Transforming Learning Starts Today

Alwin Gruenwald

Digital technology is disrupting nearly every industry – from automotive and retail to agriculture, clinical research, transportation, entertainment, and hospitality – and the people who work in them. Car mechanics need to understand digital dashboards. Call center operators should be social media experts well-versed in communicating through Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest. Finance directors are searching for ways to get their arms around Big Data. And salespeople are trying to strike a balance between knowing when to pick up the phone and when to use online tools to nurture prospects. “Knowledge is becoming obsolete faster than ever before, while new knowledge emerges,” says Jim Carroll, a speaker, consultant, and author on business transformation.

Senior executives can no longer make every decision – the world is moving too fast. They must rely on the brightest and most-motivated employees on their teams to help predict future needs in the market and to deliver solutions quickly. Unfortunately, those rising stars might not have the skills to get there – at least, not yet. According to Oxford Economics’ “Workforce 2020” study, nearly 40% of North American employees believe that their current job skills will not be adequate in three years, while the majority agree that the need for technology-related skills, especially in analytics and programming, will grow.

However, traditional corporate learning methods, such as classroom training or long-duration e-learning courses, aren’t keeping pace with learning needs and preferences. Managers can send their employees to the Web and let them figure it out on their own, but this free-for-all model may not be effective for most people.

A better approach is to create and facilitate a learning environment that is more accessible, consumable, and real-time for today’s mobile workforce. Here’s how learning is evolving to meet these new pressures:


Breaking up learning content into bite-size portions of five- or 10-minute chapters can minimize disruptions in productivity and reduce learner fatigue. Micro-learning is perfect for employees of all levels, whether they are learning to write a business plan or getting instruction on installing a new line of air conditioning units for a customer.

Learning as entertainment

To keep learning experiences fresh, fun, and competitive, Canadian telecommunications company TELUS is using gamification. Leaders can spend eight weeks coaching a virtual Olympic speed-skating team and competing against colleagues to earn gold medals. To win, learners must demonstrate leadership behaviors that TELUS values. The company’s training programs are also starting to incorporate virtual reality for a more immersive and emotional experience, which is a great way to approach simulations and role play.

Social learning

Learning platforms that allow employees to exchange ideas and ask questions in a community setting deliver an opportunity for real-time sharing that is common in live classroom environments. “Learning is an emotional experience, and most people don’t want to be alone when they learn,” says Bernd Welz, senior vice president of scale, enablement, and transformation at SAP. In turn, community-based learning may enrich the content in unforeseen ways, sparking novel discussions or interpretations of the material.

User-generated content

The Internet has made it possible for creative minds to share their writing, music, film, and art with mass audiences immediately – and it is doing the same for  education. “What learners value the most today is the raw, user-created content over the highly polished corporate-created content,” says Elliott Masie, founder of The MASIE Center, a think tank focused on learning in the workforce.


Employees looking to retrain for a promotion or lateral move don’t have the time to go back to school, unless they are seeking a nanodegree. These short and intensive online programs are designed to train individuals for a specific job such as a Web designer or graphic illustrator. Industry partnerships between course providers and companies, such as Google and AT&T, help ensure that degrees are business-ready.

Transforming learning strategies and tools requires the involvement of managers who can help foster a culture of accountability and excitement around learning and map individual learning activities with specific business and career goals. Chief learning officers need to work closely with business leaders to understand skill gaps and curate content for the company. In the near future, we will all learn while applying that new skill to our work – maybe even through the guidance of a wearable.

Learn more about how digital technology is disrupting the way we learn in future. Read the study “Study: Employees Lack Skills for Digital Transformation.” For more relevant insights, check out the SAP Service & Support thought-leadership inquiry “A New Model for Corporate Learning.

About Alwin Gruenwald

As a senior director within the SAP Global Services and Support Marketing team, Alwin focuses on SAP Education, digital learning, and learning in the cloud. He is a seasoned marketing professional with comprehensive international business-to-business and business-to-consumer marketing experience. Before joining SAP in 2011, Alwin held various marketing management roles at companies such as NEC and Dolby Laboratories. Alwin has a Master of Arts degree in Political Sciences from the Ludwig-Maximilians-University, Munich, Germany. He lives in the greater Munich area with his wife and two children.