As learning professionals, we know that technology has dramatically changed how we approach learning. But it might be useful for learning professionals to remember that while we confront these changes daily, many employees and managers still think of learning in terms of old-school training classes.
This isn't to disparage those colleagues, but rather to point out that for those who don't live and breathe learning each day, "old school learning" with its live instructors and reams of binders is the gold standard.
In this post, I will highlight four of the changes that have moved learning in a new direction.
Change #1: Learning is tightly linked to ongoing processes
Let's focus a minute on performance management. In traditional performance management, there is an annual appraisal meeting which includes some plans for learning and career development. Seasoned HR people will know that in most companies, actually implementing the learning plans from those meetings is rare.
The good news is that today's talent management systems have tightened the link between learning plans and real actions by integrating the performance management system and learning management system.
That's a step forward: instead of training doing one thing and performance management another, the connection is tightened. However, that's not the real story. The real story is that performance management has shifted toward a continuous process and learning links right in. If a monthly coaching session highlights something that needs to be learned, it can be addressed right away with the appropriate e-learning course. The connection between performance and learning is now continuous and tightly linked.
We see the same phenomenon in other processes. A recognition program for outstanding employees can be tightly linked to learning modules on how to give recognition. A communication program for a retail store launching the next season's collection can be tightly linked to relevant training modules.
All across the board, we've gone from a world where training sat at a distance from management processes to one where it is tightly built in; it's on-demand, personalized and closely aligned with immediate business objectives.
Change #2: Learning is increasingly self-directed
Through all our years of education, we were faced with a model whereby experts decided what we needed to learn and when we needed to learn it. In today's business world, it's often best if the employees themselves decide what to learn and when to learn it.
This shift puts a lot more responsibility on employees to drive their own learning. They can't expect the training department to guide them by the hand-they need to be proactive. The shift also changes the role of the training department to be zeroed in on providing access to resources and building a culture that supports learning. Self-directed learning is genuinely a step forward, but everyone involved needs to be aware of their new responsibilities.
Change #3: Technology leads learning (sort of)
It is absolutely true that HR should figure out where an investment in learning is going to have the biggest impact on the business and then direct resources there. This is learning led by business needs rather than a technology-led approach.
Yet, there is something incomplete here. Technology moves so fast that at times we need to allow it to direct our approach to learning. An example of this is the power of mobile learning to transform the world of the "deskless" workers in retail, hospitals, sales, manufacturing and so on. Our capability to deliver effective, engaging learning in convenient bite-sized pieces changes what is possible.
We need to allow technology to lead us to the new types of leaning that are now possible, while keeping in mind the bigger picture of how learning improves employees' ability to execute on the business plan.
Change #4: Peer-to-peer learning comes into its own
In the new world of learning, employees have an increasingly important role in creating and curating learning content for their peers. For instance, the best tips on fixing a piece of equipment may come from one of your own mechanics. How to fill in expense forms may be best explained by a clerk in accounting. The ability of today's technology to help regular employees create learning content can be a game changer in corporate learning.
Employees also play a role in curating content by "liking" or commenting on online content, much as they would do on social media. HR can't always know which online content is the most effective; allowing employees to rate content can provide an excellence means of curation.
Peer-to-peer learning is a wonderful thing, but again it changes what's expected of employees and what's expected of the learning function.
In business, we get so busy with doing the work on our desk today that we may not enjoy a chance to reflect on how much has changed. Certainly, the world of training has changed in some fundamental ways. HR professionals need to be good at framing the changes in their own minds and then articulate it in a way that will resonate with stakeholders. A marvelous new world of learning awaits us if we can recognize how to take advantage of the transformations enabled by technology.