The Future of Workplace Learning

Lauren Della Bella

As the debate on how to solve the problem of education continues, we often ignore one of the most important factors: the workplace. Whether it is a farm or a factory, a think tank or a tech start-up, a hospital or Fortune 500, what we need from our workforce is changing.

We can talk about a lack of workers, jobs being replaced by technology or the gap between business needs and university curriculums. But our economy is built on having a highly productive workforce, earning a decent living so we can buy goods and services, employ people, invest in advancement and growth, and pay taxes (or not). And we’re not paying enough attention to how this workforce is trained.

Learning to learn

Preparing people for the workplace means preparing people to learn, adapt and learn some more. It’s the second half of that statement—adapt and learn some more—that is at the heart of learning to learn. And learning to learn is central to workplace development.

Let’s be clear: Learning is not about how well we can do math or read or absorb facts; after all, there is almost nothing we can’t find an answer to on the Internet. (And really, how many people truly believe that they learned everything they needed to know in kindergarten?) Our brains don’t need to store all the noise and minutia anymore.

Our brains do need to think about and apply the information we find, though. Which is why learning is less about rote memorization of facts and more about resilience, grit, flexibility and becoming comfortable with change. These characteristics are the foundation of lifelong learning, a continuum that begins the moment we are born and lasts until the moment we die.

Workplace trends guide the future workplace

Now, let’s bring that back around to workplace learning, where the old adage, “You learn something new every day,” has never been truer. (I have been working full-time for 35 years, and each day, I learn something new that affects how I do my job!)

According to LinkedIn’s 2017 Workplace Learning Report—which gathered insights from 500 learning and development professionals and industry leaders across the U.S. and Canada—there are five trends currently being tackled in workplace learning. But the one that caught my eye was this: proving the value of workplace learning to learners, while important, is incredibly challenging.

Why? In part, it’s because today’s learners are evolving at a quicker pace than the learning programs that support them. The average shelf life of a skill is less than five years. LinkedIn’s experts contend the way to address these rapidly changing needs is to offer a blended learning program that combines in-person guidance and collaboration with self-paced online instruction.

But for workplace learning to be truly effective, it must be accessible at the point of need. As I interpret it, that means learning must be accessible, encouraged, promoted and intrinsically ingrained in the workplace where new skills and knowledge will be applied.

The LinkedIn report noted that only 52% of modern learners engage with workplace learning and development programs at the point of need, while 42% engage at their office desk (presumably through eLearning courses).

A 2017 Workplace Learning Report from LinkedIn report found 52% of modern learners engage at the point of need while 42% engaged at their desks

Source: LinkedIn: 2017 Workplace Learning Report

But what if workplace learning modules were even more accessible? I’m not talking through devices like mobile phones and tablets—although device-in-hand learning opportunities are certainly one way to connect with learners where they are. I’m talking about space reserved for in-the-moment learning, with dedicated curriculum and resources to support as-it-happens education. And not just a space, but multiple spaces that could accommodate different learning styles, different teaching methodologies.

How would this change the future of workplace learning?

Workplace learning and space

The link between pedagogy and space in traditional education is well-documented. There are many cases in which successful educational outcomes can be traced back to the intersection of teaching modalities and the places and spaces where learning occurs.

Less is understood about the intersection of professional learning and development programs and the workplaces in which they occur. It’s generally accepted that employees perform better when they can control their space. Employee health and wellness have also been linked to workplace design, and it’s been suggested that workplace design can have an impact on the attractiveness of employers to potential job candidates. Likewise, professional development opportunities play a role in employee satisfaction and engagement. Training and development programs have also been pointed to as a contributing factor to employee retention.

Is it possible to view all of these outcomes—employee autonomy, health and wellness, employer attractiveness, employee satisfaction, engagement and retention—through the lens of learning? And is it possible to design work spaces that meet all these needs in a way that encourages learning at every level?

I believe so.

When working with clients in both the corporate world and education, we often find they want the same things when they envision how their offices or schools should function. They want open, flexible, collaborative space with places for individuals, as well as small and large groups. Space where people can engage and space where people can be quiet. Space for displaying work and easy access to resources.

In the educational environment, all of these spaces are centralized around learning. Why shouldn’t these spaces perform the same functions in an office environment? Why shouldn’t the space where we perform our jobs, also be space where we learn our jobs, our clients, and how to perform new tasks and skills?

At SHP, I work with clients every day who are rethinking their spaces to take advantage of the shift toward a learning-centered culture.  When employees have time to research, explore and learn throughout the day—when it’s not only encouraged, i but expected—they become more invested in their work, clients and company. And on the flip side, the company will serve its clients better, attract and retain its staff better, when the focus on learning, improving and growing is so absolute. At the end of the day it’s a win-win.

Are you working to bring more learning, training and ongoing professional development to your workplace? Email me at ldellabella [at] shp [dot] com; I’d love to hear what you’re working on and trade ideas as we head into the new year.

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