Future-Proofing Your Workforce with Continuous and Self-Directed Learning

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Organizations shouldn’t just ask themselves how the workforce is changing, but how they can adapt.

Change is the new normal in today’s workplace. Communication methods, job types, responsibilities, working conditions, and the skills employees and your organization need to succeed today and tomorrow are just some of the changes we’re experiencing at work every day. What organizations should be asking themselves isn’t just whatis changing but why and how can we adapt? As Charles Darwin said,“It is not the strongest of species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is most adaptable to change.” Enabling your employees with continuous learning and self-directed learning is an effective way your organization can future-proof your workforce in the face of rampant workplace change.

Why are we seeing such rapid change in the workplace?

There are two main drivers of change in today’s workplace: technology and demographics.

Technological disruption

Technology has had a massive impact on the workplace over the past few decades. One clear example is the impact of automation. According to Fortune Magazine, the U.S. has lost five million factory jobs since 2000. But from 2006-2013, output in manufacturing from the U.S. has actually increasedby 17.6% (an average of 2.2% per year). How can output be up while jobs are down? The answer is automation. Eighty-eight percent of those five million jobs were lost due to automation. This sounds like a dire situation for American workers, right? The answer is that it depends on your skills. The output growth in the sector has been a good thing for workers with the skills to move up in the organization into strategic or leadership roles. But those who lack the skills they need to adapt to this new reality are at risk of falling behind.

Demographic Shifts

Demographics are also impacting the workplace. Businesses today face the significant risk of losing organizational knowledge and subject-matter expertise due to the high numbers of retiring baby boomers. Boomers are being replaced by younger generations that are less engaged at work and less likely to stay at the organization. The 2018 Deloitte Millennial Survey found that 43% of millennials and 61% of Generation Z expect to leave their current jobs within the next 2 years.

How can we adapt to these changes?

So now that we know some of the reasons why our workplaces are changing so rapidly, we need to consider how can we adapt?

To thrive in this environment and future-proof their businesses, organizations need to find ways to upskill current staff, transfer organizational knowledge and expertise from retiring workers, and attract, retain, and engage a new generation of employees.

Modern learning offers a solution to these challenges. Eighty-one percent of millennials and 75% of Gen Z  say that continuous professional development, self-directed learning, or self-paced learning will be important to helping them perform their best. Creating a continuous learning culture that leverages Self-Directed Learning to empower learners enables positive business outcomes and helps organizations stay ahead of the curve when faced with rapid, transformative change.

Watch this webinar to learn how you can modernize learning in your organization

Continuous Learning

Ninety-three percent of millennials see ongoing skills development as important to their careers. Enabling a modern continuous learning culture at your organization is a way not only to ensure your employees are constantly learning and developing the skills needed to thrive, but also a way to attract and retain a new generation of talent and ensure the processes are in place for them to learn from more experienced staff.

Continuous learning happens at three levels: individual, group, and organizational. A continuous learning culture is one that enables learning at all three levels.

Queen’s University describes a continuous learning workplace culture as one that incorporates:

  • A growth mindset that believes in individual capacity to develop ability
  • A clear organizational purpose that inspires employees (or as Simon Sinek puts it, start with why)
  • Employee suggestion systems that are aligned to company vision/values and link employee suggestions to real workplace improvements
  • Work processes that encourage failing fast
  • Multi-directional feedback that incorporates feedback into the organization’s day-to-day

In short, a continuous learning culture encourages growth and learning at all levels, treats failure as a learning opportunity, and enables processes that encourage individual and group improvement. This type of culture ensures that your workforce is constantly learning and developing new skills that will enable your business to thrive even in the face of rapid change and disruption.

Read our roadmap for creating a modern learning culture

Self-Directed Learning

Self-directed learning is a concept rooted in Malcolm Knowles’ work on andragogy. Knowles describes “self-concept” as a key aspect of how adults learn. Self-concept is the idea that adults are inherently independent and need to be involved in planning and evaluating their own learning.

David M. Kaufman, Professor, Faculty of Education and former Director of the Learning and Instructional Development Centre at Simon Fraser University, describes self-directed learning as both a method of “organizing and teaching learning in which the learning tasks are largely within the learners’ control” and as “a goal towards which learners strive so that they become able to accept responsibility for their own learning.”

This dual definition of self-directed learning as both a learning method and goal is key to both motivating and keeping learners accountable for their own development while being supported by a culture of continuous learning in the workplace.

Check out our comparison of instructor-led vs. self-directed learning models

Transforming learning at your organization

Transforming your workplace learning culture and training program won’t happen overnight but enabling a continuous learning culture and incorporating self-directed learning is key to future-proofing your workforce when faced with rapid change.

Here are a few tips to get you started:

  • Identify and communicate a shared mission, vision, and values for the organization
  • Incorporate individual learning plans into your development planning cycle and have managers touch base with employees on their learning plans as part of regular one-on-ones and coaching sessions
    • Ensure to link individual learning plans to organizational goals and objectives so employees can see the link between their individual development and a shared organizational purpose
    • Create dedicated learning time for employees on a regular basis (weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly) – it doesn’t need to be long, 20 minutes of dedicated learning time every week could be enough depending on your organization and industry
  • Enable frameworks and processes that encourage collaboration and social learning

Find out how to align your organization around a modern learning strategy