We’d all agree that the world seems to be transforming faster than ever before. With changes to technology, to how we work and the work we are doing, we need “the skills to retrain again and again” to be able to survive.
Lifelong learning is now part of UK government policy, to help businesses respond to change. Big corporations, too, acknowledge the importance of harnessing the potential of workers at all stages of their careers.
So how can lifelong learning help organisations thrive?
Lifelong learning is an attitude: a voluntary and self-motivated conscious pursuit of knowledge and skills. Alongside this are common elements which, if encouraged and facilitated, can boost productivity, improve employee engagement and increase organisational capability. It’s a way to future-proof and to increase innovation.
One key aspect is self-directed learning; allowing employees to take control of their own learning through deciding what they should learn and why they should learn it.
It gives an employee a sense of choice and ownership and can reward the organisation with greater innovation and loyalty. This isn’t pandering, as learning will usually be job-related and discussed with a (hopefully supportive) line manager.
Another aspect of lifelong learning is that it can happen anywhere – experiential learning is just as valid as formal or informal training.
Work based learning can be especially effective, with one major report suggesting that people who had undertaken a work-based learning programme required less formal training and had more and broader skills than other recruits.
Arguably the vital element of lifelong learning – and one that is commonly underused in more formal learning – is reflection.
Learning through experience is important but reflecting on that experience is key to understanding the deliberate aspect of lifelong learning. Reflection unlocks its full potential. Action on its own is not enough, but “reflecting on what you’ve done teaches you to do it better next time.”
Giving staff time and support to reflect on their experience, to consider what went well and what they could do better squeezes every last drop of usefulness out of any learning experience. Even where experiences have not been successful, reflecting on “failures” contributes to a growth mindset, which itself encourages experimentation, innovation and business agility.
Every organisation, large or small, has a wide pool of useful knowledge that has the potential to give that organisation the competitive edge. But many organisations work in silos – either cultural or structural – that prevent people from sharing their knowledge. A culture of lifelong learning can help to unlock that tacit knowledge. A business that expects staff to build their own knowledge networks and gives them the tools to do so – space to go talk to people, decent social intranet like Slack or online project sharing like Kanban, the culture that says it’s OK to be away from your desk – can go a long way to release that useful knowledge. Sharing knowledge is even more important when it’s about technology: if you’ve a mixed staff of Baby Boomers, Gen X and Millennials, then each will have a different life experience of technology and it’s vital to bring everyone up to speed.
Managers as coaches
How your employees develop as lifelong learners depends on the quality of your managers. A manager who has the ability and desire to coach their staff will help develop them as effective learners. A manager’s coaching role can include deciding with their staff what skills the staff need to develop; debriefing their staff after training – which helps to reinforce learning; giving staff opportunities to practise new skills or to stretch themselves in challenging situations. Something as simple as accompanying a manager in higher-level meetings can be a stretching experience. And, of course, managers need coaches, too. Coaching practised from the top down is a great start to building a lifelong learning culture.
Lifelong learning is a cultural shift rather than a process, but you’ll recognise when a business has one. It’ll have managers at all levels on board; the space and tools to facilitate communication; an attitude that embraces failure as growth and it’ll recognise everything as a learning opportunity. The current accelerating rate of political, social, economic and technical change means that lifelong learning is no longer a nice-to-have option. It’s vital for survival.
Does your plan to foster life-long learning in your organisation involve training? Contact Euromoney Learning Solutions to discuss in-company training programmes that can be tailored to your organisation and goals.
About the Author
Abby works as the Communications Team Lead for findcourses.co.uk with a mission of connecting learning leaders with the data and information they need to provide the best training possible for their people.
Originally from Indianapolis in the U.S., Abby studied her bachelor’s at Hanover College in Business and Literature and has worked for findcourses since 2015. She is passionate about corporate learning and works internally to help organise Learning at Work Week within findcourses.co.uk's company of 165 team members, and provide and source external training in content creation as an in-house expert.
Abby is also the creator and editor of the UK L&D Report which interviews and surveys L&D leaders from top UK companies to help uncover data-driven best practice and easy-to-implement advice.