Article: The Era of Self-Directed Learning: HR’s new role and strategy

Learning & Development

The Era of Self-Directed Learning: HR’s new role and strategy

In a series of round table held in partnership with Degreed on the era of self-directed learning, leaders from various industries spoke on what should be HR’s new role and strategy to enable self-directed learning in their organizations.
The Era of Self-Directed Learning: HR’s new role and strategy

Improving learning and development is a top-rated challenge according to Deloitte’s 2019 Global Human Capital Trends Report. At a time when the emphasis on learning is aligned to life-long and continuous learning programs, the driver of the learning road-map is the individual. In this era of self-directed learning, what is the role of the L&D team? How should HR professionals curate learning? And how can they enable their learners to take charge? How can they help talent upskill in line with future skills and competencies? How can they design their learning processes to support learning for the future?

In a series of round tables held in partnership with Degreed on the era of self-directed learning, leaders from various industries addressed these questions and threw light on what should be HR’s new role and strategy to enable self-directed learning in their organizations. Industry leaders such as Rahul Dhatariya, VP Global Workforce Analytics & HR, Tata Communications; Shaakun Khanna, Head of HCM Applications, Asia Pacific, Oracle; Deepayan Sen Sharma, Director HR, Marsh & Mclennan Companies, India; Veena Deshpande, Senior Director, Capgemini; Avantika Susan Nigam, Director & Head of HR, Global Business Services, India, Pepsico; and Ajay Sridharan, Degreed’s Country Manager (India)/ Head APAC steered the discussion at the three round tables.

Significance of self- directed learning

Self-directed learning is the new flavor for the current workforce, with digital disruption happening in all the leading industries and companies opting for the digital workforce. It is easy for the learners to choose what they learn but some organizations find it difficult to convince them on their learning approach. 

On one hand, experts believe that there is a huge skill shortage and sharing of knowledge is very critical. On the other hand, for HR professionals, one of the biggest challenges is to get people to learn when they are not inclined towards learning. To add to it, nowadays employees believe in learning in their own way.

Rahul Dhatariya, VP Global Workforce Analytics & HR, Tata Communications, spoke on the importance of digital disruption and how it is happening in every industry. He said, “All the global companies who are adopting the local taste, opting for glocalization and getting digital workforce should have an agile learning system, HR system and agile managers.”

Quoting one of the reports, he added that 38 percent of CEOs believe that there is a shortage of key skills and that’s the truth. Organizations thus need to create multiple learning cultures such as social learning, byte-sized mobile learning, continuous learning, and custom learning. Because one size doesn’t fit all. 

Sharing his thoughts on self-directed learning, Shaakun Khanna, Head of HCM Applications, Asia Pacific, Oracle, “We are in a society which is consuming a lot of content and doing self-initiated learning never ever before. Nowadays, people are learning because they are seeing new things in their life and attracted towards learning.” 

Giving an example of employees who are learning new things, he shared employees are like sleeper cells- they are in their cocoon and learning new things. For example- an engineer is coding all his life and simultaneously he is learning Russian language. Suddenly, one day he can say that he is done with coding and going to Russia to explore new things. That’s the sleeper cell phenomenon hitting the talent ecosystem of the organization. 

The purpose of the L&D function is to prepare a workforce on skills that do not exist today and to run a business that you don’t run today. Today you can’t predict what you need for the future; therefore you can’t be prepared for it. Organizations should work towards the direction of creating a dynamic ecosystem and hence the need for self-directed learning.  

L&D: The matchmaker between the organizational and individual needs

One point of discussion that was brought to light was that for learning to sustain, the learner needs to understand what’s in it for me. ‘Building what’s in it for me’ proposition in organizations is a must for self-directed learning to work, opined Deepayan Sen Sharma, Director HR, Marsh & Mclennan Companies, India, who led the discussion on the same at the Mumbai leg of the round table. Leaders need to make it clear how learning will enable a learner to move from his career from post A to post B and be future-ready. The role of the L&D SPOC comes into place to marry the organizational need of learning and the individual needs of learning. So L&D’s role in the new world is playing matchmaker between the organization and the individual learner. 

Hence their role is empowering the learner, co-creating the system and bringing the learner back to the center of the learning ecosystem.

L&D needs to look at the learner as the customer, and that will help them devise the ‘what’s in it for me’ proposition for the learner. It is not merely about a carrot and stick strategy but rather about creating a pull factor.

Also L&D leaders need to make available things in the format that people find comfortable to learn. By making learning available in different formats, the leaders can make the learners realize that the onus for their own development goes back to them. They need to figure out what’s the best way for them to learn rather than L&D pushing any particular methodology on them. So instead of pushing a fixed menu meal in learning, learners should be able to choose based on their appetite. This also means not overloading them with learning jargon, so as to sustain the pull factor.

HR needs to build a learner first culture; learning needs to be owned by the learner

Just as in our all-encompassing digital world, it is all about being customer-centric, similarly when applying digital to learning, it is all about becoming learner-centric, essayed Veena Deshpande, Senior Director, Capgemini in her keynote. This means HR needs to build a learner first culture i.e. ensure there is a very quick turnaround time for the needs that the learner has. 

Veena added that learning is something that happens 24X7 and HR should be able to service requests from learners 24X&7. Similarly, when it comes to feedback, learners expect instantaneous feedback. How can HR/ L&D leaders enable that? In this direction, there is a need for constant connection and constant engagement to sustain learning in today’s digital world. L&D needs to understand their learning preferences and cater to that. 

L&D today has a higher role in the value chain

Veena reiterated that business priorities are changing to the extent that businesses expect employees to align themselves with them constantly. Thus L&D is also no longer expected to operate as a separate silo but has to align with changing business priorities. 

Today learning is moving from being linear, curriculum-driven, teacher-centric and unidirectional to an environment that is multidimensional and explosive, with a whole spectrum of formats that one can learn from.

L&D has to act more as an enabler today; it is no longer the only owner of learning of the employees.

At the end of the day, an individual owns his learning. This does not mean L&D’s role is diminished. It means L&D today has a higher role in the value chain. It’s for them to contextualize learning and enable value-added learning. 

L&D today has to focus more on designing learning experiences than just learning journeys; they have to look at the entire spectrum. Leaders also need to realize that today instead of thinking content as a king, it is the context in which learning happens today, which is the real king. This means more communication, more gamification, large scale familiarization with emerging technologies, and varied approaches to engage learners. Also, learner platforms need to be tied to organizational goals and priorities. 

Moreover, while bringing about a shift to self-directed learning, L&D cannot bring about a big bang change in one go. The better way of making the shift is going slowly, taking a blended approach rather than going self-directed all at once, in order to keep the learners engaged. So contextualization, personalization, constant communication and assessments, and alignment with the individual goals of the learner is the way to go for HR leaders to bolster self-directed learning.


(The article is based on inputs by industry leaders in a series of Round Tables conducted by Degreed in partnership with People Matters on the era of self-directed learning.)

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Topics: Learning & Development, Learning Management Systems, #PMRoundtables

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