How to Create a Culture of Continuous Learning

The half-life of knowledge is shrinking as the economy goes digital. Beyond merely offering digital tools to speed up learning, companies must also create a culture that supports employees’ efforts to stay current.

The digital age has transformed every aspect of corporate processes, and corporate learning is no exception. We have mobile apps, social media, and online courses to help us achieve just-in-time learning when we identify a gap in knowledge at work or in our personal lives. Companies everywhere face the challenge of training and reskilling their workforces to keep pace with technological change, business disruption, and global competition.

Yet the traditional approach to learning, accomplished through classroom training, has been transitioning quickly to more cost-effective and real-time learning methods. This transition is crucial in enabling employees to learn new technologies at the rapid pace that vendors deliver them by, along with associated skills, such as data analysis.

Additionally, Millennials, the largest workforce demographic today, are demanding new methods for learning that center on social collaboration, video, and mobile apps. Corporate learning departments are determining how and where to blend face-to-face learning with digital learning methods.

Our experts discuss the trends and challenges ahead.

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qa_qHow is the digital world affecting corporate learning today?

Elliott Masie: We’ve seen a huge spike in the use of tracked online learning. Depending on the industry, as much as 70% of learning is now driven by compliance or regulatory experiences and as much as 90% of that is delivered digitally, either to a mobile phone or a desktop or through a live Webinar. If it’s skill building, such as how to delegate in a positive way as a leader, you’ll want a blended model where some content is delivered face-to-face. When you don’t have digital learning, the irony is you have a limited supply of learning and the supply goes to the people who need it the least – those who are really enthusiastic and proactive. Once you add a digital component to learning, the supply becomes limitless, available to talent across the organization.

Karie Willyerd: My daughter wanted to apply to the Centers for Disease Control for an internship, which required statistics knowledge. So she went to Khan Academy, took a few modules, and passed the test. It’s the idea that you can instantly get the training you need. I think the softer skills, such as leadership skills, will still require a classroom. But companies are getting increasingly virtual. There will be a very limited percentage of training that is done live in the future.

Bernd Welz: The general shelf life of knowledge is shortening with the increasing pace of digital transformation, so companies need a strategy to push knowledge and make sure that knowledge is always fresh. That’s where the digital learning platforms come into play. A manager will be able to say, ”Here’s a piece of knowledge that you really need.” With the learning management platform the manager can then very effectively dispatch the course to the employee and check later to see whether the learning was completed. Learning is much more real time and proactive.

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Digital learning often consists of short snippets of content, with a video or social element, rather than longer courses that take place over a day or two. Is there a danger to fly-by-night learning?

Jim Carroll: There’s always a phrase I use with Millennials, whether it’s about video games, how they ingest knowledge, or how they play sports: it’s not bad, it’s just different. The older generations tend to retain their values and understanding of what education is, but this generation has grown up in an entirely different world. Millennials think differently about what the world is and where they can get knowledge.

Willyerd: We need to connect with other people in our learning. In one of the studies we did for my book The 2020 Workplace, people said they don’t really like e-learning. We have to come up with ways to make e-learning more sociable.

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How can companies create an effective learning culture as they transform their learning organizations to digital and just-in-time learning?

SAP_Learning-Isbell_QA_images2400x1600_2Masie: Southwest Airlines has recognized that learning is continuous. Its goal is to launch its learning program and then include follow-ups and touchbacks for the learners rather than just teach in traditional classes.

Emirates, too, has figured out that digital is where the bulk of learning takes place. It has a culture of continuous learning whereby managers regularly talk to the people about what they’re learning or bump them to new or better learning activities or resources.

Carroll: Organizations are realizing that they need to deliver knowledge where it wasn’t required before, and the time they have to do it in is compressed. Organizations used to plan a year out for the changes that were going to occur in their industry. But business is speeding up to such a degree that all of a sudden we have to get ready now, because the change is going to have a big impact on us in the next three months.

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Are corporations doing enough to invest in learning transformation?

SAP_Learning-Isbell_QA_images2400x1600_3Willyerd: Eventually, people are going to realize ”Wow, we’ve got a real reskilling thing to do here!” When you look at how much the United States puts into training as a percentage of overall revenue, I think we are in 25th place or something ridiculous like that. But how did Korea go from where it was to being such a powerhouse? The government subsidized half of all training budgets for companies. I don’t think we’re going to go that far, but I can see it being a tax deduction or a tax incentive.

I know of a large hotel chain that implemented an online social collaboration space and began to use it for innovation ideas. It got people together from different brands who could share what they were doing. Before the collaboration space, the hotel chain didn’t have a way to do this effectively; now it can foster cross-brand innovation. Corporate leaders need to understand that learning does have a bottom-line benefit when there’s the right kind of investment in it.

Welz: In many industries, companies need to transform themselves, and knowledge is the key ingredient of a successful transformation. You need to know what the state of the art is, and you can only do that if you have a systematic approach to learning. You can’t just leave it to up to the employees hoping that they will read the right books or find the right training course on their own. The transformation is much less stressful if you can assure employees that they will get the knowledge they need to be successful.

Polly Traylor is a freelance writer who reports frequently about business and technology.

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About the author:

Jim Carroll is a speaker, consultant, and author on business transformation.

Karie Willard is Workplace Futurist at SAP SuccessFactors and co-author of the forthcoming book Stretch.

Bernd Welz is Senior VP of Scale, Enablement, and Transformation at SAP.

Elliott Masie is founder of The MASIE Center.

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