Meg Stevenson, Head of Solutions, Knowledgepool
When we talk about ‘digital’ as a general term, we’re covering a lot of ground. With the relentless pace in the advancement of technology, just about every aspect of our daily lives today looks markedly different to how it did even five years ago. And while we may already take for granted the instant communication and universal connectedness that the relationship with our smart devices affords us, the inception of this technology has undeniably revolutionised even the most minute details of our day-to-day interactions.
With always-on access to the internet in our homes (think Echo) and our pockets (think iPhone), we’ve come to expect everything at the touch of a button – from finding the answers to questions of any and every variety to slick, seamless and instantaneous e-commerce experiences.
The ready availability of knowledge
The implication for learning in all of this is huge. It’s referenced all the time in talks advocating ‘just-in-time learning’ – think about the use of YouTube to assist in changing a car tyre or fixing a washing machine. But the ready availability of knowledge is a phenomenon that has implications that stretch beyond furnishing us with the answer to our banal queries at the point of need – it calls into question the whole skills landscape, and forces us to ask tough questions about the future purpose of organisational L&D.
Learning has evolved through the enablement of technology to be far more than a prescriptive mandate from an organisation to its workforce.
What is a true learning culture?
It’s no longer effective (and arguably it never has been) to dogmatically ‘push’ chunks of information to individuals at a given point and miraculously expect behavioural or cultural shift. We’re becoming increasingly aware that a true learning culture is fostered in the fibre of a truly tech-enabled environment – where curiosity is allowed to flourish, and knowledge is served in an easy-to-access, always-on format. Asking people to learn by rote is no longer a viable approach. Instead, the most useful – and indeed ‘future-proofed’ – version of learning is the organic evolution of skills that takes place. Where it’s as much about encouraging people to ask the right questions as it is about how they process and then apply the answers they receive.
If our approach to skills and learning factors an inquisitive approach as one of its core attributes, we’re also better placed to think about nurturing a far more collaborative view of the entire learning process.
Social and collaborative learning
In a question-based learning model, where there is not one ‘right’ answer but many, individuals’ unique responses or approaches to problems start to become deeply valuable. We do see some organisations creating spaces for user-generated learning content, but there’s always the ‘elephant in the room’ – who curates this, and how does this fit into the wider landscape of learning programmes? Whilst peer-to-peer curation has its merits, there are lingering questions around the structure and purpose of such practices and whether this is a viable strategy to be actioned within the L&D space. As a sector, we see L&D embracing ‘social and collaborative’ learning but, without a better understanding of what this means practically (and crucially what it looks like when it works), its success has been relatively limited, and measurement of that success remains difficult.
Collaborative learning is not a new phenomenon. If we take a step outside of our usual discursive frame and consider the IT sector, we have a perfect example of how this culture has really taken hold. In the world of programming, it’s impossible for even the most talented developers to learn everything they need to know at a given time: for a start, it’s a vast and complex area and, perhaps more importantly, it’s forever changing.
Yet we see an explosion of innovation from the sector on an ongoing basis: solutions that build on established technology by layering new thinking over established foundations – or combining existing pieces of disparate technology to craft something entirely new.
In a community that has been a hotbed of knowledge-sharing for many years, forums and digital spaces such as GitHub and Stack Overflow have rapidly become the places where learning happens. And these spaces have resulted not only in further innovations, but also in the upskilling of talented individuals who now have the tools to take ownership and to develop their knowledge further – crucially within the flow of their work. The dynamics of learning have shifted due to the open nature of information, and there’s something profound that sits at the confluence of that open behaviour and the tech-enabled infrastructure it sits within.
The way in which people learn has evolved through digital innovation as there is now open access to a plethora of information at people’s fingertips, through both Artificial Intelligence and human collaboration.
How people perceive learning is no different to how people perceive their interaction with consumer brands: they expect a fast, seamless and personalised experience, accessing the information they want, no matter what the time or location. This expectation of learning needs to permeate into L&D too.
Learning on the go
The notion of snackable learning, receiving the information you require as and when you need it, is the new norm and what people expect whether at work or home. Developing learning-on-the-go through mobile apps and chatbots allows employees to develop further and combining this with forums and communities of learning where people can communicate, collaborate and knowledge-share is the direction in which we’re heading. Through the enablement of technology this is a viable solution, incorporating both machine learning and knowledge with human contact and trust, which the peer-to-peer interaction produces.
The human element cannot be removed from L&D. Digitisation is the tool to enhance it, not usurp it.
L&D’s transition into a function that is based upon social and collaborative learning through digital platforms and innovations will support the hybrid workforce that is on the horizon. A workforce that the world of L&D needs to satisfy and support for a business’ future sustainability within the post-digital era.
Download your copy of our white paper on the future of learning at work, The digital opportunity: Striking the digital balance for better learning experiences.