-lasting.

Here, Mallon discusses why organizations need to integrate learning into the flow of daily activities:

Can you tell us about the broader forces that are compelling people in HR to rethink their approach to L&D?

First, employers take it for granted that people can pretty much look up any piece of information they want, so it's not surprising that people expect it to be as easy to be an employee as it is to be a consumer. When an employee wants to learn how to use a new company technology or brush up on a skill they have, they expect to easily find the answers they need via a quick search in a learning portal. They don't want to spend hours hunting for information.

Second, the time cycles between major leaps of innovation happen so fast that, unless organizations are very thoughtful about it, technology becomes a distraction. Employees start spending more time learning how to use tools or seeking out training for new tools than actually reaping their benefits. There's not enough time spent on proactive training and development in preparation for new technologies.

In what ways does corporate learning need to change?

In today's world, employees not only feel more agency, but they also want to find meaning at work. In the case of learning, employers need to look at how they can reinvent the basic notion of learning and development so that it's focused on what's going to create meaning for our workforce broadly.

Historically, employers have tended to focus on process and workflow as ways to organize themselves around learning. But we're seeing a shift away from traditional learning workflows ("Complete this course by looking through some slides and responding to questions"). Today, employees are constantly learning in the context of their jobs.

So employers have to ask, "How do I anticipate in advance the moments that matter for an employee? How do I help that employee process in a way that is in line with where he or she wants to go in his or her career and how the organization would like him or her to grow?" We're making it easy for employees to be successful when we ask these questions.

How can employers make learning at work a seamless part an employee's day-to-day of life?

In the same way that you've never had to be trained in how to use your phone, your work life should be just that easy. To do that, I need to get to know my employees so well, that I can give them visibility into the opportunities in front of them—and the implications of those opportunities—so they can make the right choices. The first step here is to have empathy, to walk in the shoes of employees.

That's why I talk about learning in the flow of life. I can't separate learning from work anymore.

How can organizations make a shift in learning happen?

A formal learning apparatus is not built to get to know an employee at an intimate level. But more and more, organizations are reintegrating the learning function into the business, expanding it beyond just HR and making it everyone's responsibility. In many organizations, there already are "learning folks" sitting in operations, in sales, in marketing. Now that's being done with a common framework.

Learning should be about a human-centered design—spaces where the supervisor can recognize the parts of a project an employee did really well and things they need to work on next time. It's an architecture for fully leveraging the learning that is already inherent in the work itself.

Photo: Creative Commons

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