Redefining The Learning Journey

Redefining Workplace Learning
Summary: The psychological contract of workplace learning has changed. Fundamentally, organizations are now looking for their colleagues to take an active role in co-creating their learning solutions.

Where Are We Now?

Learners need to have the ability to self-diagnose and take an active role in determining their own career and learning pathways. Call it "self-service" learning if you will, but it’s something that has always needed to happen.

Of course, in many industries—healthcare, defense, and financial services—there is a huge amount of compliance learning that has to be done. The more engaging this is, the better it will be to change the process from being a tick-box exercise for reporting to a thorough engagement exercise that creates a "culture" of compliance. We certainly know that in specialized industries such as these, that the "culture of compliance" is much needed!

If the psychological contract has changed, then the way that we are distributing and sending out our learning also needs to change and adapt in order to stay relevant. And indeed, this is beginning to happen with mounting interest in gamification and social-collaborative modes. In practice, it would be interesting to see how much progress organizations have made in implementing these strategies—we need to move from talking the talk to walking the walk.

Skill Pill has already talked about the shift from mandated to self-service learning at length in past articles—L&D professionals shifting roles from brokers to guides as the result of free and frictionless access to multiple learning objects. This is undoubtedly a trend that we need to leverage.

Redefining How We Apply Learning In The Workplace

Technology is opening the door to re-examining workplace learning and its most basic preconceptions. In recent years, we had moved past the compliance burden—this was the first hurdle in redefining workplace learning. It required shifting learning away from something which an individual has to complete, and toward something they are actively engaging with and completing in order to expand their own skills and knowledge. Although compliance learning still has its benefits and is crucial in areas such as finance, in today's, individual-centric learning landscape, soft skills are the key to helping an individual build their skillset.

We’ve already moved onto an individual-centric model, learners are actively undertaking their learning through their own volition. A model which not only dramatically benefits the individual, but also the company.

If we could move further and use technology to help guide individuals in their personal learning journeys—not by decreasing their agency, but by guiding their choices in a careful and considered fashion—then we could drastically improve the entire learning experience. Today’s technology allows us to make recommendations based on usage trends which an individual would never have noticed themselves; it allows us to understand our users in a way that has never been possible before.

Modern Solutions To Old Problems

There have always been problems within education and with aspects of the learning process which have been difficult to overcome. Most prominently, the difficulty in an individual understanding the things which they themselves do not know. How can you possibly know what you don’t know? This is an old problem and has long been recognized as the Socratic paradox: "I know that I know nothing." It is an idea that conveys an admittance of ignorance on subjects that an individual does not have information on—the impossibility of knowing all things. This issue still holds true. How can you attempt to guide learning if the individual doesn’t fully understand their own progress?

At the heart of our new and individualized approach to learning, which we have discussed, is self-responsibility; the active participation of an individual learner in self-recognizing the gaps in their knowledge, and then seeking content to address these gaps. However, this brings us full circle and back to our old paradox. This is where technology could provide the solution, especially if we recognize the potential benefits of new and emerging technologies, such as Artificial Intelligence and machine learning. The ability to analyze data and offer feedback to a user in real-time can be invaluable in tackling the self-diagnostic issue and allowing an individual to gain a real understanding of the limits of their knowledge.

Feedback using data can allow learners to understand what they have done well, what they need to improve on, and which content might be helpful in doing so. It places the user back in the heart of their own learning experience. Learning should not be a one-size-fits-all product, and technology can help us achieve this by providing learning solutions that truly tackle gaps in knowledge on an individual level. This would not only be beneficial to the learner, but to companies and organizations as a whole. Their employees will become more self-aware, more adaptable, and more confident in their own ability to reskill and develop.

Promoting Access

The next step in promoting learning is promoting access to that learning content. This is becoming more important when attempting to engage employees who are busy and continually bombarded with information. Those involved in change management already know that behavioral change—engaging with the motivations of the individual, profiling the user base, and giving clear calls to action—is part of that. For those less involved in change management and internal communication, the world of marketing may be unfamiliar territory. However, there are certain things that need to happen. At the very least, we need to avoid disenfranchising the users through content which includes the following traits:

  • Long
  • Dull
  • Block style
  • Clunky
  • Low utility modes
  • Slow access between mobile devices and Learning Management Systems
  • Learning objects with poorly identified occasions of application (i.e., "Where can I actually use this?")

Again, in other articles, we’ve spoken about a retailing approach model when it comes to learning, and again, it’s worth reprising the 5 tactics that the retailers use to hook their customers.

  1. Window display—enticing to try
    An enticing User Interface is key. Netflix, for example, has won many hearts and minds with its ability to draw people into engaging with content—this is thanks to the adaptive algorithm which informs its intuitive recommendation and bookmarking of material. The ability to identify what a user wants to watch, and then recommend it to them is an exceedingly powerful tool, a tool that Netflix has taken full advantage of. These maneuvers are a form of retailing or "selling" the content to the user.
  2. Promotion
    Promotions are like lightning conductors that bring users to a moment of decision—"Why now?" is the compelling event. When dropping learning objects into curated systems, we need to be really clear on what the compelling event is for the end-user, otherwise, they’re much less likely to look at it. It can be valuable to match learning to the rhythm of an organization. If there is a big event coming up, or the start of a busy sales period, then the content can coincide and support these events. It is all about creating content relevant to the user.
  3. Range
    In a previous article, "The Uberization of Workplace Learning," we made a reference to the "paradox of choice." We need to make sure that we have curated relevant pathways of content which provide ample—but not overwhelming—subject coverage. The user needs to feel like they have a certain degree of control and maneuverability, but if the content spread is too broad, it will lose a sense of purpose. It is essential to provide choice and promote agency, but at the same time, it needs to guide users to ensure they don’t get lost within a vast library of content.
  4. Layout
    The ability for users to find and deploy material instantly is absolutely key. At Skill Pill, we’ve delivered a number of widgets to allow the purveying of smart, relevant, and instant-access content.
  5. Access
    While having the correct layout to deploy material instantly is vital, it is only one part of a big consideration: that being ease of access. If you had to climb a wall just to enter a shop, would you really do it? It needs to be easy—this is the first step. It needs to be easy to access, easy to consume, and easy to apply. A user should not have to fight to access content, there should be no walls in their way, no clunky UI which makes the entire process a chore. It shouldn’t be a struggle; the harder it is, the more likely it will be that the user will not bother. The convenience of use is a truly powerful tool. It is why Netflix, BBC iPlayer, and Spotify all allow you to download content for offline use—they understand that individuals want to use a service at their own time of choosing. This all means making content available online and offline, ensuring the content is conveniently categorized and searchable. In simple terms, it means making it as easy as possible for a user to access and use whenever they want.