Improving L&D For Contingent Workers

How The Way We Work Has Drastically Changed

The LMS was created for organizational structures that were different from the ones we see today. In the two decades during which the LMS was the dominant paradigm of learning systems, powerful forces—including globalization, free-market liberalism, the development of the internet, the rise of contingent workers, and the innovations in consumer electronics—have changed the world of work profoundly, putting pressure on the default capabilities of the classic LMS.

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Some of the changes detailed below have raised particular problems for the "traditional" LMS, which was designed assuming full-time, office-based employees accessing the learning system via desktop computers supplied and supported by internal L&D and IT departments.

Growth Of Freelancing And The "Gig" Or "On-Demand" Economy Changes The Landscape

The number of freelance workers in the economy has risen dramatically since the turn of the millennium. In the USA, they are growing 3 times faster than the traditional workforce. More than a third of US workers are currently freelance—in the UK, 15%—with the numbers expected to rise close to 40% by 2020. These freelancers are disproportionately from younger age groups, they do it by choice rather than necessity, and are more proactive in seeking out skills training than being full-time workers. If this trend continues (caveat: 2018 showed a small decrease), freelancers are expected to form the majority of US workers by 2027.

Contingent Workers Need Flexible Knowledge Resources

Large companies employ an ever-increasing number of these freelance contractors, consultants, temps, and advisers referred to as the contingent or extended workforce. According to Deloitte, "businesses have dramatically increased their use of contingent workers over the past decade as they struggle with rising labor costs and the need for a workforce that can quickly adapt to market conditions [1]." Whole cohorts of contingent workers are now deployed to meet skills gaps and particular strategic goals.

These contingent workers often need to be onboarded, trained in relevant skillsets, and given the knowledge to work in compliance with industry regulations. But trying to do this within the corporate LMS can be a struggle when the direction of travel in the vendor community has been toward closer integration with large talent management and HR systems. This can mean that enrolling someone who is not a full-time employee in the LMS raises security issues and triggers all sorts of irrelevant processes, creating unnecessary friction.

Often these audiences need a far simpler "launch-and-learn" type of environment without the need for complex LMS administration. A good example of this type of deployment was when a Learning Pool client, the English Football Association, used the Learning Pool’s LXP for their Wembley Stadium event staff.

Neither can it be guaranteed that the model of learning content delivery used by a traditional LMS is appropriate to the needs of a contingent workforce. Lacking the knowledge of internal systems and access to information stored across the organization in multiple repositories, databases, and file shares, such workers need access to the information required to do their jobs via a system that is content-driven rather than admin-driven. They could be accessing such information on home systems, tablets, and smartphones, many of which will not be part of any BYOD scheme.

Their content needs can also differ. The necessity of deploying contingent workers quickly and flexibly often makes it impossible to develop hefty eLearning programs for their specific needs, so they might have to lean heavily on curated content from external sources, User-Generated Content, microlearning, video, etc.

Where contingent workers are used to supplying skills gaps in an organization, there is often a requirement for knowledge transfer to full-time staff—and vice versa—driving a requirement for User-Generated Content, often in the shape of an ability to upload and share user-created video.

In regulated industries, having an audit trail for contingent workers can be business-critical, so, even where content is provided flexibly, its use still needs to be tracked scrupulously and accurately. As we know, SCORM, the underpinning tracking technology of the LMS, struggles with anything that falls outside the classical model of content provision. xAPI provides a more flexible style of tracking for diverse content that sits outside the LMS.

Flexible Working

Work has changed for full-time workers, too, many of whom are opting to become rather less full-time and/or to work from home. Flexibility is now the most desired non-monetary benefit for US workers; 51% say they would change jobs to have access to it. The ability to work from home comes in at 35% [2]. Only 44% of those questioned say their company actually offers flextime, and 24% offer the ability to work offsite part of the time. Just over half of UK workers are working flexibly in some way, and, of those who don’t have access to flextime, 78% would like to [3].

The unmet demand showed by these figures, against a background of declining unemployment, indicates that these trends are only likely to continue.

Flexible and remote working, however, carries a risk of isolation, which throws more emphasis on the social aspect of learning, something that can be ill-served by an LMS structured around self-paced eLearning modules as the default mode of delivery but that is a settled feature of LXP systems.

Product development cycle times decreased significantly over the 15 to 20 years previous to 2010, according to studies by the Product Development and Management Association (PDMA), and, with the key drivers of technological innovation on exponential curves, there is no sign of this trend slowing down anytime soon.

The impact of this need for speed, most acute in sectors such as retail, has been felt for some time in the world of digital learning. Putting pressure on lengthy production schedules for custom eLearning content, it has been a significant driver of developments such as rapid authoring and, more recently, microlearning, curation, and User-Generated Content. Arguably, it also contributes to fueling a culture of self-directed learning as learners seek to avoid the friction associated with learning departments where access to learning has to be requested and approved.

Further Reading

The eBook Powering The Modern Learner Experience fully explores what these changes mean for the L&D industry, and showcases how modern learning tools can help organizations keep up with the pace of change.


[1] Global Business Driven HR Transformation The Journey Continues

[2] State of the American Workplace

[3] UK Working Lives