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    3 Keys to Embracing a Culture of Self-Directed Learning in the Workplace

    Lifelong learning is now more important than ever. Technology has brought about many changes in the workplace, and those companies that don’t adapt at the speed of change risk being left behind. 

    The Future of Jobs 2020 Report by The World Economic Forum revealed:

    • Skills gaps continue to be high as in-demand skills across jobs change in the next five years.
    • The top skills that employers see as rising in prominence in the lead-up to 2025 include critical thinking and analysis as well as problem-solving, and skills in self-management such as active learning and flexibility.
    • On average, companies estimate that around 40% of workers will require reskilling and 94% of business leaders report that they expect employees to pick up new skills on the job, a sharp uptake from 65% in 2018.
    • A significant expansion of remote work is expected in the next few years— employers see the potential to move 44% of their workforce to operate remotely.
    • Since the pandemic started, online learning is on the rise. There has been a four-fold increase in the number of individuals seeking out opportunities for learning online through their own initiative, a five-fold increase in employer provision of online learning opportunities to their workers, and a nine-fold enrolment increase for learners accessing online learning through government programs.
    • 50% of employers will speed up the automation of tasks, while over 80% are set to expand the digitization of their work processes. In other words, jobs will disappear, and new jobs will surge. Specifically, they predict around 85 million roles are set to be displaced by automation and 97 million new jobs will emerge by 2025.

    All these shifts happening so fast require employees to take greater control over their learning journey and at the same time, require leaders to act fast to ensure workers have the right information at the right moment. 

    A lifelong learning approach cannot be forced. That's why there's a huge opportunity for leaders in companies to focus their L&D efforts on empowering employees to embrace lifelong learning and promoting self-directed learning. In the end, not only companies are the ones that will receive benefits for this... lifelong, self-directed employees are the ones who will thrive in a rapidly changing world.

    Prioritizing self-directed learning and embedding it into a well-integrated ecosystem is key to developing adaptive and flexible workers that are prepared to navigate uncertain times and the future of work. 

    A lifelong learning approach cannot be forced. 

    Lifelong, self-directed employees are the ones who will thrive in a rapidly changing world.

    What is Self-Directed Learning (SDL) and How to Encourage Workers to Pursue It

    Most adults recognize the need to continue learning and developing new skills, but they may be used to the traditional compliance-based learning imposed by companies. Self-directed learning takes a different approach, and some workers are still reluctant to get onboard. 

    SDL begins with awareness of your own educational deficiencies. You must know what you want to achieve, what you need to learn to reach that goal, and how you can go about learning it. You must also know when you have gained the knowledge you need. All this requires discernment and motivation. Our role as L&D professionals is to provide the necessary support and mentorship during the process

    Malcolm Knowles, the father of adult learning theory, defined self-directed learning as a process "in which individuals take the initiative, with or without the help of others, in diagnosing their learning needs, formulating learning goals, identifying human and material resources for learning, choosing and implementing appropriate learning strategies, and evaluating those learning outcomes."

    Self-directed learning is much more than just an approach to education. Instead, it’s a new way of life. - Novoed

    There are some key actions employers and L&D leaders can implement to motivate employees to pursue self-directed and continuous learning

    We’ll discuss each of these in detail:

    1) Urge Employees to Set Goals for Themselves

    Goal setting helps workers identify what they should learn and how they should go about getting the knowledge.

    Some workers will know exactly what they want out of their careers but not all will be sure about what they want to do. Some may also be resistant to the idea of not having an instructor guide them every step of the way during a course. As a learning and development professional, you may need to spend some time educating those in the latter category about how to set goals and pursue the relevant training. You may also need to stress the importance of lifelong learning in today’s environment. This article from The eLearning Coach is an excellent resource for hesitant learners or those with misconceptions about SDL.

    You must ensure that learners set realistic goals that benefit them as individuals and as part of your team. Provide them with resources that can help them to choose conferences, workshops, and seminars that would be beneficial to their careers. Offer guidance but allow them to choose on their own.

    You should also give clear directions and establish proper learning objectives. Learners who enroll in self-directed courses for the first time will not know what to expect or how to work through the course on their own. They will benefit from advice on how much time they should spend on readings, assignments, and quizzes. If they know how online courses work, they will be a lot less worried about the experience. Learners also benefit from knowing how the course relates to their career trajectory. This means they can assess what they’re learning and relate it to their goals.

    Also read: Here’s Everything You Need to Know About Self-Directed Learning at the Workplace


    2) Provide Micro Learning Opportunities During the Flow of Work 

    Self-directed learning places the onus on employees but you should still create a supportive environment.

    Learning benefits, not just the individual, but their department and the entire organization. Therefore, prioritizing continuous learning is key.

    Udemy’s Head of Learning and Development Shelley Osborne said out of 425 employees surveyed in 2017, more than half believed that they would learn more if they had more time to learn at work. She suggested putting learning on the calendar each month and scheduling it at the most popular time. She also recommends letting employees choose what they want to learn. You can ask them to consider their goals when they do this.

    You don’t want learning to seem like a chore or obligation. Remind employees that improving their skills is good for both personal and professional development. Explain that workers who stay on the cutting edge are more likely to climb the corporate ladder. Allow your employees to have fun as they learn and explore their creativity. Also, remind them that failure is part of the learning process and that everything won’t go as planned.

    Recommended read: How Self-Directed Learning Can Improve Your Workplace


    3) Reduce Learning Friction

    You can also support a self-directed learning culture by offering workers more flexibility, a greater sense of autonomy, and control over their learning. 

    For instance:

    • Allow people to choose their own learning paths - let them decide where they want to start learning and how quickly they want to progress. 

    • Give learners multiple opportunities to access the courses - free them to learn wherever it’s convenient.

    • Empower workers to set their own training schedules based on organizational priorities(when possible).

    This may seem like a lot of freedom but employees who see the value of learning will be eager to work through the exercises. Adult learners don’t typically want to be spoon-fed by instructors so they will enjoy being able to study when it’s most convenient for them.

    It is also important to track user behavior and take feedback into consideration. Instructors take note of which lessons are most sought after and which ones many learners skip. They should also look at the time of day which is the most popular and the types of materials that get the most engagement. They can use this information to inform future versions of the course.

    Recommended reads:

    Workers are increasingly expected to play an active role in their education. They need to identify their career goals and find learning opportunities that will help them to reach those goals. Both learning and development professionals and eLearning course creators must ensure they offer support when necessary while encouraging independence. This will help to ensure employees are equipped to handle the uncertain and ever-changing future of work.

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    Diana Cohen
    Diana Cohen
    Education Writer | eLearning Expert | EdTech Blogger. Creativa, apasionada por mi labor, disruptiva y dinámica para transformar el mundo de la formación empresarial.

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