Lifelong Learning: Designing L&D For The Digital World

Lifelong Learning: Designing L&D For The Digital World
Summary: The corporate world is transforming faster than ever. Technology is moving rapidly, skills are getting archaic, and there is a serious need for training and re-training to stay relevant. It is then up to the L&D to design programs especially to encourage lifelong learning in the digital world.

Why Designing Programs To Encourage Lifelong Learning Is Vital In The Digital Era

Today’s workplace is nothing like what it was a decade ago. Digitization has revolutionized not just the way we work, but the way we learn as well. Skills are getting obsolete by the day and acquiring new skills is a must. In fact, as per the LinkedIn’s 2017 Workplace Learning Report [1], the average shelf life of skills is less than five years, which means today’s skills are perishable and may not be of much use even in the near future. Naturally then, employees need to keep learning constantly to stay relevant and updated in the highly competitive corporate world.

Lifelong learning is about developing and maintaining a positive attitude to learning for both personal as well as professional development. Once such a mindset develops, employees are motivated to learn mainly because they themselves want to learn and enhance their skills. Lifelong learning is the key to better and more number of opportunities in the professional and the personal space.

Moreover, with advances in Artificial Intelligence (AI) and robotics, lifelong learning plays an even more important role considering that employees have to adapt their skills as per these digital disruptions in the workplace. In this context, Kimo Kippen, Former Chief Learning Officer, Hilton and Founder Aloha Learning Advisors, says, "Talent development is at the nexus of change. The competition to attract and retain top talent is heating up as we head into a future with low unemployment and rapidly changing technology. The supply of talent is getting smaller, the skills your company needs are getting more specific, and the speed of change is accelerating. You can no longer rely on traditional academia to fully prepare employees for their entire career."

Organizations too are aware of the importance of leveraging the potential of their workforce and, hence, acknowledge the need for lifelong learning. As per a survey by Association for Talent Development (ATD) [2], nearly 45% of talent development leaders questioned said that building lifelong learners were their priority. Half of the companies surveyed said they are encouraging employees to be 'self-directed' learners.

So, while organizations have warmed up to the benefits of lifelong learning, the question is what role their L&D can play in the whole process to foster it. To understand how L&D can better design training strategies for lifelong learning in the digital world, we could use references from Colin Rose’s book ‘Master it Faster’ where he describes the 6 stages he believes are key to becoming an effective learner. These stages can be applied to any type of learning, either formal or informal. In this article, we shall be mapping these stages to L&D and learn-tech.

1. Motivation

One of the most important aspects of effective learning is getting proper motivation. Once employees have enough chances to get motivated, they may tend to look for learning opportunities themselves. Modern L&D has to their disposal the great tool of gamification that is known to boost learner engagement through motivation and competition.

Gamification is the process of using game-based mechanics, aesthetics, and game thinking to engage people, motivate action, and promote learning. According to research carried out by Karl Kapp [3], Instructional Technology Professor at Bloomsburg University, Gamification can enhance employee motivation by 51.6%. Gamification can be used in multiple ways in L&D, especially by investing in a Learning Management System (LMS) with game mechanics or a gamification module. There are various game elements like scores, badges, points, etc. which can be used to encourage friendly competition between learners. Gamification is a great way to boost employee motivation, engagement, and retention. It looks at exactly "what" learners want, inspires motivation that drives their performance, and instills a recognition/reward culture within the organization.

2. Acquire

While learners today have a lot on their plates, there are still some mandatory things that are a must for their professional/personal development in reference to their role in the organization. One such is the basic learning that can happen through an LMS. The L&D team can assign learning materials – related to the learner’s current role, role progression, compliance, and competency skills – and provide guidance to the learner to complete the assigned learning programs in the best possible manner. At the same time, digital avenues (like the LMS) also enable L&D to provide for an eLearning catalog, which enables employees to go beyond their regular training and expand their knowledge by requesting additional learning as per need.

An extension to the eLearning catalog is online libraries/course marketplaces, which open up the learning opportunities and options for the learners. Most (good) LMSs are readily integrable with such libraries (eg. Khan Academy, Lynda, etc.) and can support 3rd party ready-to-use courses and videos (eg. BizLibrary, Cegos, etc.).

Advanced technology also encourages aspects like social learning by creating the much-needed informal learning setting for learners to network, share, collaborate, and exchange ideas and knowledge.

All these factors together help learners 'acquire' learning opportunities when they need them and put them to optimum use.

3. Search

Learning is successful when we can search for a personal meaning in the information we are acquiring. Learning is about applying what you acquire and asking yourself questions such as: 'How does this idea help in my life?' or 'What has this experience taught me about myself?'. But it is up to the L&D to ensure that they have the right platform to search for this knowledge. This is where features like social/informal learning – the boons provided by digitization – come into the picture. Social learning is the continuous process of learning from other people. It could be by observing other people, asking them questions, and sharing knowledge in general. Through social learning, employees draw from each other’s experiences, and this enables them to take responsibility for their own personal learning.

In the same way, informal learning is another important aspect when it comes to the 'search' factor for lifelong learning. Informal learning occurs naturally while on the job or off it. It happens by observing others, through water-cooler conversations, overhearing discussions, browsing through the internet etc. L&D can make great use of social and informal learning via advanced digital tools and ensure that learners get the maximum benefit for lifelong learning. After all, learners that are able to support and be supported by other learners are more likely to be motivated to pass that feeling forward.

4. Trigger

While employees are probably bombarded with information all through their working hours (sometimes even after that!), it is not easy to recall all this information at the right time of need. This is why learners need some sort of a 'trigger' that can help them pull out the information and use it in the right possible manner. The idea of Performance Support Tools or PSTs that is common in today’s digital world fits the best here. Performance Support basically comprises of tools or learning aids meant to help employees with on-the-job support at the 'precise moment' of need. PSTs are available to support learners because they are directly embedded into their learning workflow. One of the most effective ways of providing Performance Support is via mobile learning or mLearning. Mobile devices are today ubiquitous, which means everyone possesses at least one kind. They are also always connected thanks to WiFi or mobile data. Mobiles are capable of providing relevant and useful learning/training which can be accessed from anywhere anytime with or without the internet too (offline LMSs). These benefits make mLearning and PSTs go hand in hand.

5. Examine

Once L&D has developed learning interventions, it is not enough for employees to simply gain knowledge. There also has to be some examination on the efficacy of it which may help to understand how useful the knowledge is proving, and how it is helping. Evaluating Learning and Development is crucial to ensure the effectiveness of L&D’s learning initiatives and programs. This is where assessments and assignments in LMSs can be used in assisting learners and improving courses. Assessments and assignments can be used as devices to help learners think about the information they have just been exposed to. They are both important to analyze the quality of the intervention itself and its impact on business outcomes.

6. Reflect

Learning is not of much use if learners cannot reflect upon their own learning. This is about understanding how and why they learned, how they felt about a particular topic or situation, before and after they developed the knowledge. This process of reflecting after learning helps learners acquire knowledge from their mistakes as well as successes. It is important to take proper notes while learning is happening so that they can be referred to at a later stage and can be pondered upon. There are several ways to note-taking. Most importantly, note-taking is about jotting down in your own words what you, as a learner, may have as a takeaway instead of copying from someone else’s learning. Some easy ways of note-taking include highlighting keywords or phrases, making written notes, compiling summaries etc. The social learning aspect also fits in 'reflect' because once learners interact with their peers or get hold of others' experiences, they can note down these experiences and learnings and maintain it as a knowledge repository. This can be referred to from time-to-time when the need arises.

All the above points go a long way in helping L&D leaders join the dots when it comes to lifelong learning. These are the common elements that, if encouraged and assisted, can improve employee engagement, boost productivity, and increase organizational capability. Lifelong learning in today’s digital world is a great way to future-proof employees and improve innovation among them.


  1. 2017 Workplace Learning Report
  2. New Research by ATD: Lifelong Learning Leads to Heightened Engagement Levels for Individuals and Organizations
  3. Karl Kapp