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Best PracticesWake Up to the New World of Learning

Employees aren’t going to be nice if you don’t give them what they want.
Entrepreneur working taking notes

There’s a disruption taking place in learning and development: Employees today want to drive their own learning, and they aren’t going to be nice if you don’t give them what they want.

People want to learn by finding what they need online, watch just enough of a video or webcast to learn what they need, then get back to work. Of course, there are times – during a career or job change, for example – when people desperately want fundamentals. But more and more employees drive these fundamentals: when they need it, how they want it, in the format that fits their learning style.

As the percentage of formal instructor-led training has plummeted, the percent of people who learn on the job has gone from 4 percent in 2008 to 15 percent today. The percent who rely on apprenticeship has skyrocketed from 5 to 13 percent, and the percent who use online courseware or recorded events has exploded from 14 percent in 2008 to 39 percent today. It’s clear. Employees are now driving their own learning, and we need to give them the content, experience, and environment to make this happen.

The situation is urgent. Consider how important learning is to your company’s employment brand. If you look at Glassdoor  ratings for companies, and correlate an employee’s rating of whether they would recommend you as a place to work, the no. 2 brand driver is “learning and career opportunities,” slightly behind culture and leadership. When you look at people in the first 10 years of their career (i.e. millennials) it’s No. 1. The most common reason people leave a company is that “I just stopped learning and growing there” — again indicating people are no longer tolerant if you haven’t given them a place they can learn.

Giving employees a rich, self-directed learning experience is complicated. It means updating all that online content you have and making it relevant and easy to find. It means putting in place software that makes your LMS easy to use. It means letting people create learning recommendations and comments for others. And it means creating a true culture of learning so employees can get help from peers, leaders, bosses and other experts.

This considerable task also means learning leaders should practice design thinking. It’s not good enough to design great content. We have to listen to people, watch what skills they need, and empathize with their work life to understand what kind of content and experiences will help them the most. Yes, you can still do some great instructional design, but keep it to programs you know people want — don’t just build things and “hope they come.”

Part of design thinking is reflecting on the broader context of learning at work. While formal training is not a bad thing, most studies show 80 percent or more of our actual learning experience comes from coaching , apprenticeship, meeting people, asking questions, and making mistakes. I’d suggest these most important learning experiences aren’t learning at all — they’re developmental assignments that often result in a mind-expanding awakening and discovery of your own strengths and weaknesses.

Our job in learning and development today is to design and curate this environment: making learning a part of the employee experience at your company. This means managers have to spend time with you as coach, people have to be comfortable putting others into new roles, and the company as a whole must embrace the concept that new ideas and experimentation is positive. All these design elements are cultural, stretching the learning leader’s role.

I’ve worked in many companies during my career, and I know how hard it can be for a fast-growing or large organization to slow down and take the time to create a compelling learning environment. Yet today this problem is more important than ever, as it is perhaps the most disruptive change learning and development has seen in a decade.

Josh Bersin is founder of Bersin, known as Bersin by Deloitte, and a principal with Deloitte Consulting. To comment, email editor@CLOmedia.com

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