At what point in a career does learning stop? Hopefully, never! Most business and technical professionals realize that becoming proficient in a job and becoming more capable over time requires continuous learning. But this can be difficult for employers to support, particularly in a hybrid work environment. Here’s why…
The Business Challenge
According to research, 70% of employees feel inadequately trained for their current job. What’s more, 74% feel they could benefit from additional training. Yet, the U.S. economy loses an estimated $550 billion a year from workforce disengagement, due in part to a lack of learning opportunities.
Training is critical for employee retention. And retention is critical for organizational success, especially in difficult economic times when companies need to accomplish more with less. But in the wake of the pandemic, hybrid work is becoming more widespread, which further complicates employee development. It’s no longer enough to rely on classic learning strategies based on in-person classroom training, seminars, and conferences.
Although hybrid work creates new challenges for employee training, it also opens the door to fresh thinking. Effective training in a hybrid work environment requires an organization-wide learning culture that ensures equitable opportunities for in-person, remote, and hybrid workers, alike. That’s a tall order, but these ideas can help:
What is a Learning Culture?
“Learning culture” is a simple concept. It’s an understanding that professional growth and development are integral to daily work life and success. It’s also an active commitment to continuous improvement among individuals and teams within an organization.
A strong learning culture encourages and rewards people for developing and sharing knowledge and skills. That’s why employee training is often seen as a benefit, alongside retirement savings accounts, paid family leave, or medical and dental coverage. But a true learning culture isn’t just a perk. It’s a way of thinking and doing that enhances work experiences, while paving the way for future advancement.
This commitment is clearly good for employees — but it’s also good for business. In fact, statistics show that organizations with a strong learning culture enjoy 24% higher profit margins, on average. Also successful companies are nearly 5x more likely to have a healthy learning culture. So it’s worth the effort to improve the way your organization develops employee capabilities.
Despite the simplicity of this concept, a learning culture can be difficult to manage. In fact, ATD estimates that only 31% of organizations have a culture of learning. And now, as hybrid work environments take hold, fostering this kind of culture is becoming even tougher. Why?
The Social Learning Hurdle
Hybrid work complicates learning cultures because it introduces a different mode of remote engagement. This is a problem because many organizations still rely on more traditional methods of informal learning — what psychologist Albert Bandura called “social learning.” Specifically, he notes:
“Most human behavior is learned observationally through modeling. From observing others, one forms an idea of how new behaviors are performed. This coded information serves as a guide for action.”
In other words, we learn how to do our jobs largely by watching others perform similar tasks. As we watch, we pay attention to their expectations and responses, as well as the behaviors of others in our environment.
This is relatively easy to accomplish when people are located at the same place. But when work involves a mix of in-person, remote and hybrid experiences, social learning manifests itself in different ways. This can create problems — especially when our location is determined by factors like commute distance or personal preference, rather than our work role. Ultimately, these unpredictable work patterns can lead to social learning barriers and disconnects across an organization.
To attract and retain top talent, employers need to create a cohesive culture that overcomes these barriers by making continuous learning opportunities and reinforcement available wherever people are located.
Training Resources For Hybrid Work Settings
Bandura was clearly on to something with his social learning theory. Humans are social animals. We learn best from exposure to great teachers, whether they’re formal instructors, informal mentors, or peers. Keep this in mind when developing a training strategy for any hybrid environment. You don’t want to sacrifice the power of human interaction by focusing solely on classic modes of online learning, like asynchronous self-guided training modules. Otherwise you risk disconnecting people from one another.
Where should you focus instead? Hybrid is the keyword here. Invest in next-generation training experiences that bring in-office and remote workers together, with social learning as the glue. For example, consider these resources:
1. e-Learning platforms that support instructor-led breakout sessions, advanced gamification functionality, and in-training assessment and analysis. These capabilities support richer social experiences than isolated on-demand training modules.
2. VR and metaverse technologies that make it possible to create three-dimensional virtual spaces where social learning participants can engage within a shared digital environment.
3. Tools that enhance popular web meeting tools. For example, the Adobe Connect open architecture lets industry partners extend the platform’s core capabilities. Extensions include custom pods, learning management system integration, advanced authentication, login functionality, and much more.
4. Discussion and collaboration tools that function as standalone products or as features you can integrate into a learning management system.
5. Social tools that work within a digital learning environment to supplement and reinforce traditional onsite and online training. For example, Adobe Learning Manager offers built-in social learning tools that make it easy to informally share ideas, content and meaningful insights before, during or after people complete a course.
Supporting Learning Engagement in a Hybrid Work Environment
Of course, identifying helpful hybrid learning tools is one thing, but providing a culture that drives engagement and performance improvement is another. Here are some useful ideas:
1. Proactively encourage all team members to pursue learning opportunities on a regular basis. For example, allocate a particular number of hours each week to the pursuit of development goals. By making resources accessible across devices, platforms and locations, you can enable people to participate at their convenience.
2. Acknowledge and reward team members for the time and energy they invest in learning. This can take the form of financial incentives or team dinners. Even something as simple as a Slack shout-out can boost motivation when employees achieve development milestones.
3. Knowledge sharing is essential for a healthy learning culture. And when team members are rewarded for sharing knowledge, they become more invested in the learning process. So don’t overlook the deep expertise already available within your ranks. Think about how to empower individuals as subject matter experts. Establish methods for people to create, promote and recommend content, so you can get everyone more invested in collaborative learning, even across hybrid teams.
4. Measurement matters in any learning endeavor, so you can determine baseline benchmarks and track progress over time. Digital systems can automatically track training engagement, progress and completions. But you’ll want to track other metrics as well. For example, think ahead about the kind of feedback you want to gather from team discussions, post-learning quizzes, and organization-wide surveys. All of these can help you determine learning effectiveness and map the way forward.
5. Better culture starts with better conversations — especially in a hybrid work environment. That means open feedback channels are essential. What works? What doesn’t? How can your organization improve hybrid learning experiences? Be sure to involve team members in the process of planning, evaluating and evolving their learning journey, for more successful outcomes, all around.