Workplace learning has never been more popular. Employees are eager to learn, and more and more organizations have turned to technology as an aid in training workforces large and small, as well as to meet the increasing demand for individual professional learning.
But just under a quarter of organizations that participated in the Chief Learning Officer Business Intelligence Board’s 2019 “Learning State of the Industry” survey reported employees as one of the stakeholders involved in choosing learning delivery methods. At the other roughly three-quarters of companies, the learning and development delivery methods are chosen for employees.
At the same time, over half of U.S. employees said the training provided at their workplace didn’t always meet their personal career objectives, according to a recent study by the City & Guilds Group. The study also revealed that many employees said they’d like to see shorter, more personalized content as part of workplace training, more online and e-learning courses, and some — about 30 percent — are even taking learning into their own hands, investing personal time and money into learning.
One solution could be allowing employee learning to be more self-directed — giving them more of a say in how and what they learn, and when.
But an employee’s self-directed learning journey typically needs a nudge down the right path. There’s enough information out there for learners to get bogged down. A simple Google search returns hundreds, and sometimes thousands, of results to choose from. At work, searching for the answer to a seemingly simple question could lead an employee down unnecessary rabbit holes if they’re not careful.
This is where the learning leader should come in, said Josh Bersin, founder of Bersin by Deloitte. Employees could benefit from a balance of both self-direction and guidance from leadership, as well as enough time to dedicate to their own L&D.
“When you’re in a job and you don’t know how to do something, you don’t want to go off for a week and do an entire training program, you just might want to figure out how to do this one thing,” he said. “But on the counter side, individuals don’t know what they don’t know. You’re not going to ask to learn something you don’t know that you need to know.”
At Relativity, a Chicago-based e-discovery software company, each employee is able to spend average of $3,000 per year, which they can choose to spend on workshops, online training, conferences or e-learning courses that are role-specific and contribute to individual professional development.
“People want a little bit of ownership in their access to different ways of learning,” said Jennifer Westropp, Relativity’s director of talent development and performance. “I think [this investment] allows them to find what’s right for them and their style of learning.”
Relativity plans to continue their individual employee training investments, which are well-received, Westropp said. These opportunities for individual growth are offered in addition to more typical companywide employee workshops and training.
“We know that people are choosing their employer based on the capability and capacity that they will be provided to grow in their career,” said Dorie Blesoff, chief people officer at Relativity. “And if we want our employees to be accountable for that, we have to be able to provide ways for them to do that. We can’t be spoon-feeding people.”
Blesoff said learning leaders who are in charge of developing companywide learning initiatives need to consider them from the perspective of the learner: What would add value to this particular lesson? What’s missing?
Relativity employees are encouraged to give feedback on their learning experiences, Blesoff said, and are given a few different chances to do so. The company hosts an annual review session where employees participate, and it also sends out The Pulse, a biannual engagement survey that includes questions about career development. Additionally, a project called Manager360 allows employees to give feedback within their own teams and departments.
Wired to Learn
L&D leaders can’t ignore the pull from learners wanting to steer their own professional learning journey.
“Think about it: When you’re born, you don’t know anything and you spend your whole life learning,” Bersin said. “You have to learn how to talk, eat, walk, this and that. Our brains are basically wired for learning. But people have different tendencies and experiences.”
He said that while some may learn just fine reading articles or analyses, others may benefit more from watching a video or participating in a workshop.
Bersin said great learning professionals spend time evaluating how their employees are using and benefiting from L&D programs, and they should always accept feedback and welcome the opportunity to collaborate. Multiple people collaborating in a learning experience can be powerful, he added, because it raises topics that might’ve not been considered before.
Learning has become an important driver of employee engagement and retention, Bersin said. And no matter how you stack it, learners are wanting more ownership.
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