Continuous Learning: 6 Tips for Increasing Employee Skillsets
Continuous learning is key to the ongoing success of your workforce and organization. Case in point: one of my friends has been in the same position with her organization for over seven years. In the absence of new challenges, she feels like her abilities have grown stale and she's no longer productive. Just when she should be growing more confident in her career and bringing more value to her organization, she's floundering and looking for a serious change.
How did this happen? How could it have been prevented? Read on to learn more about continuous learning, its importance in today's workplace, and how you can best engage your learners in this process.
What is Continuous Learning?
Continuous learning refers to the ability to continually develop and improve your skills and knowledge in order to perform job-related tasks effectively and adapt to changes in the workplace.
The best type of continuous learning combines training with several other elements that enable and encourage employees to engage and learn in various ways. Continuous learning should emphasize the learner's experience, and ensure that it is both appealing and fits with their other daily responsibilities.
Imagine your workforce; maybe some people are returning after an absence, maybe some have allowed their skills to calcify, or maybe some need to "'unlearn' skills as new and better ways emerge". In all these cases, as with my friend, the integration of continuous learning can be just what is needed to help learners acquire the tools they need to be successful.
What are the Benefits of Continuous Learning?
Continuous learning presents obvious direct benefits to the learner, either by helping them constantly update their skillset, or learn new skills.
When looking at these benefits, continuous learning can be broken into three levels:
- Immediate learning, which helps support the success of the learner in the moment
- Intermediate learning, which helps the learner grow in their current role
- Transitional learning, which helps the learner grow in their career
With these levels in mind, consider that:
1. Continuous learning encourages learners to expand their skillsets
Continuous learning encourages learners to routinely expand their skillsets, which directly results in learners that are more satisfied in their role and more successful both personally and professionally.
While these results are wonderful for the learner, they also indirectly benefit the organization that prioritizes continuous learning.
2. Continuous learners are happier and more productive
Continuous learners are, overall, happier and less dissatisfied, and happier employees are more productive.
In the most basic sense this saves organizations money, as researchers have directly connected an employee's emotional well-being to actual cost-savings, noting that "in a sample of management personnel with average salaries in the $65,000 range... being psychologically distressed could cost the organization roughly $75 a week per person in lost productivity."
3. Continuous learning leads to cost-savings and higher retention rates
There are also indirect cost-savings that result from the adoption of continuous learning.
Ignoring the benefits of continuous learning can result in a bored and dissatisfied workforce, which not only drives down productivity levels, but leads to higher employee turnover.
A recent study found that, on average, organizations in 2016 spent $1,252 per employee per year on training initiatives. Contrast that with the average cost of hiring and training a new employee, which is generally thought to cost approximately the same amount as 6 - 9 months' salary of the employee you are replacing.
Clearly, the cost of a mindful, engaging training program is a fraction of what it costs to hire and train new employees should your existing workforce seek greener pastures.
So, continuous learning not only helps ensure your workforce is productive and happy, it indirectly leads to cost-savings for your organization. But for continuous learning to work, you need to make sure your learners take advantage of it.
How Can You Engage Your Learners in Continuous Learning?
To fully realize the benefits of continuous learning, you must make it a priority in your workplace.
Create a policy whereby a certain amount of time, either per month or per week, is set aside for your workforce to take part in learning-related activities. But that's only one part of what you need to do.
To ensure you engage your learners:
1. Define Learning Objectives and Goals
This important first step will ensure that, even as learners trace their own learning journeys, these paths reflect the goals of your organization.
You must have a clear idea of the results you want to see. To get to this point, know how much time your learners can devote to their training, how much you are willing to spend on continuous learning and, most importantly, what you want your learners to learn.
2. Blend learning
Offer a variety of learning methods, and combine formal, informal and on-the-job training opportunities. Develop a program tailored specifically to the needs of your workforce, and choose a learning platform where learners can consult job-aids, read documents, watch videos, partake in workshops, take online courses, etc.
3. Create a learning environment
Internal communication will be key to ensuring your continuous learning program is a success.
Ensure your chosen LMS supports a number of learning models that allow you to create an environment of learning and collaboration, and appeal to the unique preferences of your learners by offering reading, seminars, discussion boards, webinars, and so on.
Giving options to your learners, and creating an environment where experimentation and growth are prioritized will encourage continuous learning.
4. Encourage learners
Learners should be encouraged to participate in self-assessment, and objectively consider their own performance. This will help them think more strategically about their strengths and weaknesses, and seek out ways to fill the gaps in their knowledge, or tune up their skills.
Self-assessment has been shown to increase ownership in a learning program, and thereby keep learners motivated and engaged.
5. Empower Learners
Individualized learning paths can help motivate your workforce to engage in continuous learning. You may consider including optional learning resources in a learner's learning path, intended specifically for continuous learning.
Individualized learning paths allow learners to choose what method of learning works best for them. Giving a learner control over their own training will empower them to continue in their training, and prevent boredom from setting in.
Monitor learners only as much as necessary, and ensure that they know where to ask for help when they need it.
6. Leverage LMS Features
Engaged learners will be more likely to take part in a training program, leading to greater success in continuous learning.
Look for an LMS that offers features such as gamification, badges and mobile learning. These features present learners with new challenges, and instant gratification, and prevent them from "tuning out" and becoming unmotivated. Similarly, consider features that allow users to collaborate and engage in dialogue through forums with other users.
In this article, we have defined continuous learning, and presented its three main benefits. We also presented you with six tips to better engage your learners in continuous learning. Continually learning new skills and improving on existing skillsets allows learners to grow in their roles and become happier (and more productive!). So, it's no longer a question of can you afford to do this, rather, can you afford not to.
So what's next? Check out How to Conduct a Training Needs Analysis to help you determine where knowledge or skills need improvement and where they are missing entirely in your organization.
Jill is an Instructional Designer at BaseCorp Learning Systems with more than 10 years of experience researching, writing and designing effective learning materials. She is fascinated by the English language and enjoys the challenge of adapting her work for different audiences. After work, Jill continues to leverage her professional experience as she works toward the development of a training program for her cats. So far, success has not been apparent.