In Deloitte’s 2017 survey of more than 10,000 business and HR leaders from 140 countries, “careers and learning” rose to second place in importance out of 10 major trends. Eighty-three percent of executives consider it to be important or very important.
Although 90 percent of CEOs think their company is facing disruptive change driven by digital technologies, 70 percent say that their organization does not have the skills to adapt. “This doubt reflects the fact that skills are becoming obsolete at an accelerating rate,” according to Deloitte. “Software engineers must now redevelop skills every 12-18 months. Professionals in marketing, sales, manufacturing, law, accounting, and finance report similar demands.”
These trends place more emphasis on the need for continuous learning. The following sections examine continuous learning, its benefits and how companies can better support continuous learning.
What Is Continuous Learning?
Continuous learning simply refers to a constant state of learning new skills or tools. Many people practice continuous learning on their own time, but continuous learning is often used to reference how learning takes place or can take place in an organization. In this use, the focus is on expanding what workers need to expand their knowledge base and respond to technological advances and other developments in a particular field.
Because continuous learning supports how people can improve their knowledge, skills and tools to support organizational goals, continuous learning is a cornerstone of corporate culture.
Why Is Continuous Learning Important?
An obvious reason that businesses need continuous learning is so they remain competitive. This is essentially a given in the current business environment. “In today’s highly competitive global economy and intensely competitive talent market, the C-suite clearly understands that companies that do not constantly upgrade skills and rapidly build leaders will not be able to execute their business plans,” according to Deloitte.
Continuous learning is also important from employees’ perspective. Organizations should consider how continuous learning meets their needs.
Employees Demand It
Deloitte’s survey looked at research and detailed how a lot of employees (especially among millennials) are demanding continuous learning opportunities.
Among millennials, the “ability to learn and progress” is the principal driver for a company’s employment brand. However, only one-third of millennials “believe their organizations are using their skills well, and 42 percent say they are likely to leave because they are not learning fast enough,” Deloitte reports.
The average length of a career is 60 to 70 years. Meanwhile, the average tenure in a job is 4.5 years and the half-life of a learned skill is five years. Employees expect employers to continually reinvent themselves, making continuous learning critical.
Deloitte also pointed out how “employees at all levels now recognize that ‘the learning curve is the earning curve,’ and they are demanding access to dynamic learning opportunities that fit their individual needs and schedules. Millennials and other young employees have grown up in this self-directed learning environment. They expect it as part of their working lives and careers—and they will move elsewhere if employers fail to provide it.”
It Can Lead to Happiness
Employees value continuous learning, and it may not solely be for career reasons. “Lifelong learning can lead to a more fulfilling and healthier life,” according to career advice writer Sarah Landrum at Forbes. Examples include:
- Computerized brain games are being used to help prevent memory loss.
- Researchers say that picking up a new skill is the best way that people can keep their brain sharp.
- A study of senior groups found significant memory gains for working on new hobbies and learning new skills.
Landrum believes that millennials have prioritized happiness and learning because they see the connection between the two. This is true for any age, but younger people have embraced technology and become more connected because of it. Millennials are traveling around the world, learning a second language and more.
Millennials are the happiest generation at work, and part of this is due to their desire to learn. As a result, they desire continuous learning opportunities at work as well as in their personal lives.
Guidelines to Supporting Continuous Learning
Organizations don’t need to be concerned with developing formal programs to support continuous learning.
“To support continuous learning – and help ensure that the right learning is being transmitted through less formal learning channels – L&D organizations need to evolve,” according to Rob McKinney, director of product management at Harvard Business Publishing Corporate Learning. “They need to shift from developing content and designing formal programs as the core of their offerings to becoming curators of content—gathering the best, most relevant content, organizing it and making it easy to find, providing context, and managing it to ensure it stays fresh.”
He offered several ways businesses can provide content that empowers continuous learning.
- Look for credible content sources. Help employees discover sources of relevant, quality content by curating and leveraging trusted content providers.
- Offer a variety of content options. Options can range from short briefs to in-depth articles, different genres of video and even structured learning experiences that allow for practice and reflection. Meet different learning styles and needs, and make sure you offer content for all levels within your organization.
- Make sure content is broadly available. Use primary learning platforms with the content. Also make sure content is available in work environments to create multiple entry points. Leverage technologies like mobile access and single sign-on to remove access barriers.
- Put content in an organizational context. Communicate why topics are important and how they align with organizational goals and values.
- Provide tools for action. Offer ideas and suggestions on how the content can start conversations within teams or with colleagues. Make suggestions on how to apply learning in the workplace. Provide tools to assess where learners are currently and how to set goals for the future.
- Inspire further exploration. Help learners discover places to continue their progress in certain topics. The key is to offer choice, enabling learners to choose the path that’s right for them.
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