The changing paradigm of learning

07 of February of 2022

The world of work is constantly changing due to disruptive business models arising, technology and automation, globalisation, teleworking… So much so that the World Economic Forum states that “while some jobs are threatened by redundancy and others are growing rapidly, existing jobs are also undergoing a change in the skill sets required to perform them”. Having said this, this transformation process represents a great opportunity, since it implies the creation of many jobs that do not exist today, even entire industries.

This process of transformation in the world of work also implies a very important paradigm shift in learning. Creating a learning culture within the organisation is an effective way to improve performance and innovation. So, gone are the days when we took classroom-based instruction for granted as the standard way of delivering learning actions. Learning is now:

  • Continuous. “Life-long learning for a life-long success”, they say. Continuous learning is the process of learning new skills and knowledge on an on-going basis. To innovate, to try a new process, or to do something new all requires learning. People need to learn new knowledge or skills to see things in a new light and take that next leap. When organizations do not support a continual process of learning, innovation does not happen, processes remain unchanged, and nothing new is ever accomplished.
  • Practice. It is estimated that 70% of what we learn is through experience and practice. Learning does not happen only in the classroom or in courses. In fact, it is estimated that only 10% of what we learn is done in a formal learning environment. It is now about seeking new experience, learning from peers, getting out of your comfort zone.
  • Self-directed. In the last 5 years, there has been an explosion of data and content and enabling technologies, high quality and specialised learning content was proliferating and still is. This commoditisation of content meant that as a learner, if you knew where to look, you could essentially build any skill on demand from any device in a format that met your needs often free or at no cost. Today, it is necessary for each employee to take the reins of his or her own learning.

So, what role does the Learning & Development (L&D) function of the business play in this transformation?

For learning approaches to be relevant in our fast-changing world, a number of shifts in L&D practice have had to occur.

  • The importance of aligning L&D to business priorities and KPIs. Organisational objectives are now driving the L&D strategy, therefore by listening to the needs of the company, learning initiatives can be designed to be far more targeted. The challenge is that L&D professionals are now having to take on the role of performance consultants collaborating with senior management to identify and analyse business needs so as to deliver more successful interventions that drive their goals.
  • “The digital world is not only reshaping how we live and work but is transforming how L&D is organised, implemented and delivered” (Learning Pool, 2019). This shift is helping companies create a more interactive and stimulating environment for their employees by facilitating collaborations and knowledge-sharing content curation. In response to the changes in the workplace, digital solutions can now offer learners the opportunity to access more dynamic contents from wherever they are, whenever they want, instead of having to make time for face-to-face interventions. Having said this, organisations are not necessarily evolving at the same pace as the technology and the cost of designing and implementing these new solutions is often a barrier.
  • The use of analytics and data is also becoming more and more prevalent for L&D professionals allowing learning to become increasingly informed by metrics instead of guesses. There is a huge amount of data in organisations that should be captured and leveraged to understand the needs and behaviours of their users. These insights can be used to provide a more personal and customised experience for each individual learner, driving employee’s engagement and improving the learning outcomes. The challenge now for organisations is how to find this valuable data and evaluate the results to apply the relevant insights to L&D practice.

In summary, today’s modern workplace is unpredictable, constantly changing, data-driven and embraces technological advances. Therefore, the L&D function must engage their employees and take a learner-centric approach, personalising development and promoting team collaboration in order to achieve the goals of the organisation.

And how are the Ferrovial L&D teams responding to these trend shifts?

Creating a supportive environment that encourages employees to engage in continuous learning takes commitment, resources, and coaching. Some employees will be self-motivated and will take up continuous learning on their own time, but the majority will not have the time or resources to do so. In Ferrovial, we appreciate employees are typically focused on the job or tasks at hand, so to facilitate this process, a number of actions are taking place:

  • As mentioned previously, if we want to improve learning outcomes, personalised learning is the way forward. To do this, we have been carrying out a number of activities to listen to our employees’ needs, from surveys to focus groups to short secondments in different areas of the business. With all of this data and information, we have been able to carry out a more defined curation of contents for the key roles in the business from the learning platforms available. Our goal with this type of activity is to have learners who are pleased with their interaction with the material and are better at their job.
  • Taking into consideration the business needs, and in collaboration with business leaders, we are in the process of creating the professional paths for each key profile / business function. We are asking ourselves:
    • How does an entry-level employee advance through roles?
    • What horizontal moves are necessary or could be an option?
    • How can we accommodate different personality types?
    • Can our employees advance up the ladder with what they have?

With this final question, comes the learning and development plans. This activity has already been started for profiles such as superintendents, contract managers and project directors and now we are starting to look at other, more transversal roles.

  • We have adopted a PUSH<>PULL approach to learning. There will be some learning actions which will form part of the curriculum and we will be inviting our employees to attend more formal trainings. There will also be more pull-based opportunities, meaning they will have access at the point of need and find compressed nuggets of content that can help them with specific tasks or workflow. As a learner, this method gives them more control, accessing and digesting the information right when they need it without having to jump several hurdles before getting to it.

With all of this said, the key message we are encouraging across the business to create a life-long learning culture is that it is the responsibility of the company to facilitate the on-going learning process to ensure its competitiveness, but it is also the responsibility of the employee to develop continuous learning to ensure their employability. They have control to pave their own path as it will not always be a straight line, so we encourage them to discover their own way with the development opportunities that are at their disposal.

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