A few years ago when the US had high rates of unemployment, there was a strong suggestion that this was not due to a lack of jobs, but rather a lack of skills. After all, businesses increased their corporate training by 9.5 per cent in 2011, which brought global spending to over $130 billion.
However, rather than investing in more courses or programs for members of staff to attend, organisations turned their attentions to technology platforms instead. Coupled with social and mobile tools, these platforms enabled companies to develop and share content, provide employees with training materials when they were needed most, and deliver continuous learning.
This represented a shift away from the old ways of formal training, which typically took place in the classroom and involved a teacher telling learners what they needed to know. In its place, continual learning gives staff a more engaging and satisfying training experience, where they can learn informally on the job or at a time and place that suits them.
But why does your business need a continuous learning environment? And how can you go about implementing this new approach towards training?
Reasons for continuous learning
Arguably the main reason why your organisation should introduce a continuous learning environment is because without such an agile and adaptive culture, the business will get left behind. Skilled jobs are becoming more and more specialised, while the rate in which things like industry regulations and technological advancements change mean that you always need to stay one step ahead of the game.
In many respects, there is no such thing as an expert anymore. Thanks to today’s information economy, each and every professional has the tools to become a thought leader or authority figure. If you are able to utilise these resources correctly, you will soon outpace others that have specialised in their field for years.
“Continuous learning is increasingly important to the success of the organisation because of changing economic conditions,” according to the University of Guelph. “Given the current business environment, organisations must be able to learn continuously in order to deal with these changes and, in the end, to survive.
It goes on to add that from an employee’s perspective, continuous learning is also concerned with expanding your ability to learn by always improving skills and increasing knowledge.
“Continuous learning in the workplace involves viewing your experiences as potential learning and re-examining assumptions, values, methods, policies, and practices. At the group level, continuous learning is reflected, for example, by a team transforming itself in response to changing conditions.”
But while several companies will claim they have attempted and possibly even implemented a continuous learning environment successfully many years ago, the proliferation and use of social technologies has made adoption much easier than before.
Putting a continuous learning environment into action
In order for continuous learning to work, organisations must have teams, programs, and systems in place that facilitate such an environment. This will need to be inclusive of expert content and instruction as well as the leveraging of internal experience and knowledge.
For many, this takes the form of social enterprise tools, which give individuals access to a constant stream of information and understanding. Not only can members of staff learn from one another and collaborate together, they are also able to do so while carrying out daily roles and responsibilities. As a result, training becomes an intrinsic part of work rather than a separate activity on a separate platform.
Sceptics will argue that creating and supporting a continuous learning environment will simply upskill workers and cause them to leave the organisation. However the opposite is true, as members of staff that don’t receive opportunities to develop or participate in shared activities are more likely to seek employment elsewhere.
But even if you manage to establish social tools that facilitate continuous learning, they still need individual members to inject new ideas, thinking, and resources for everyone else to benefit from. Therefore, supporting continuous learning is just as important as deciding you want to do it.
How to support a continuous learning environment
Establish a flatter hierarchy – Executives and managers should not be asking their CLOs to create courses or run webinars for them. Instead, both parties should work in unison and partner up with each other to support team and individual needs. This could call for a flatter hierarchical structure when it comes to training.
Establish a flexible framework – With traditional training, CLOs would package up lots of content, deliver it to employees on a plate and have complete control over who was allowed access. But continuous learning requires a flexible framework, which includes the right conditions for acquiring new knowledge and monitoring performance.
Focusing on performance – Remember that learning and collaboration are means to an end, not the final goal, which should be improved performance among employees. So, try not to concentrate on learning but rather focus on performance. Value network analysis tools can help find this information for you, as trawling through activity data to identify high performing individuals can be time-consuming and doesn’t relate to all members of staff.
Assist slower staff – While some employees will strive in a continuous learning environment, others may struggle. For this reason, you must assist slow or struggling members of staff that need guidance for their own personal knowledge management approach. This should also include how to work and learn collaboratively in their teams.
Create new roles – Existing course design and training skills aren’t always required within continuous learning environments. Instead, they require specialists in performance, collaboration, and professional learning that can provide advice and support. So, you may need to create some new roles in the organisation.
It might represent quite a shift from what you are used to, but switching your static training activity to a more fluid and dynamic continuous learning environment will ensure employees always have the necessary skills to succeed and all but guarantees your business won’t get left behind.