Goodbye, Knowledge Workers—Welcome, Learning Workers

Dr. Ernesto Marinelli

Throughout history, knowledge has been considered a competitive advantage. This premise forms the basis of our educational systems, institutions of higher learning, and technical schools, which provide training and formal accreditation with the assumption that the value of this accreditation will remain stable over time.

Further back in history, knowledge was generally limited to a privileged few, such as philosophers and scientists—think of Aristotle and Plato. Over time, labels such as “white-collar” and “blue-collar” were used to indicate the level of workers’ knowledge and to define the division between technical and educational competencies.

I would argue that the era of knowledge workers is over, as technology has changed information accessibility. In today’s fast-paced digital world, technology has democratized knowledge and made it ubiquitous. “Click-of-the-button” access, SEO filters, omnichannel models, and social media ecosystems provide interconnectivity that enables us to stay constantly informed.

Technological disruption today is inevitable, but we must be mindful of its effect on our ability to learn. We are constantly distracted by a barrage of information from our smartphones and other devices, which impacts our ability to be attentive and absorb knowledge. The challenge of “information overload” reinforces the importance of collaboration and cooperative learning.

Many of today’s educational systems are based on rigid, standard programs that often have little to do with students’ skills, preferences, and strengths. I would love to see institutions adopt more flexibility and focus more on teaching students how to learn, shifting toward an experimental approach that drives innovation.

The era of learning workers is gaining momentum, and we must recognize that all workers can be critical problem-solvers and can contribute to improving the organization. To achieve this, we need all workers to share what they learn, and we need to use our ability to learn everywhere, on any device, and at any time.

My team has implemented a program called “Everybody is a Teacher, Everybody is a Learner,” which offers monthly learning sessions with the goal of encouraging continuous learning and information-sharing. This peer learning method is based on the fact that we live in a continuously changing environment and that we all receive vast amounts of information daily. Therefore, we must be able to filter and retain the most important information while staying as current as possible.

That means not only changing the way we work, but also the way we learn. We need to embrace collaborative learning and cooperative learning—after all, there can be no innovation without information.

Research by Johnson & Johnson (1989) indicates that cooperation, compared to individual competition, typically results in higher achievement and productivity; more supportive, and committed relationships; and improvements in psychological health, social competence, and self-esteem.

Digitalization requires all businesses today to adopt new strategies for teaching, learning, and information sharing to gain a competitive advantage. Thanks to advances in technology, increasing collaboration and cooperation among workers is easier than ever.

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This article originally appeared on LinkedIn Plus.


Dr. Ernesto Marinelli

About Dr. Ernesto Marinelli

Ernesto has over 15 of human resources experience. He is currently the Senior Vice President for Human Resources for SAP Europe, Middle East and Africa supporting his organization in the digital transformation. Passionate about transformation and the impact of leadership on people, Ernesto is a seasoned, goal-oriented global HR senior executive with broad experience in supporting the sales and services organization, as well as development groups. Accustomed to work in an international environment, Ernesto is strong in transformational work and possesses in-depth expertise in all relevant HR processes with a strong ability in creating long-term partnerships. He speaks Italian and German, is fluent in English and has good knowledge of French and Spanish. He joined SAP in 2005 as a recruiter and had several roles within the HRBP organization. Ernesto earned a Master Degree in General Linguistics and a PhD in German Linguistics at the University of Würzburg in Germany.