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Shifting from courses to a culture of lifelong learning

We live in an uncertain and fast-changing world, where at a political, economic and social level we seem to be operating on and adapting to ever-shifting sands. Not only does the UK government have to contend with the ongoing health and fiscal challenges of a global pandemic, it has the small matter of resolving Brexit (remember that?) and our country’s future relationship with Europe.

Country and businesses alike are facing challenges from many directions, not least of which is the need to improve productivity to ensure (achieve?) competitiveness on the “new normal” global stage. How we invest in, manage and develop the workforce of the future sits at the heart of a more productive workplace. We need a new set of skills and a different mindset, particularly towards learning; ones that enable businesses to deal with the here and now but that also support growth and success in the future.

The Chartered Institute of Personnel & Development (CIPD) talks about looking at the landscape through three lenses; work, workforce and workplace; expectations for each of these are changing, and that’s before you overlay the emerging socio-economic and technological issues. You only have to look at what’s happened over the last six months where we’ve had to adopt a “working from home” culture which, according to the BBC, is set to become part of our new normal. Just last week, fifty of the largest employers across the UK said they have no plans to return all their staff to the office full-time soon.

This is just one example of how the landscape has become more dynamic and ever evolving. Competitiveness is reliant on organisations being innovative and adapting to such change. The organisations that will thrive are those that recognise the importance of investing in the development of better people and more coherent teams, and who provide an environment that allows people to be more curious, encouraging a willingness to learn. As a society, we need to shift the dial on “learning in the workplace” to become just “learning”! More value needs to be placed on helping people become better, and this requires a shift in culture, thinking and approach.

We need to encourage and (importantly) enable a culture of curiosity. As such organisations should be looking at how they switch the emphasis from a focus on courses to one built around the concept of continuous, lifelong learning. Andy Lancaster’s comments in the introduction to the CIPD’s Professionalising learning and development report reflect this:

“In a world in which the nature of work, the workplace and workforce are changing at a relentless pace, organisations must respond to change. In the context of such rapid change learning and development (L&D) functions play a vital role in supporting transformation. However, they in turn are not just experiencing an evolution, but a revolution. Where the course was once the default go-to learning approach, learning must now be delivered in the flow of work, not just in a classroom.”

Employees must be able to challenge themselves to obtain new knowledge, ideas and skills. They need to be able to manage and drive their own learning and development, alongside that which their employer requires. Learning therefore needs to be available on a flexible, on-demand and easy to consume basis.

In this fast-paced knowledge economy, organisations should view lifelong (or continuous) learning as a core component of employee development. The idea is that employees engage in constant personal learning to be adaptable and flexible, which in turn enables the organisation to remain competitive and relevant. As a result, these employees are likely to be more skilled, more motivated and more likely to stick around.

So, how do you make the move from a dependency on courses, to a point where the approach is built around the idea of lifelong learning, and learning in what we’re doing?

How do learning & development and training teams move from a position where their programmes and achievements are simply measured by the number of courses undertaken or the number of people participating? Perhaps one way is to address the misconception that exists where both employees and leaders believe that the only time learning happens is when there’s a course involved?

How do we go about enabling this culture of curiosity? What can organisations do?

Organisational and learning & development (L&D) strategies need to be relevant and connected. L&D must be strategic in both its thinking and its approach and must connect organisational priorities with individual motivations. It must play a part in shaping the organisational structure and the direction of travel. In short, the approach L&D takes has to be aligned to the business needs, organisational culture and, most importantly, employees.

In the context of business, L&D teams have a responsibility to understand what it takes for learning to be effective – but also how their workforce wants to learn. Learning design should be underpinned by learning theory and principles, but with multiple generations in the workplace, learning styles and motivations will vary; behavioural science and pedagogical models can offer insights into how to design effective learning for different means of consumption.

In enabling a culture of lifelong learning, businesses need to remember that learning is highly dependent on the context and the task at hand. The 70:20:10 Institute talks about reframing learning; from ‘know-what’ learning towards more effective ‘know-how’ learning. Such a model can help businesses in shifting to more resilient workforces and in creating cultures of continuous learning. In the case of the 70:20:10 model, it describes learning as it naturally happens and then offers a means to accelerate and support that learning: as part of the daily workflow; through working and talking with colleagues and experts, and through structured development activities.

Organisations need to create a framework for continuous learning; learning opportunities which happen within the workplace, through individual interactions or structured development opportunities. L&D teams need to facilitate social and collaborative learning as a central component of a modern learning strategy, including the provision of resources to help foster discussion and support the interaction. They also need to provide structured learning opportunities (courses are still needed after all) and provide resources which sit along these.

Organisations must enable and create learning for the needs at hand. Instructor-led learning – whether in person or virtually – plays its part in supporting the acquisition of new skills. When employees need to apply their learning, or correct things as they go, providing access to tools and activities is more appropriate. When people need a reminder, being able to access relevant learning materials and guides at the time is vital.

All of this “ready access” needs to be underpinned by well-oiled systems and processes. The frameworks and machinery of learning in the workplace needs to be industrialised. Technology and people both have parts to play. Technology needs to be used for the right reasons not just because it is available; it should be deployed in a way which enhances and enables the learning experience, serving up and providing access to the right learning at the right time. With automation and integration tools at their disposal, L&D teams are now able to shift their focus to creating the right environment for learning and content development & curation.

At KnowledgePoint we provide support services for the learning industry. We’ve first-hand experience of supporting the development and learning goals for millions of people, working in and alongside learning and training providers. From print capabilities specifically for the learning sector, to digital solutions which can integrate with learning platforms and support for managed learning services, we play our part in creating an environment for learning – enabling a culture of curiosity, whilst achieving efficiencies along the way.

Ray Brown, Sales and Marketing Director – Follow Ray on LinkedIn

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