Today, we live in VUCA world which is Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous. Also, the pace with which the business landscape is changing is more challenging than ever before. The goals have evolved from operational efficiency to operational excellence, work completion to achieving perfection. All these ideas have been dominated by the kaizen philosophy of Continuous Improvement supported by Continuous learning. We need to build organizations which are not just the Great place to work, but also an ever learning institution.
Before getting into the subject of agile learning, it is important to look at how the process of learning itself has evolved.
If you look at the process of learning, several years until the late 90s – learning was done purely for acquiring mastery over a subject or a skill. Cut back to modern times learning has also become a means of engaging a physically and mentally restless workforce.
The physically restless learners cannot be tied down to the confines of a classroom or an event for more than a couple of hours and the mentally restless learners cannot be tied down to the same type of content or the same methodology for long. So we have one big monstrosity of a problem addressing learning for a population that does not want to sit in one place, a mass that wants a variety of learning - a variety that addresses their professional space and as well as personal tastes, an entire generation that wants to learn to address their idea of future.
If our modern methods of learning do not take care of all of these, then we are not talking about agile learning. And in order to understand what agile learning is, it is necessary for us to look beyond the traditional meaning of agile learning and adapt it in the true sense.
A quick look at any standard definition of agile learning will tell you that it means –speed, flexibility, and collaboration. So does our agile learning method address this or does it simply take care of the ‘need for speed’.
Confining themselves to the traditional meaning of agile learning, which focuses purely on a few trending words such as digitization and bite-sized learning, etc. numerous start-ups have spawned learning tools and technology that cater to the device toting generation - consumers who are largely born in the world of technology and have known nothing else.
Agile learning is not only about taking care of the instant gratification of the ‘tech gen’, but also about keeping in mind the significant shift in the way people approach their careers today.
For learning to have the desired effect, instead of addressing only a band of population, be it a gen Y, X or Z, it is even more relevant to address what learners think is important in their lives today.
While learning technology has evolved, the way people want to learn has evolved too. In one of the large multinationals that I worked with, the CEO in his 50s, described in an interview how he is keeping up with the modern times through reverse mentoring – he had a 20-year-old student who was his mentor. The sessions with his young mentor helped him learn through the eyes of a 20-year-old on what youngsters of his age were thinking, what they wanted, what their idea of the future was.
As learning providers, we need to keep the more sublime characteristics of the ever-evolving human mind - characteristics which are easily ignored in the light of technological disruption.
Over the years a large of part of the population have scaled up in Maslow’s ladder and are very comfortably placed at a level where there is clear discernment of having professional gratification as well as personal happiness.
As an organization, it is important for leaders to have this shift in mind while providing any form of learning while considering whether the focus is largely on providing training to employees to simply ensure they are productive as soon as they join or on truly enriching their lives.
One other incendiary topic of today is the drastically evolving jobs– from the traditional doctors/engineers of the yesteryears to modern day’s ‘ethnic food tasters’, pet psychologists and ethical hackers, people today are looking at alternative careers. Following one’s passion has become the order of the day. Organizations need to constantly be on their toes and be mindful that employees are working in their company probably as means of addressing immediate needs and waiting to step out into the world and find a career that suits their mood and this has nothing to do with age. To address this issue of keeping these employees engaged, the learning should not only adhere to their professional needs but should be broad enough to cater to their passion also.
So learning needs must include methods that cater to a lot with a nomadic mindset. Combining technology with such complex human behavior is the only way to create learning tools that can capture the attention of employees
Apart from the human side, it’s hard to ignore that technology and digital evolution have tunneled their way through every facet of human life, including the way we learn. And if we need to stay at par with this rapid advancement, it is necessary to shift towards modern methods, where learning is made available on the tools and devices we use every day – that means if we have people using smartphones, notepads, laptops, then learning needs to be made accessible on all these platforms in a simplified manner.
Today a lot of technology-based learning platforms recommend learning topics based on the usage patterns– the use of past data to predict or recommend learning capsules to users, based on pattern recognition – or on activities on their devices.
Let’s say, for example, an employee spends a significant amount of time using MS Office tools in different platforms like mobile device, laptop or desktop, he should get recommendations of learning capsules related to MS Office skills. So picture this, if individual searches constantly for art-related topics, then the AI engine recognizes the learning pattern as being Visual and thereby the learnings recommended are in a visual format. This may sound to be futuristic, but this is the essence of true Agile Learning.