What Is Learning: Surviving Or Creating The Future?

Pavlina Eneva

Inclusive, high-quality education and lifelong learning is one of the 17 sustainable development goals (SDGs) defined by the United Nations to transform the global civilization. Learning happens in everything we do, and it takes many different forms as it builds a bridge between the past and the future. Learning is what drives humanity to evolve and create a new future.

In the corporate world, learning is a leading topic on the minds of CEO and HR leaders (2017 Deloitte Human Capital Trends. In a time of continuous business transformation and automation, companies are realizing that digital learning is critical to business success.

The corporate world has a responsibility not only to build the new skills and competencies needed in the digital age, but also to support schools, universities, and educational institutions in educating the future workforce. 65% of children entering primary school today will end up working in jobs that do not yet exist (World Economic Forum, The Future of Jobs).

What does it mean for each of us as individuals?

We are constantly in transition: from childhood to adolescence and adulthood; from school to university to first job; from first promotion to losing a job and finding a new one; from being single to having a family; from living in one country to adjusting to the culture of a different country.

At every stage of life we must be open, curious, and willing to adjust and survive when everything around us is changing. Being agile and continuously learning means staying relevant. We are facing careers that span from 60-70 years, an average job tenure of less than 5 years, skills that are becoming obsolete at an accelerating rate, jobs that did not exist just a few years ago, and some jobs that are  on the verge of disappearing (2017 Deloitte Human Capital Trends).

We must each address this massive transformation to create our future and that of future generations. When you learn and share something new, its impact can be significant as today we are more connected than ever before—with people at work, in our communities, in our private lives, and beyond.

Qualitative and quantitative analysis undertaken at SAP (across EMEA) via surveys and structured interviews of senior leaders, employees, and managers (over 1700 people) confirm the following trends in 2017:

1. Learning is key for the transformation and success of the company 

Through learning, we grow as individuals, and the company grows and transforms. Individuals stay relevant in today’s fast-changing market and maintain credibility for customers. Learning is a must; this idea was expressed in many different ways.

2. Managers need to actively stimulate and highlight learning opportunities

As Marilyn Atkinson says in her book Do You Want to Play the World Game?, “Leadership means developing people and encouraging them as they develop themselves. Strong leaders create co-leaders as their energy and purpose encourage others to move out as players.”

Managers play a key role in creating an environment in which employees can continuously develop and thrive on change by sharing their experiences, and by encouraging, mentoring, coaching, and empowering.

3. Ownership: Everyone owns the learning agenda

Employees are in the driving seat: They choose how to learn based on their own needs and goals, as well as team goals and company goals. There is no comfort zone—our approach to lifelong learning must be self-aware, reflective, and proactive.

4. Learning is a continuous process in an environment of sharing and collaboration

Learning is a continuous process, and everything we do is part of the learning experience at work, from meeting customers and sharing with colleagues to starting new projects. All participants emphasized how an environment of sharing and collaboration contributes to building and sustaining a learning culture within the company.

5. Personalization: Relevant, personalized, and easily accessible content 

People want to be at the center of the learning experience. They strive to gain knowledge and skills that fit their role and their needs, and that are specific to their career path.

Donald Taylor, a leading L&D analyst, recently conducted a survey of L&D leaders and found that the #1 growth area in the future is personalization. In The Disruption of Digital Learning: Ten Things We Have Learned, Josh Bersin says: “We now live in a world where each employee’s learning needs are unique to them, and while we should architect a meaningful set of programs around macro and micro-learning for them, they want to learn when they want in the most natural way possible. Today learning is about flow, not instruction, and helping bring learning to people throughout their digital experience.”

6. Time and resources

People want time to learn at work. They want opportunities to discuss and reflect, and to know their new skills will be valued. They need the space and freedom to make mistakes, learn from mistakes, ask questions, and experiment with new ideas.

7. People learn through different channels

The survey shows that employees utilize different channels and forms of learning based on their individual preferences, styles, and needs, which supports the need for personalization and accessibility. The preferred forms are learning on the job and learning from others—for example, peer learning, classroom training as employees have an opportunity to connect and share experiences, and e-learning.

8. Recognition and visibility: Recognize people and share success stories

We need to put the spotlight on people who can, and are willing to, share knowledge and constantly strive for improvement, who promote people internally based on what they have learned and achieved, and who hire externally with a focus on candidates who are able to learn, grow, and be agile.

People love stories about others who have worked hard to become successful. Stories support transformation and help us make the shift: If someone else can do it, everyone can learn it through modeling.

So what’s next?

Keep moving forward.: Learn, unlearn, and relearn. Be proactive and agile, embrace technology, and create new experiences for all. Increasing learning productivity for individuals, organizations, and humankind is critical for creating the future we want. We must move to a new level of learning that will enable us to improve lives.

We must all make the leap into lifelong learning.

For more insight on the importance of developing a culture of learning, see Flash Briefing: The Future Of Learning Keeps Up With The Digital Economy.

This article originally appeared on LinkedIn Pulse and has been republished with the author’s permission.

Pavlina Eneva

About Pavlina Eneva

Pavlina Eneva is a regional HR business partner at SAP, covering Eastern, Central, and Western Europe; Middle East; and Africa.