Saarbrücken (GER), May 2018 - Nothing is as constant as change in the context of today's learning and working environments. The necessity of being better, more forward thinking, and quicker is ever present. And in achieving this, continuous learning nearly always has a role to play. Many companies have already understood how important it is to rethink or restructure learning architectures within their businesses.
The needs of the individual learner in a company are so unique and complex that providing web-based training and implementing a learning management system on their own are far removed from representing a holistic learning strategy. On the other hand, employees’ responsibility is growing, and in today's environment, they must be able to identify and gain new skills on their own account.
In the "Expert Interview", Kirsten Wessendorf, digital learning strategy expert at IMC, reveals the current challenges for companies in the area of continuous learning and who should be included when developing a comprehensive digital learning strategy.
What, in your view, are the most important drivers in the area of continuous digital learning?
Kirsten Wessendorf: It is clear that the need for continuous learning is growing fast right now. One of the most important drivers, and maybe even the most important driver, in this context is digital transformation. Further significant factors are demographic change as well as the ways in which digital natives process information and educate themselves. Dr Holger Schmidt, a German economic scientist and self-proclaimed net-economist, writes in his blog, "Qualifications are losing their value faster than ever".
Consequently, it is becoming increasingly important for employees to continuously develop their skills portfolio and to do this with agility. The necessity of this is well known today in most companies that need to create a learning offering appropriate for specific target audiences. This must not only satisfy the high demands of digital natives who value quality, for example excellence in usability.
In addition, skills profiles for many roles in companies are changing. This affects employees who are now senior managers. Senior managers today are called the "decision makers", but how will decisions be made in the future? By an agile working team? And what would then be the role of today's decision maker? It is becoming clear that agility, meaning anticipatory action, and the ability to change are integral components of today's world of work. And only if I continuously gain new and now important skills will I hold my ground in a world characterised by change. Strictly speaking, this is a normal evolutionary process!
Knowledge of their own needs in a company is certainly the basic requirement in order to initiate a continuous learning programme, isn’t it?
Kirsten Wessendorf: Yes, absolutely, but it's also interesting to observe that often when a continuous learning strategy is initiated, additional or downstream needs appear on the radar - ones that could not be recognised at the time. A brief example makes this a little more tangible: When a company decides to implement a CRM system, it is obvious that training in the software will be needed immediately after implementation. But what may be forgotten here are possible reservations from
sales employees about the fact that all and any information about their relationship with the customer will be freely available to their bosses, who may then interfere too much in their projects. Openly addressing such concerns from employees and allaying their fears in discussions is therefore part of the change management communications and education process that is needed when new software is implemented.
This plays out, however, at a completely different level and requires a different approach.
In my opinion, therefore, training should be understood to be a product and as something holistic that offers the learner clear added value by both the continuous learning providers in their role as external consultants and catalysts for change and the L&D department. Following this principle, L&D employees would be regarded as product managers for particular training programs.
Which participants should, in your view, be brought together and exchange views when identifying training needs?
Kirsten Wessendorf: I think that, at the very least, all those areas of a company affected by the training measures should come together and be involved. It is important that the actual target group of learners is involved in the creation process as early as possible so that their actual needs and requirements can be identified.
In the final analysis, it is the learners themselves, with their individual prior knowledge, who should be the focus of the learning ecosystem in every training project when it comes to the approach for design. To meet this ambition is naturally to set the bar quite high, but it is worth doing every time in my opinion.
Fundamentally, the topic of training should never be the job of a single department; rather, it should be approached in an interconnected way, although the L&D department should be seen as the main driver behind most training projects. It can be exciting when people from other sectors external to your organisation are included in order to show things from their perspective.
Such people could be consultants who enrich these projects with experiences from entirely different sectors. On the other hand, a multi-generational exchange of views can yield a great deal, as the old hands bring their experience with them and new colleagues, fresh from university, give their input from the latest research results.
I am, moreover, thrilled time and again when specialist communities are created in our own business in which colleagues exchange views on best practice within the company. These communities fizz with new ideas! The exchange of ideas between colleagues runs, for the most part, by itself. The role of the organisation is primarily one of creating the infrastructure and culture needed for the fruitful exchange of ideas. In some cases it can also make sense to use community moderators.
That sounds exciting, more so as the word "change" resonates subliminally throughout the whole interview. Change naturally requires flexibility. How flexible in its adaptability should a continuous learning strategy already in place be?
Kirsten Wessendorf: Very flexible, but at the same time stable and reliable. In this context, I particularly like the image of two speeds from the world of IT. On the one hand, you have constant systems that develop slowly. On the other, you have agile systems that are the subject of continual and fast-paced change, or rather that continually pick up on new technologies.
If we draw on this analogy in the field of continuous learning, you can compare slow systems with the base level of knowledge that is enduring over time. This accounts for a not inconsiderable proportion of teaching material.
Take for example onboarding content, compliance scenarios, or physical basics. The other components comprise content that is more or less permanently in a state of flux, meaning content that arises quickly, is expanded upon, or becomes redundant. These building blocks of skills make it possible to keep pace with the regularity of change and to remain agile.
They stand for knowledge that must be imparted quickly and often directly at the "moment of need" during the working day. These learning resources are therefore "embedded" directly in the work process, and we know this as "just-in-time learning".
The formats are small, accessible in flexible ways with any type of end device, and are stored in multiple places. If the relevance and the added value of these micro learning units are clearly recognisable, they create a significant desire to learn amongst the majority of users, who will then be able to turn this newly gained knowledge directly into a skill.
No employee enjoys learning in the middle of the working day just to be able to "store" the knowledge for some time in the future. However, if immediate benefit is recognisable for the task at hand, then as a rule people will actually enjoy the business of learning.