The Future of Work Is Learning, Part 1: Why Once-and-Done Doesn't Cut It Anymore

The other day I met with a new employee that we are onboarding. He and I discussed whether he should work on learning the current version of Microsoft .NET Framework; we both knew a newer version is in development. He quickly concluded that he would learn both versions because, he said, there is always going to be a newer release in the works.

That's when a moment of clarity came to me: his approach reflects the ever-changing landscape of work and its relationship to learning.

There was a time when the knowledge one acquired early in a career could be relied upon for years to come. Today, however, every aspect of work is coupled with learning. No longer can our learning be complacent. Whether it's the latest research that's promoting a new best practice or leading-edge technology that pushes the efficiency envelope, if it affects a company's competitive standing, it affects us too.

In this blog post—the first in a series of three—I want to explore how work and learning are becoming more dependent on each other. Because the nature of our work is rapidly evolving, the necessity of learning the next set of skills is now more important than ever.

Then, in my next two posts, I'll discuss in more detail:

  • The effect of the digital age on learning content
  • How automating routine tasks will redefine work

But first, let me get back to the connection between today's evolving work environment and why we need to continuously learn.

It's time for a paradigm shift. Instead of employees seeing themselves as makers of cogs, they must now see themselves as the cogs — as an integral part of the success of a company.

Instead of their performance being evaluated based on how many cogs they produce, their value to their organization will be measured by their knowledge, their wisdom, their competence, their leadership and their ability to solve problems. The question becomes "how do we provide learners with what they need to be successful in today's work environment?"

Traditionally, learning has focused on three core areas: the organization, the content and the technology.

Most organizations have focused a considerable amount of time, resources and passion into their learning content. They've invested in superior technology that far surpasses anything previously offered. And yet, there's a crucial, missing part of the learning equation: the learner.

As learning and development experts, we need to ask a tough question: How do we meet our learner's unique challenges, with the content and technology that's right for them, while driving them toward a place where the individual and organizational learning collide?

I say it's time to put learners at the center of our learning strategy and empower them to make their own learning decisions. It's time to provide learners with the tools that will put them in command of their learning, giving them a personalized experience that they are already accustomed to in today's technology- and socially-driven world.

Think about this simple analogy: I have a notepad over here. I have book over there. I have my phone. I have my computer. What's out there that can help me pull all this information together so that I can provide value to my company?

Stay tuned for my next blog on the effect of the digital age on learning content.

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