We all need someone who inspires us to do better; but, does this someone have to be a manager, an executive, a guru, or a parent? We know that learning is a lifelong process and that there is no age limit for gaining knowledge. One can learn anywhere, anytime, and from anyone, but how does one apply this wisdom in the workplace?
Last year, while I was reading up on mentoring programs, I came across the term ‘Reverse Mentoring’; a concept introduced by Jack Welch in 1999. It inspired me to explore learning opportunities beyond the traditional top-down approach of mentoring. Though I was not keen on following a formal structured mentoring program, I wanted to seek opportunities to learn from colleagues with diverse backgrounds. I created an informal network of ‘Knowledge Gurus’ and discovered that for information and learning to flow freely, the boundaries of the hierarchy must fade. A flatter organizational structure needs to emerge, which enables a multidirectional learning culture.
In today’s world, collaborative learning is the new mantra. Peer-to-peer learning is one such model which can help organizations solve some of the most pressing challenges to skill building. Peer-to-peer learning helps tap into the expertise that already exists in the organization and helps build a collaborative work culture breaking down barriers of hierarchy. Since most organizations do not have any formal structure in place to share learning among employees, managers and employees must rewire themselves by interacting with brilliant minds in your company and talk to them about their expertise and about gaining additional knowledge.
Technology: The modern guru
Aided with digital tools and technology, social learning is gaining momentum and there are various avenues of learning available today. These include e-learning platforms, massive open online courses (MOOCs), classroom training, blogs, search engines, learning apps, etc., The concept of blended learning has gained popularity too, giving learners the freedom to choose the avenues that best suit them. They can learn anytime from anywhere. I prefer bite-size learning, especially as time is a constraint, and information is aplenty.
New-age learners seek personalized learning that fits their preferences and needs. They want a learning solution that enables the creation of a culture of self-directed learning. Companies are developing several learning initiatives that provide employees with the choice to carve out their learning paths. These initiatives provide a continuous flow of information and learning supported by technology and enable learners to access external as well as internal information while interacting with experts and peers. Mixing formats makes learning more engaging and effective as well.
Connecting the dots
Learners today need to be agile irrespective of their position or title. They should be able to connect with learning resources, information, peers, and experts from the outside world. Hence, the new role of the L&D function is to facilitate the connections. L&D leaders can get this equation right if they can leverage analytics effectively for insights to understand the mental make-up of learners, their individual development needs, tools required, areas of improvement, and areas of effectiveness.
Learning should be designed in a manner that promotes curiosity, stimulates thinking, and drives a creative problem-solving attitude. It will enable learners to connect across domains and innovate. Learning today is more about connecting the dots and gathering information from various sources, making connections and coming up with the best possible solution. Leaders and employees who master this art will be able to survive and stay relevant in the constantly changing ecosystem.
Adaptive learning through AI and ML
In organizations, people, processes, and technology need to coexist. According to the findings from O’Reilly Media, 61 percent of the companies are aiming to make AI and ML a bigger initiative within their workplace. One of the most significant ways in which they are using leveraging it is to help employees learn and develop their skills in a more personalized and empowered way. Chatbots, augmented learning environments, and collaborative knowledge tools are being used to facilitate adaptive learning. Adaptive learning employs algorithms to record the interactions with the learner and deliver customized resources and learning activities to meet individual needs. Technology can help pick up on what an individual is mastering or still struggling with and adjust instructions in real-time accordingly.
With changes in how learning is delivered, there will soon be a demand for change in the function that delivers it. The role of the L&D function will be required to extend beyond just training and needs analysis to discover the learning requirement. The next step would be to provide training content to meet that need. L&D leaders will need to help build and nurture communities of learning, share information, and collaborating. That would make it easy to find the right person at the right time with the proper knowledge in the organization.
In reality, the learning landscape is constantly changing, and learners need to evolve with it. They need to look for ways and means to stay ahead of the curve. Similarly, organizations need to explore the possibility of providing new learning opportunities to their employees. One thing is for certain, to help employees keep pace with industry changes and speeding up the learning cycle, the demand for learning will never stop, and learning will become a lifelong journey.