Learning in the modern workplace: what does modern learning look like?

Reading time: 5m

AuthorNick DaviesChief Commercial Officer (CCO)
Reading Time5 minutes

If you were asked to present your vision of modern learning, what journey would you take in order to gain a greater understanding of the subject? Would you order stacks of books online or pop down to the local library? Or would you discuss your views with a colleague or ask an expert for their opinions?

Chances are you’d start by opening a tab on your computer or unlock your mobile device (if you’re not reading this blog post on your mobile already), tap the term quickly into a search engine and scroll through the relevant articles. It comes as no surprise then that research by Google has shown that 70% of employees will now use search engines to learn what they need for their jobs and that a staggering 91% of smartphone users will turn to their devices for ideas when completing a task. Think about how many times you use your phone in a day and the things you do outside of just texting and calling. Social media, e-books, websites and apps are all there, providing a wealth of information and communication options at your fingertips. In recent years, technology has completely transformed the way we learn.

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What do modern learners need?

With those illuminating figures from Google in mind, this paints a pretty clear picture about what modern learners expect in the digital age. Fast-paced workplaces of today don’t accommodate the old framework of formal, classroom-based learning as effectively as before. Learners don’t want to sit through an hour of ‘chalk and talk’ style learning while their workload continues to pile up. In fact, research by Deloitte reveals that a mere 1% of a typical working week is all that employees have to focus on training and development. It is therefore neither time- nor cost-efficient for businesses to pull workers into the classroom for face-to-face training for large periods of time.

Instead, today’s employees need learning that’s accessible and available whenever and wherever they need it. Take millennials, for example – who, according to PwC – will make up 50% of the global workforce by 2020. It is this generation of workers who are far more likely to:

  • Turn to YouTube to learn how to do something rather than consult a book
  • Learn a new skill for work, such as a language, via apps like Duolingo
  • Use cloud-based collaborative tools such as Slack to communicate with colleagues
  • Carry out work-based qualification assessments online

    Thanks to technology, there are now more options than ever for the learner to take control of their own learning. But how can we satisfy the needs of the learner in the modern workplace? Just throwing a few high-tech additions into your workplace isn’t going to be enough to cultivate an effective learning culture. To make learning happen in the modern workplace, it’s the actual learning that must remain the focus, rather than the technological tools themselves. It’s no good kitting out your workplace with the latest top-of-the range laptops and software if these are not going to be used to their full advantage.

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Why has learning changed in the workplace?

According to Sir Ken Robinson at his TED talk given at RSA, the problem with today’s educational system is that it was designed and conceived for a different age. And while technology has been evolving rapidly, the thinking behind the learning delivery often has not.

It’s probably not news to you that traditional, formal learning is not enough to keep up with the demands of the modern learner. Nor did the early days of e-learning see technology being used to its full potential; it only moved the standardised, static old methods of learning onto a digital platform. Employees were still away from their jobs for long periods of time completing assessments and reading through content, only this time in front of a screen. Early technology did, however, pave the way for a new framework of learning in the workplace altogether. This is especially important when we consider the 70/20/10 model of learning, which suggests that:

  • 70% of learning is experiential, occurring through daily tasks, challenges and practice
  • 20% of learning is social, occurring with and through other people (e.g. our co-workers)
  • 10% of learning is formal, occurring through structured training courses and programs

As technology grows in the workplace, businesses and organisations are changing rapidly, which means that people need to be learning constantly to bridge any skills gaps created by digitalisation. What’s more, people are now increasingly looking to do this on their own as they aren’t getting what they want from their employers. And it’s down to you to take steps in order to support their learning, encourage independence and provide them with the tools that will enable collaboration.

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How can I cultivate a culture of learning in the modern workplace?

“Most great learning happens in groups. Collaboration is the stuff of growth.”— Sir Ken Robinson

Organisations are now adopting a more integrated learning approach which blends the traditional framework with workplace-based, informal learning. Think about your own list of priorities when it comes to the skills you most want to develop in your organisation. What are your top five? A survey by Towards Maturity has revealed that 75% of organisations now consider facilitating collaboration as the L&D skill they now most want to develop. Are you one of this 75% who want to bring people together on their learning journeys? Often, working through topics with others can provide fresh ideas and perspectives. If so, what will you need to achieve it? Some key factors include:

  • Coaching for employees to become more independent
  • Tools that enable collaboration (this is where an effective learning management system such as Thinqi can really work)
  • Learning that’s measurable in order to inform the curriculum
  • L&D managers who can drive learner engagement
  • Greater use of informal content libraries

In this four-part blog series, we will be delving deeper into these factors to explore what a great learning environment looks like in the modern workplace and what steps you can take to make it work for your organisation.


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