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How Continuous Learning Can Work in Your Organization: Insights from Our Original Research

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Erin Cushing
on August 10, 2016

This summer, we launched our second original research project to measure continuous learning trends among large and enterprise organizations. Are these programs being used at all? How are they structured? And most importantly, are they effective?

We received 509 responses from individuals from companies ranging from 1,000 employees to 10,000 or more employees, and what we’ve found is that 75.6% of our respondents are implementing continuous learning in some way – with varying degrees of success. Here, we discuss three main elements we explored relating to continuous learning, and what you should take away from our findings and apply to your own organization.

Continuous Learning Program Structure and Effectiveness

Continuous learning is meant to enable employees to develop and improve their skills and knowledge. When implemented correctly, continuous learning empowers employees to perform effectively, adapt to changes in the workplace, and develop into the future leaders the organization will need. However, for the majority of our respondents, continuous learning programs are focused on helping employees focus on the present, not the future. 57.9% of respondents state that their continuous learning program is structured to improve employees’ skills and competencies for their current roles. Additionally, 45% state that improving employee performance in current positions is a main program goal, as opposed to the 42% that say their program’s goal is to help employees develop or grow into a new role, such as a promotion. Companies’ investments in continuous learning seem to be paying off – 53.4% of respondents were able to attribute improvements in their work performance to their participation in a continuous learning program.

What these results suggest is that many organizations are currently using continuous learning as an aide to performance management; as such, the best next-generation learning systems should enable organizations to access and incorporate employee performance data in order to better help employees, managers, and the owner of the learning program better develop individualized learning plans. However, with the right technology partner, organizations can support multiple learning goals, such as improve short-term employee performance and develop high-potential employees into leaders. The learning management software would have to be able to access full talent profile data and host a robust library of content that serves multiple purposes, from skills and compliance acquisition to leadership courses.

Continuous Learning Tools and Technologies

There is an extensive but still not exhaustive list of the tools and technologies our survey respondents use to facilitate continuous learning. Live courses, seminars, and conferences are still popular learning techniques, but next-generation learning programs aim to bolster these learning events with more frequent and informal learning opportunities. In particular, on the job training (60.5%), and on the job mentoring and coaching (51.7%) are useful ways to continue instilling skills and lessons.

These techniques make use of your organization’s best resource; its experienced workers. There is also more than one way to utilize these people resources. Digital Learning – using video, social networks, podcasts, and next-generation technologies to connect employees to their entire workforce, can empower your workforce to access a wealth of experience and information that they might not have available to them regularly. For example, remote workers who might not be in the office every day, but who have decades of experience, can be available to younger workers through social networks for quick, informal instruction. Employees can also create and share instructional videos that viewers can access on demand as needed. Digital learning is the tool that allows organizations to better leverage their people to facilitate true informal, continuous learning. Investing in a learning management system that offers digital learning tools is a great way to maximize the value of your people resources and train your younger workers in ways that they best respond to. Over 40% of our respondents are implanting digital learning tools to connect and empower employees.

Continuous Learning and Leadership Development

While it might not be the most pressing goal of continuous learning programs today, leadership development is a critically important task for organizations. While they might not be using continuous learning specifically to foster future leaders, 41.7% of our survey respondents have some sort of program in place in their work to identify potential future leaders.

These programs offer a host of benefits for an organization. Aside from filling the leadership talent pipeline, it also helps motivate and retain employees in the short term – 64.2% of respondents stated that mentorship and other career-based learning content makes them feel more engaged with their work and their employer. This engagement, paired with the expertise and opportunities offered in a mentorship program, not only boost individual performance (and by extension, the overall performance of the business), but it also helps increase retention. North American organizations lose 4 billion dollars a year on employee turnover; that’s a lot of time and other resources that could have been saved by the thoughtful and strategic implementation of engaging learning programs. The most innovative organizations should make identifying and fostering future leaders a learning priority.

Want to see more from our original continuous learning research? Download the full research report here

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