Insight

Experience is the key to lifelong learning that sticks

It involves a shift to learning in the flow of work.

Corey Muñoz

Corey Muñoz

Chief Learning Officer, KPMG US

+1 201-307-7085

Jacqueline Bhavaraju

Jacqueline Bhavaraju

Director Advisory, Human Capital Advisory, KPMG US

+1 212-872-6639

Rapid adoption of innovations such as cloud computing, automation, and big data means a shorter life expectancy of most job skills. As a result, the traditional methods companies have used to teach skills – such as classroom training – need to be augmented by on-the-job experiences that include bite-sized lessons, close collaboration with mentors, and peer-to-peer, social learning moments.

Harmonizing these approaches can promote a more engaged learner experience and set the stage for interactive lifelong learning.

One reason why on-the-job knowledge transfer is becoming more common? It no longer makes economic sense to take employees out of their work environment for extended periods to train them outside of their contextual daily activities. Instead, the focus has shifted to learner-friendly microlearning tools that impart quick lessons within the employees’ routine. It’s being called “learning in the flow of work” – allowing employees to stay on the job while enabling continuous learning.

The learning in the flow of work model has taken hold as the ideal approach among leading organizations. One shorthand among educators had previously expressed this balance as 70-20-10, referring to the time that needed to be devoted to experiences, mentors and classrooms. Now, however, digital technologies, data and platforms for content have begun to blur that model, with less of a focus on “training” people, and more of an opportunity to incorporate learning everywhere, all the time. When done right, a well-executed learning program incorporates personalized, microlearning spurts of knowledge, and opportunities for social collaborative knowledge sharing in real-time.

One of the challenges of many programs today is that it is difficult to discern whether the training an employee is receiving is transferring to their job. Using the standard of feedback and job performance reviews as mechanisms does not always provide a clear tie to actual knowledge transfer. The goal instead should be to increase knowledge “stickiness,” the degree to which the knowledge is retained, while enabling employees to integrate learning with work.

A simple way to do this is to connect the goal of lifelong learning to the way learners best retain knowledge – through hands-on experiences where lessons are more like a chemistry lab than a lecture class. Online learning tools that provide small, digestible chunks of information, much like cellphone apps that allow users to pay bills, can increase knowledge “stickiness.” Having mentors available who can explain complex tasks is also an important aspect of social learning, where people can connect with each other, which is especially important in the work-from-home environment with its focus on digital communications.

Companies wanting to shift the emphasis from training to lifelong learning should consider a review of their entire learning ecosystem, assessing where money is being spent and then starting to tweak their approach by identifying areas where people need to upskill quickly – and many organizations are adopting this approach. According to the KPMG global HR survey, 54 percent of HR executives surveyed plan to make their biggest investment in new or updated learning and development platforms.1

To start your journey, think about platforms that can be an assistant or coach that nudges an employee and provides the necessary stickiness. For example, if an employee gets an email saying that some specific tasks need to be performed, the platform could immediately offer help in the form of steps to get the tasks accomplished.

Using automation and data, companies can ensure that employees begin learning something new every week if not every day, picking up knowledge, tips and tricks in the flow of their regular job. At the same time, the defined platform can be set up to follow the employee’s progress, enabling it to become “smarter” about the individual’s development and personalize suggestions to anticipate what they are going to need to know. Pulling from sufficient diagnostic capability, it can further tailor learning suggestions to help identify low competency areas within a business group and direct investments to quickly close those gaps. Data also enables companies to create recognition programs to motivate lifelong learning, such as badges and certificates of accomplishment.

There is still an important role for formal training in this new approach: when a serious topic such as leadership, sales or risk prevention requires deep discussion and reflection by employees. That’s when training is worth the investment for a select group of people to do a deep dive in a subject that might require a few days, not weeks of instruction.

Centering on the learner experience benefits both the company and the individual learners. For one, the company benefits from a lifelong learning culture by employees coming to appreciate the continuous thread of learning that takes place, keeping their skill sets and role profile relevant in a dynamically changing market. It also drives morale as employees are incentivized to think about how they can continue to evolve their skill set, think about the people they need to learn from and collaborate with, and the ways to apply their new knowledge and key experiences to enhance their capabilities. In turn, learners are inspired and empowered to find deeper meaning in their work and consistent uplift of capability and achievement.

Through intentional, learner-centric experiences, a culture of individuals that love and embody learning permeates throughout an organization, leading to increased engagement, a deeper sense of meaningful work, and a cohort of influential employees that are better equipped to steer a more productive and agile organization.

For more information, visit KPMG Human Capital Advisory–Learning