By Søren Rågård, Eurekos
Organisations that can build a learning culture today and tap into learning trends will prepare their current and future workforce for whatever is coming next and keep skills gaps at bay.
The future workforce is now sitting in a classroom somewhere. And soon enough organisations will be hunting down those students to fill jobs we don’t know that we’ll need because they don’t exist yet. How do you fill that kind of skills gap and get them trained quickly so they’re useful as soon as possible?
Similarly challenging, as huge numbers of our employees head into retirement, how do we retain the knowledge they’re walking out with as they leave our companies?
Maybe instead of putting the focus on onboarding, we should turn our attention immediately to offboarding — making sure that from the day people start inside of the company, we begin capturing their learning so that when they leave in four (or 40) years, we have a way of continually passing on those experiences to others inside the organisation who need the lessons too.
This calls for creation of a learning culture.
Inspiring a learning culture starts by understanding how knowledge travels in your organisation, which may differ from unit to unit or team to team. Knowing who people turn to in times of need will help you identify those trusted individuals within the various divisions who can serve as “ambassadors” (also referred to as “change agents,” “learning culture agents” or even “lighthouses”) to pave the way. Their job is to show others how to share what they know. They’re the ones you want creating quick videos to record the steps for using that new software program or tuning the new equipment; they’re the ones who think to pull out their smartphones and interview participants after an important project meeting to briefly answer the three key questions that others will find useful when they get involved in the same project.
Those “learnings” can then be posted onto a platform where they’re easily tagged for searchability and made accessible.
Then it’s time for testing a hundred different approaches and seeing what works. Iteration is important. Besides documenting how anybody does a given job in the company, it’s important to add something to it — to make it better for the next person doing the job.
Those who can share their expertise aren’t just giving something; they’re getting something back. Because they know they’ll be showing others how the work is done, they’ll approach it with greater pride, and they’ll feel sharper and more alive. Too often people get protective about what they know, as if that’ll protect them during the next round of layoffs. If you can persuade them that they alone understand things worth passing onto others now, in the present, you’ll have gone far in achieving the learning culture.
New Forms of Learning
It’s a given that learning should happen just in time — when people need the information and not months before, when a trainer was available. Making that learning accessible through a mobile device means it sits in the pocket or purse of every employee, ready to access when they need the knowledge. Likewise, learning needs to be personalized, and made available in multiple formats. Some people want to watch; others are hands-on; some still prefer reading.
But there are other trends in learning worth considering. All three of these are being tested out in companies that Eurekos is working with. And they all will influence how the learning culture operates in the future.
Bringing Augmented Reality to Life
Although virtual reality — the replacement of the physical world with a virtual one that’s viewed through a headset — gets most of the attention right now, the future of learning belongs to augmented reality — the imposition of virtual aspects on top of the real world.
Imagine a windmill operator that has to send its employees to the top of giant turbines for various repair and maintenance activities. Why not have the most experienced workers wear augmented glasses to record a video of what they’re seeing and doing to enable others to learn how to do the work too? Maybe a specific technician has even perfected some aspect of the job that others would benefit from. By identifying and tagging that person’s learning and calling special attention to it, the educational experience is enhanced for the next person who needs to head up a windmill.
Useful Artificial Intelligence
The typical approach for staffing a new project is for the manager to hunt around and find those people who are sitting on the bench, not doing much and assigning them for some part of their schedule to the new work. Or a manager may know that specific people work well together, so they’ll push to bring them together for the next project or the one after that. But what happens when that manager leaves or those people have gone in different directions? Using personal experience isn’t always the best way of creating an excellent project team.
Forward-looking organisations are flipping around the normal equation. How does this work? We see various new examples of companies experimenting with the use of artificial intelligence. They maintain data on what education their people have, what projects they’ve worked on, what skills (hard and soft) they have and who’s available. The AI platform suggests what would be an optimal mix of individuals for any given project.
AI will also eventually provide “smart” assistance. Instead of the user having to pull out a mobile device to hunt down whatever training is needed, a virtual assistant will make itself available, off to the side of the email, the TEAMS conversation, the ERP system — all the platforms being used — to deliver whatever information is required to finish a given task.
We see big brands build escape rooms inside of its headquarters. Among the activities supported: Teams work together against the clock to solve challenges. The intention is to show participants the importance of collaboration and to demonstrate that every member of a team — from the highest role in the hierarchy to the humblest — has something to contribute.
The escape room idea is part of a movement to add “gamification” or elements of gaming to learning.The best game makers have learned how to create narrative that push players to try and try again without making them so frustrated, they give up. The best learning does the same: It gives workers enough of an edge to keep them moving forward without throwing up their arms and walking away. A big part of gaming involves recognition — through leaderboards or digital badging. The idea is to publicly recognize those who have contributed the most. In this context, there could be a leaderboard broadcasting those who have uploaded the most learning modules, thereby helping others who need to do the same kind of tasks.
When Everybody Becomes a Teacher
The ultimate goal is for everybody in the organisation to consider it part of their job to share what they’re learning and to teach others. I’m not talking about creating a procedure, slideshow or spreadsheet where people document what they’re doing and then store it on a internal site where nobody can find it. In a learning culture, the output is intended to serve as educational content and elements.
If everybody in the company becomes a “teacher”, that makes for a lot of knowledge generation. It also sparks a lot of job satisfaction. People realize their unique qualities and feel pride in what they know.
Instead of keeping knowledge apart from those who need it, a learning culture builds trust inside of the organisation.
Søren Rågård is the former Vice President in charge of business development and partners at Eurekos, which produces a highly popular learning management system and helps its clients create learning with impact by speeding up the creation and delivery of learning content. Previously, he served as the Director of digital strategy at LEO Digital and LEGO Education. Søren leads from London.