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16 May 2019

Learning and development is in the middle of an exciting transformation.

New technology, the changing nature of work, and an influx of millennials into the workplace mean companies have to move away from a training culture - in which companies serve specific training to employees - to a culture of continuous learning.

The need to do this is pressing - transforming corporate learning emerged as the second most important trend in Deloitte's 2017 Global Human Capital Trends report. The reason? Rapidly changing tech means much of the training offered by corporate universities becomes obsolete within a few years. To keep up 83% of the Deloitte's respondents are shifting to "flexible, open career models that offer enriching assignments, projects, and experiences rather than a static career progression."

In other words, those companies are shifting from a training culture to a culture of continuous learning.

Why is a culture of continuous learning important?

A career is no longer the end product of an education. Now, a career itself is an education for employees. It has to be; technology is developing at a lightning pace, and many of the skills employees were using even 10 years ago are outdated. Employees who are in charge of their own learning know what they need to learn and are able to find that learning when they need it, becoming more adaptable and according to ATD, making their organisations more agile, cooperative, and sustainable.

For managers, however, creating an atmosphere of continuous learning in an organisation might seem like an overwhelming task, as it represents a shift in an organisation's learning and training philosophy. Changing the culture of everything is daunting; leadership will have to take a hard look at their company's learning culture, commit to working out a strategy for continuous learning, and allocate resources to support employees.

While the big picture is important, the real creation of a culture of continuous learning happens on a smaller scale: on teams and in smaller departments where managers encourage their employees to learn whenever they can. There are many small, every-day steps managers can take to support employees, and build that culture of continuous learning from the ground up.

Integrating continuous learning into the day-to-day life of your employees

Accept that development is becoming learner-centric. Learning should be about the learner, and many learners expect and want their company to provide development opportunities for them. In fact, workers are happiest when development opportunities are presented to them: according to Mental Health 2017 Mind the Workplace report. 69% of employees at mentally healthy organisations are offered the opportunity to learn - specifically, to acquire new skills, diversify their work, and experience autonomy at work - because professional development allows employees to learn the skills that will eventually help them land better jobs.

That doesn't mean that the training provided by the company will let them do that - the learning employees value may differ from the learning their employees value. Employees who get the training they want feel like their employers care more about them, and are less likely to leave. Creating a learner-centric training environment means that managers have to be willing to relinquish some control. Rather than trying to push certain content on employees, consider the daily life of an employee and try to anticipate the sort of learning employees will need in order to do their jobs. 

Know and care about what younger employees want. By 2025, 75% of the workforce is likely to be made up of millennials, a generation used to helping themselves to the learning they want whenever they need it. Millennials, who range in age from 20-36 years old, grew up after the establishment of the internet, and spent their school years looking up information for homework and projects online. 76% of millennials say that professional development opportunities are one of the most important elements of company culture. 

Don't shy away from technology. Provide opportunities for employees to access the sorts of learning they're used to. Employees often turn to their phones for information. Organisations can support such mobile learning in a variety of ways. Managers can support mobile learning much more simply - by not giving employees a hard time about being on their phones at work.

Continuous learning is good for everyone

Remember Jurassic Park's "Life finds a way" line? Learning also finds a way. If you don't provide opportunities for your employees to improve their skills, they will look for learning on their own.

If you show your employees that you support the fact that they are learning on their own, they will appreciate that. And if you give them the means to educate themselves, they'll see that as a perk.

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