As the business landscape shifts and change becomes the new constant, the traditional model of a three- to five-year higher education spent learning technical skills, followed by a forty year career applying them, is no longer serving us.
Technology, artificial intelligence and automation; volatile, fast-paced business environments; and up to two-decades longer in the workforce are driving the need for continuous lifelong learning. Career changes are increasingly commonplace, many requiring considerable reskilling and re-education. Existing professions are also evolving, as specific roles and tasks are automated and value is delivered in other areas. And entirely new professions are emerging, many of which have no formal curriculum.
While institutions are considering how to equip graduates with the relevant skills for multiple career paths, increasingly the responsibility for education is falling on organisations. And with more change and less time, smart leaders are rethinking how learning and development experiences are delivered, and how they integrate into the overall employee experience.
According to Glassdoor, the average business in the United States spends roughly USD$4,000 per hire and takes up to 52 days to fill a position — a cost far better invested in learning and development. It makes sense to keep good people, transitioning them out of redundant roles and reskilling them to fit new positions, rather than adopting a cycle of firing and hiring. People are being valued on cultural fit and human skills, more than the ability to perform a specific technical task.
As the demand for learning escalates, employing training consultants is becoming unsustainable. Instead, organisations should be investing in building capability in leaders, and empowering people with the skills needed to teach each other. Taking learning inhouse offers substantial savings in money, time and productivity. In 2010, British Telecom reported savings of USD$12,000,000 annually by adopting open-source learning solutions and peer learning. Good leaders know their people better than anyone, and are in the unique position to deliver ongoing personalised learning based on individual strengths and skills gaps.
However, leaders aren’t typically trained in the psychology of learning, human-centred communication, psychological safety or group facilitation. And technical aptitude doesn’t equate to being able to pass knowledge on to others. However, once these skills have been learned, they can be applied over an entire career.
Teaching promotes learning
It’s well established that teaching is an effective way to learn and embed existing knowledge.
A study led by psychologist Aloysius Wei Lun Koh suggests peer learning is effective because it forces the teacher to retrieve knowledge. This repetition strengthens neural connections, a premise studying is based on. Articulating knowledge also requires a thorough understanding of the subject matter. It’s possible to have deep expertise, but explaining it concisely to others quickly identifies any gaps in the teacher’s knowledge. It also requires a greater understanding of context — the reason why we do it. Additionally, a cycle of learning and teaching builds an environment where curiosity, learning and feedback are encouraged.
A social experience
LinkedIn’s 2019 Workplace Learning Report discovered a high demand for social learning experiences at work, with over half of each generation valuing the ability to collaborate with instructors and/or peers while learning.
Research from Michigan State University found students performed better when the context for learning was provided by peers. While students who received a peer rationale wrote better essays and received the highest final grades, students who received a scripted rationale from an instructor performed worse than receiving no rationale at all.
Study co-author Cary Roseth suggests these results show that although instructors are good at communicating facts, peers give the material additional meaning and purpose — a relatable narrative — beyond mere memorisation. A shared learning experience also fosters inclusion, trust and collaboration. A study led by psychologist Cynthia Rohrbeck found peer learning in school systems helped minority groups integrate better and increased the likelihood of continued positive interactions.
Our expectations for content-sharing have grown. We can sign-up to incredible learning experiences online — often for free. Meanwhile, many workplaces are still hampered by outdated learning management systems (LMSs) and technical content cobbled together and distributed as uninspiring documents.
Fortunately, LMSs are gradually being replaced by learning experience platforms (LXPs). Where LMSs have typically focused on rules, compliance and management, LXPs are more flexible and engaging, mirroring technologies we use daily, like social platforms and streaming video. Content can be sorted into channels or playlists based on a topic, skill or learning objective. It can be shared, rated, recommended or commented on. This new technology gives people a familiar way to develop and share work-related content with their peers.