On the other hand, organizations are trimming employee education so that employees receive the information they need to solve a precise business problem, right when they need it. This point-of-need learning, or performance support (PS), is most often embedded through software or other technology platforms.
“You make just enough information available for [the employee] to get the job done,” said Bob Mosher, chief learning evangelist at performance support services provider Ontuitive. “One of our mantras is ‘just enough,’ because we find that learners are highly impatient [and] highly intolerant of a lot of options.”
Carol Leaman, CEO of corporate learning technology firm Axonify, said an employee education model called interval reinforcement can aid knowledge transfer in this point-of-need environment.
Interval reinforcement is based on short bursts of learning — say, a few questions on a given topic per day — intended to capture finite knowledge gaps, which are then reinforced until the learner grasps the concept.
“We’re tracking what they’ve answered and how they’ve answered it,” Leaman said. “And if they get a question wrong, we deliver to them immediately the correct answer. We repeat those questions up to six times, and we typically do that over a 30- to 45-day period.”
Leaman said the concept works especially well in a retail environment, where employees are often asked to learn complex price schemes, but receive little time away from the sales floor. Because the technology is available on cash registers or in break areas, retailers are able to step away from selling for as little as 60 seconds to get point-of-need knowledge. Leaman said the concept is transferable to corporate clients or soft skill training.
Moves toward social learning, performance support and interval reinforcement models suggest the onus of employee education is shifting to the employee, which contrasts with the previous era where the employer took responsibility, built vast education centers and taught extensive training programs. Not everyone agrees with the employee-driven learning strategy, but it seems employers are better enabled to build the learning framework, sit back and encourage employees to take advantage.
“I think it should be a shared responsibility,” said Jean Pierre Gagnon, a former learning executive with Merck & Co. and a CLO doctoral student at the University of Pennsylvania. “… At the end of the day, people should feel that the company has a vested interest for them to become a better employee, better citizen and better person.”
No tool or technology will have any benefit — to either the employee or the organization — if the employee fails to take full advantage of the opportunity to learn, he said.