Learning and development trends in the workplace; can business learn from education as well as education learning from business?

Many workplaces are excellent examples of how technology can bring enhancements and efficiencies to processes, internal and external engagement and profitability.  As the MD of the Elearning Marketplace, and as a learning technology consultant, I am frequently heard talking about technology solutions being used in the workplace; how they are bringing efficiencies to business and why education should look to these technologies to inform efficiencies in their own businesses. Also, and most importantly, how they can enhance the delivery of their training for learners.  I am passionate about the fact that we should be preparing our young people for the technology they are going to find in the workplace through our delivery of education. Many presume that this only applies to curriculum areas in relation to workplaces that are office based and the big corporates, but some of the greatest technology gains are found in SMEs where there is a mobile workforce, and thankfully the UK government also recognises this. 

There is a real drive by government to get SMEs to become more innovative to enhance their growth, as SMEs are seen as the answer to reducing unemployment and building UK growth.  It’s also recognised that building the knowledge and skills of the UK workforce is key to growth and prosperity and generally speaking individuals acknowledge that knowledge and skills are the path to unlocking a prosperous future through career development. Most employers know this, but in a recession and difficult financial times learning and development is one of the first budgets to be cut. However things are improving; according to a 2014 Learning and Development Benchmarking Study one third of companies are increasing their learning and development budget.  Also with a culture of employees’ ‘job hopping’ employers are looking to provide employees with what they value, and often this is training and career development, which can lead to better prospects and other benefits.

In a recent article in the Training Magazine, which included some familiar headlines that have come out in the last year about workplace learning and match quite closely with CIPD survey results, the main message was ‘prioritise the individual’ and the five top trends for the future of learning and development are listed below.

If we take technology out of the equation for just a moment and consider these trends, I’d put education up as a shining example of how to achieve each one of them, with the addition of being particularly effective at ‘prioritising the individual’:

  • Go mobile – Training organisations of all types and sizes have been going mobile, delivering training here, there and everywhere, making learning as accessible as possible.
  • Understand social – The very nature of classroom or group delivery is that it provides the opportunity for social interactions and it’s what teachers know and love.
  • Consider adaptive learning – Adaptive learning and differentiation has always been at the heart of good teaching; enabling students to learn at their own pace using resources that suit their level of learning.
  • Align with business objectives – One of the main business objectives of any training organisation is to maintain or improve learner retention and achievement rates and all delivery of training is aligned to achieve this.
  • Measure effectiveness – Particularly if government funded, measuring effectiveness is embedded into every aspect of what training organisations do.

It’s not often that we hear that businesses can learn from the way educational establishments work, however when it comes to the above they certainly can. On the flip side though despite the fact that  the majority of education are using learning technologies in some shape or form, whether this is online courses, gaming, simulations, e-books or websites such as TedEd or Vaption employers are ahead of the game when it comes to trying out innovative ways of doing things, and realising the long term benefits of learning technologies and embedding these across an organisation.

Social learning is talked a lot about now in relevance to professional development in the workplace. For a couple of years it has been found in a number of employer surveys that social learning is increasing in the workplace, such as the Brandon Hall 2014 survey 1 that found that 59% of companies are leveraging social learning activities. Although social learning is nothing new, how we now define it is, and I believe that its use is much more embedded in individuals’ personal lives and in education, particularly higher education, than it is in the workplace. When e-learning was first introduced in the workplace, rather like when we started using email, employees were resentful of it as the social interactivity between colleagues was lost.  Employers soon recognised that the value of the social interactivity was important to morale and well-being. We’ve moved on a lot from this; e-learning is now much more extensively used to fulfil appropriate development needs and as part of a blend of online and face to face development which really improves knowledge to competency. In my view social learning does not replace learning and development activities that work well, but enhances it. There is huge value in learning from colleagues, and employees taking responsibility for their own professional development. It is the wealth of online collaborative tools now in existence that has made social learning much more accessible. As Jane Hart of C4LPT says social learning “Is more about helping people learn from one another as they work together – enhanced by collaborative enterprise social tools”, and I don’t think we should under estimate the value of this type of learning. However, I believe that developing knowledge and skills on very specific knowledge or competencies can most effectively be achieved through formal training, whether this is face to face or some type of online training. This then combined with using the knowledge gained through formal training in the workplace, with guidance and support from colleagues, is in my view the most effective professional development. Online social learning really enhances this process when those undertaking the training can discuss challenges they’ve encountered, get solutions to problems or just share their experiences with colleagues or fellow learners who might not be located in the same office.

For many years further and higher education all over the world has embraced formal delivery and online social activities.  Even some small independent training providers who extensively still deliver face to face training are now offering online learning and collaboration with peers, as they’ve recognised the value of peer support and sharing of experiences.

So in conclusion whether an educational establishment or an employer, I believe we all have something to learn from each other. Employers can learn a lot from education about how to prioritise the individual and education can learn a lot from business about being more innovative and trying things out.  We learn from the bad experiences as well as the good and when it comes to technology its finding the right solution for the task in hand.

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