Tap Into Internal Experts to Modernize Employee Development

April 16, 2020

Democratized learning delivers on the modern employee’s evolved expectations for workplace training and career development.

Blog Post

The coronavirus pandemic completely stopped the world in its tracks. Social distancing guidelines, shelter in place orders, and widespread school closures mean a lot of our days look just like the last, giving us a bit of a Groundhog’s Day feeling.

And learning isn’t only canceled for kids. About one-half of in-person learning programs through June 30 in North America have been either postponed or canceled, according to McKinsey Accelerate.

But with jobless claims exceeding 16 million as a result of the pandemic, businesses have to start thinking now of how they will fill those skills and manpower gaps when “normal” actually starts to look more normal.

“Businesses can’t afford to put capability building on hold. Whether the effort is reskilling at the business-unit level or a company-wide aspirational transformation, companies can’t simply push the pause button on critical workplace learning, even as they move rapidly to put employee safety first,” says McKinsey.

Many school systems have set the example with their quick shift to distance learning. As remote work has suddenly become the rule rather than the exception (in those industries where it’s possible), the new modern workplace standard for development will become on-demand, interactive learning. Career development will be heavy on the minds of the newly remote workforce as well, especially as competition for jobs is sure to be high in the coming months.

A Not-So-Novel Concept

Employee engagement has increasingly become a focus for organizational leaders, and development is a key part of a meaningful workplace experience. A not-so-surprising 84% of respondents to Deloitte Insight’s Human Capital Trends Report said employee experience is important, and 28% even called it “urgent.”

But benefits from years past won’t cut it for today’s workforce. With five generations in the workforce, expectations around communication and learning, in particular, have changed in major ways.

Today’s employees are accustomed to flexibility and 24/7 connection with family and friends, which drives their expectations for development at work. They want to learn and develop skills that lead them to job success and career advancement with personalized, bite-sized, on-demand learning in a variety of formats, like video.

“We’re moving into a future where employees want to consume information as they see fit,” said Paylocity Vice President of User Experience Dan Hassenplug. “A lot of times, companies want to start from a position of control, but what employees want is to be given the keys to democratize learning, see what happens with it, and create that culture of learning.”

And the benefits go both ways. Both employee satisfaction and retention are impacted by employees’ ability to grow professionally. LinkedIn’s 2018 Workplace Learning Trends report revealed that 94% of employees saying they would stay longer at a company that provides the opportunity.

A company’s commitment to workplace learning not only brings greater expertise into the workforce but also builds a sense of community and shared value among colleagues. That means value to the organization from more engaged employees.

Training vs. Learning

For employees and employers alike, there are two primary categories of worker education, broadly defined as training and learning.

For compliance training, tracking and measuring courses are crucial to success. Companies can ensure their own compliance by using tools that offer the capability to customize, assign, and track progress of required courses. Questions and quizzes that test for understanding at the end of the course can help confirm that courses are effective and clear.

But to promote a true learning culture inside the workplace requires a more vibrant and robust program. A rich educational environment does more than provide an opportunity for the entire workforce to reach beyond their jobs and create connections. It also demonstrates that the company is committed to ensuring that everyone feels a part of a common mission and purpose. Read our talent development strategy guide for more tips on how to ingrain learning into your company culture.

The “Democratization of Learning”

Among the most important methods for achieving this learning culture is encouraging the right content. Though the material for compliance courses often comes from experts outside an organization, content developed internally can be the most relevant and valuable for workplace fulfillment.

And because no one knows your business as well as the people who work there, many companies are turning to peer-to-peer learning. Whether used to onboard new employees, share skills, mentor colleagues, or provide company information, connecting subject matter experts with coworkers is not only a valuable tool but also rewards both the teacher and the student.

This “democratization of learning,” where subject matter expertise is sourced internally across the organization, is key. It is already here in our daily lives. From the popularity of Ted Talks, podcasts, YouTube, streaming documentaries, and Wikipedia, the opportunity to share knowledge and experience is available in all formats anytime and from anywhere. That approach is increasingly finding its way into the workplace. For employers, many of the top skills they are seeking and that employees desire—including leadership, communication, and collaboration skills—already exist within an organization. The challenge is sharing in a way that is accessible, interactive, and effective.

The Tools of Today

With today’s tools, impactful and accessible learning is increasingly possible, as 90% of companies are already using digital learning for their employees in some form.

Employees today are tied to their mobile devices, meaning companies need the ability to communicate with their workforce where they are already consuming information. In fact, 71% of employees are already spending more than two hours a week accessing company information on their mobile device. Given the popularity of Instagram, YouTube, and other social media, it’s no surprise that one of the most increasingly popular methods for sharing knowledge and information is through video, Hassenplug noted.

One of the biggest advantages of using peer-to-pear learning, rather than top-down learning, especially through video, is that it immediately injects authenticity by making the information more approachable.

“It’s really about trying to encourage [leadership] to see that people are creating already and wanting to share,” Hassenplug explained. “It’s also important that it happens within your organization, especially if you are going to be a progressive, modern organization that’s going to attract the next generation of workers.”

That freedom to create and encourage learning in the workplace is what today’s modern workforce demands.

Creating a learning culture at the workplace should play a major role in a firm’s human resource management strategy,” Andries De Grip, Professor of Economics at Maastricht University, concluded in a study. “That can enable a firm to remain competitive both in its product market by delivering high-quality products and in the labor market by improving its attractiveness for highly productive individuals.”

For many companies, this approach might be new and challenging, but with modern tools that enable, support, and measure employees’ participation and peer-to-peer sharing, the ability to create a true culture of learning at the workplace has arrived. And experts say, no matter the challenge, the effort is worth it.

Learn more about how consumer experiences are driving your employees’ expectations at work.

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