Disrupt or be disrupted: Modern employee learning

By Pluralsight    |    December 15, 2017

Visit Fortune, Bloomberg or the Harvard Business Review and you’re seeing them: headlines about digital transformation. Don’t be tricked into thinking this is another buzzword – it’s not. Digital transformation is the top strategic priority for half of executives globally in 2017.

What exactly does digital transformation mean? Ray Wang, principal analyst and founder at Silicon Valley-based firm Constellation Research Inc., defines the term as “the methodology in which organizations transform and create new business models and culture with digital technologies.” We sat down with Ray to discuss how today’s leaders can create a successful digital transformation. This is the fifth post in a six-part series.


Things used to be different.

In the last century, it wasn’t uncommon for people to see learning as an event. You went to university to learn important skills, pursued a job in your relevant field, and then advanced throughout your career.

But times have changed—and today’s workforce no longers sees college education as a one stop shop for a great job. In a recent survey conducted by the Pew Research Center, 87% of workers indicated continuous skill development is essential or important to future career success.

The truth is, learning is a lifelong process, not an event. And that’s more true for technology workers than just about any other group. We have a constant need for learning as software and systems change and improve. We don’t just learn a skill and stop. Organizations simply can’t afford to think that way.

The old approach to education: Boring and broken

Companies have known this for decades, which is why they’ve spent millions of dollars to send employees to conferences and classrooms for certifications and built learning management systems (LMS) to promote training in-house. Managers determined which skills employees needed to acquire, then either sent those employees to training off-site or brought experts in-house to teach.

But this top-down model of outlining a set of lessons to learn or skills to develop doesn’t work very well, because learners weren’t invested in the process. The individual has to want to learn. And too often the skills pushed by the organization weren’t relevant to what employees needed to know.

Perhaps just as importantly, providing this kind of training for new employees as they enter the workforce has become increasingly unaffordable.

Why self-driven skill development works

Today, businesses are rethinking their approach to employee learning. Old LMS systems designed to “push” learning activities to employees have given way to new self-paced formats that allow employees to “pull” the lessons and skills they need, when they need them.

So employees no longer wait weeks or months for conferences or pre-scheduled learning activities between projects. Instead they take personal responsibility for acquiring new skills during a project as questions arise and needs are discovered.

Learning platforms are getting smarter with AI

While employee-driven learning is the trend, often employees need help to identify some of their learning needs. A few tech employees are overconfident in their abilities, believing they have mastered skills when their learning is incomplete. So the learning platforms of the future have algorithmic capabilities like discoverability, assessments and mass personalization.

Thanks to advances in artificial intelligence, learning platforms can predict what employees need to know next. They help identify missing skills and personal learning to fill skill gaps. Then, as employees acquire new skills, assessments can be used to benchmark growth so managers can be confident that learning activites delivered real results.

The mark of modern learning

Training is more effective when students master difficult concepts on their own, by taking an active part in the learning process. When the learner owns the process and determines which skills to focus on, the results are better, the interaction is higher and skills retention increases.

Learning has never been one-size-fits-all. Or a one-time event. We need to get better at learning how to learn. And as more organizations move toward systems where employees can take the lead in their own personal and career development, the results will speak for themselves.

About the author

Pluralsight is the technology skills platform. We enable individuals and teams to grow their skills, accelerate their careers and create the future.