Emergence of the skilled ‘Self Learner’

Economy, Industry News, People, Work Place Competencies

“I never teach my pupils. I only attempt to provide the conditions in which they can learn” – Albert Einstein.

The other day, I was talking to a senior Learning and Development (L&D) professional and we were discussing the pros and cons of various learning tools. When it came to traditional class room training, he jokingly said “I know class room training is not sufficient to build skills, but it has the most impact on the participant, and that counts when the feedback is received”.  Though everyone may not agree with this view, but this does throw up some challenges being faced by organizations in training their employees.

Across the world, Corporate L&D seems to be going through a transition phase.  Let’s look at some interesting facts: (source: Towards Maturity Industry Benchmark Report 2015)

  1. Almost all leaders agree that just class room training is insufficient to skill employees.
  2. Yet, more than half of L&D budget in 2015 (globally) was used in traditional class room training.( Face to Face).
  3. Innumerable technologies are available to impart & support learning, but just 20% of L&D budget is being invested in them.
  4. 26% of the learning is e enabled, of which almost 70% is used for mandatory compliance based  learning.
  5. Among Organizations which have implemented E learning for non compliance based skill development (trade or soft skills) just 20% have seen tangible improvement in employee skills. (36% employees actively participating).
  6. More than 35% of  L&D resources are doing training delivery in classrooms.

So while Organizations agree that class room training is not enough and there is a need to embrace new technologies, the actual implementation (with satisfactory results) is quite low.

This is further exacerbated by the fact that (under cost pressure) L&D budgets have remained static in last 2 years. It’s a proven fact that use of technology (E learning, virtual class rooms etc) can reduce cost of training and delivery time, but still there is a resistance to shift away from classrooms.

To add to that, less than 25% Business  managers have seen tangible impact of L&D on business performance (though many do not even have a robust process to measure it).  Most Business managers agree that L&D should be linked to business performance, yet the actual parameters for assessing L&D quality is mostly around participant feedback. This could explain why L&D professionals prefer tools which leave a stronger initial impact on the participant (i.e classroom training).

So where is the challenge? The challenge seems to be in the lack of ‘Self directed learning’ skills in the employees being trained.

Yes !  Self directed learning is a skill and most employees are themselves not fully aware of how they truly learn something, to be able to demonstrate it in their workplace. It seems that few have consciously worked on developing these skills for themselves.

Traditional classroom format ‘spoon feeds’ the participants, ‘pushing’ enough information into them hoping that they use some of it later in their workplace. It obviates the need of self learning skills.

Technology on the other hand, requires a learner to approach with ‘Self learning’ skills, so that she can learn, understand and use the skills effectively, on her own.

Most organizations do not really make an effort to gauge the level of Self learning skills in their employees, ending up with disappointing results with new technology.

This seems to be a vicious cycle.  Classroom training weakens the self learning skills of an employee,  disallowing them from effectively using new technologies, which in turn forces  the L&D organization to go back to classroom training to cover the gaps.

So how does an organization foster ‘self learning’?

The writing is on the wall. As aptly explained by Dr Clark Quinn in his book “Revolutionize Learning and Development”, the L&D organization would have to shift to a role of Facilitator, helping employees develop “self learning skills” and bring in optimal technology to improve business performance.

Going forward, the critical success factors for L&D would just be:

  1. Improved Business Performance.
  2. Reduced Learning Costs (including delivery and employee time).

To achieve this, the L&D organization would have to evolve a culture of ‘self directed’ learning in the organization. Some questions they could address are:

What are your skill needs?  Today, some organizations ‘push’ skills at employees while some just leave it to employees to decide on their own. Neither is good enough, and there has to be a combination of both.  Actually, employees need a structured process to truly understand their skill needs and connect them with their business goals.

How do you learn?  Adult’s use different ways to learn and absorb (social engagements, practice at workplace, synoptic reading, peer feedback, narratives, community practice etc) and some might be more inclined to certain tools than others.  Helping people to be aware of their ‘learning strategy’ and develop ‘self learner’ skills is critical to ensure they use technology effectively and show demonstrated change at the workplace.

What can you use?  Newer and smarter technologies are emerging, which could help a ‘self learner’ to learn and absorb faster. ( Immersive technology, job aids, content curators, MOOCs , Simulation etc) .  Employees need help to sift through these tools and pick and choose what will suit them best.

How do you connect the skill with Business performance ?  Involving Business leaders and helping the learning employee to see the tangible benefit of a skill, could be a powerful motivator to drive ‘self learning’.  Also, this could help build a structure for monitoring behavior and giving creative feedback.

On a positive note, there are organizations which have matured into the next phase of L&D , bringing in more leadership involvement,  connect with Business Performance and supporting employees to develop ‘Self learning’ skills. Their success and positive impact on productivity and performance are strongly indicating a need for rethinking our conventional methods of developing our employees.

Any thoughts or feedback are welcome!

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