How to tackle learning on the digital work floor differently

Jun 01, 2021
  • people

Learning on the digital work floor? Why is it such a struggle? How can it be tackled differently? We take a peek inside the head of Dimitri Roman, lead expert continuous learning at delaware. His advice: have the courage to be your own honest critic when evaluating learning in your organization. Stop recycling existing methods. Opt for the novel approach, and, why not, integrate learning in people’s daily lives.

Dimitri Roman: “Let’s go back in time. How did we learn on the work floor in the ‘past’? Via the conventional ‘formal’ learning methods, as in a trainer who transferred their know-how in a structured and systematic way, in front of the (digital) classroom. We also picked up knowledge ‘informally’, via books, Google and learning management systems. Lastly, we learned via a ‘social’ channel: through a colleague next to us who executed a certain task, something we felt compelled to pick up ability for. This last form of learning was very important indeed but at the same time entailed a hidden cost. The expert, paid for their particular scope of work, wasn’t actually doing what they were paid for during a moment of knowledge transfer, which took place one-on-one and was not logged.”

This was the daily modus operandi in connected professional environments.

Today, for the most part, working remotely has become the norm. A trend accelerated of course by COVID-19, but in fact present prior to the pandemic, in international businesses, for instance.

So how to go about this?

Formal ways of learning take place in a synchronous and asynchronous process. For informal learning, we turn to Google & Co, or one of the many learning catalogues such as LinkedIn Learning and Skillsoft. These digital platforms offer a wealth of knowledge sources. Research however shows hardly anyone is using them – numbers indicate maximum 7% of the work force does so. Such catalogues complement formal learning in classrooms, many a time webinar after webinar, something Dimitri Roman sees as outdated, as recycling old tools and methods.

So, is combining classroom learning with such catalogue, compiling this in a ‘learning program’ the way forward? Again, we learnt that only a fraction of employees completes such programmes, because they are totally on their own throughout the entire process.
assigning key users in change processes is only a good idea if these people are held in high esteem within the organization
Dimitri Roman, Lead expert continuous learning at delaware

Exit social learning

That’s exactly the crux of it all, according to Dimitri. In our digital offices, ‘social learning’ has disappeared.

Dimitri: “In order to fully understand the mechanism behind social learning, I like to refer to Albert Bandura’s social learning theory. In the sixties, he ran experiments that showed how children apply social learning, by emulating the behavior of adults. Adults work the same way. The mechanism behind this behavior is the fact we look up to certain people. Assigning key users in change processes is only a good idea if these people are held in high esteem within the organizsation.” How do we facilitate the return of social learning in a digital working environment? To Dimitri, the answer is evident: “By integrating it in the social environment of your employees. Where do they live ‘digitally’? That varies from business to business; in some instances, this might be MS Teams or Slack, but it could also be Facebook or WhatsApp. Incorporate that environment in your learning architecture. Social learning will be most efficient in that spot. One tip: choose just one domain. Microsoft fans tend to go for MS Teams, Salesforce users prefer Slack.

This doesn’t have to mean the end of your LMS. An LMS, such as SAP SuccessFactors, is a platform you can still use as admin back office, to manage compliance, to track progress and reporting…. But it is no longer the correct interface for the employee experience. These days, employee experience is part of the digital workplace of our employees, with a direct connection to the LMS.”

Advantages of learning in the social domain

Within the system, you can create channels and groups. Employees can connect prior to the event, whereas trainers and coaches are able to interact before, during and after the training. All content is registered and readily available for consultation afterwards. That is how social learning becomes measurable.

This way, you also bring social learning to the forefront. By asking to complete and post a certain task, its content and interactions are visible to the entire learning community. You can incentivize with rewards and certificates, possibly even introduce several levels.

The ‘classroom’ or the learning channel door does not close within the social context. When, after a while, new updates are available, you follow the same flow and share the new material with the intended learning community. Continuous learning guaranteed.

Dimitri: “Learning leadership is an important concept, which acts as a trigger. Leaders can act as trainer, and the same goes for team managers and team members – those people who are appreciated for their expertise. Learning takes place in teams, teacher becomes pupil, pupil becomes teacher. Social learning is all about doing. Trying. Posting actions. Reacting. Peer pressure forces you to engage. Be sure though to ask for commitment at the start of the process. You do not make it mandatory, but you make people think why they want to take part in the learning process. Setting up projects where you blend synchronous and asynchronous formal learning with informal and social learning, comes with a price tag. But it makes learning people-centric again. The momentum is here, but in the words of Albert Einstein: ‘Learning is an experience, everything else is information’.”

Next step? Learning in the flow of life

What you get out of learning will become even more valuable when you actually extract the learning out of the professional context and create a fit within people’s daily lives.

Dimitri uses a simple example to illustrate this: “Suddenly, you find yourself working from home. Catching up with colleagues happens via Teams. You learn to use it, with ups and downs. Then, you decide to implement Teams for the meetings of your service club, to make sure these can still take place. Take a guess: who is now the Teams expert? Another example: a ‘conventional’ compliance training on phishing mails in an e-learning module, which in reality you casually flick through. What could be the impact if, before the formal learning event, we would effectively send a phishing mail that virtually blocks your (home) PC? What way would have been most effective to learn: the click training or the ‘real life’ experience?

Learning in the flow of life is an extremely powerful concept. It entails an individual to contemplate on the learning gains for them on an individual level, which in turn will contribute to the organization’s growth. This idea will indeed appeal to the younger generations as well, since generation Y and Z don’t have a job, they have a life.”

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