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Staying Ahead of the Learning Curve

By Michael Sabbag , Director Of Training and Development, SIXT


Michael Sabbag , Director Of Training and Development, SIXT

Each day, there are a significant number of changes to which we are exposed. While some are just interesting to see, others can impact our lives. For example, how many of us used self-checkout five years ago? Now, according to the PYMNTS Self-Service Kiosk Report, 49 percent of American consumers use them on a regular basis. The need to keep up with the blinding pace of change has caused employee development to be of greater importance than ever before.

In response to this, the training profession is continuously evolving to meet peoples’ development needs. There are three trends in how the training profession is transforming itself. These include:

• From development as an event to learning in the flow of work

• From development in large chunks to micro-learning

• From development by human guides to technology-driven

Learning in the Flow of Work

In the past, there was a clear distinction between learning and performing. When one wanted to improve their capabilities, he or she would go to class. Otherwise, a person was expected to perform by doing their job. Training could be a classroom event, webinar, or another formal modality, but was something people attended.

As we look at our current environment, people have less time to attend a training “event”. This has caused the training profession to examine ways people can learn while they’re working rather than away from work.

Enabling learning in the flow of work makes sense once people have a basic level of proficiency. For example, you wouldn’t expect a new AccountsReceivable employee to just figure out how to use the finance software at your company. However, to get beyond the basic level of knowing how to, for example, process an invoice the employee can learn additional functionality in the moment when it matters most. Following this example, the employee could download a job aid on assigning costs to multiple departments or view a simulation on navigating the software to correct errors made during early steps in the process. 

Learning in the flow of work presents some significant benefits. First, people are learning exactly how to do something they need to do the moment they need that capability. They will then immediately put that to use and improve their performance on their own. Second, their development is relevant and meaningful to them, so they are engaged. Also, it doesn’t require coaching or someone to train them. However, the resources available for learning in the flow of work can be leveraged to enhance formal learning, coaching, and technology-driven development.

"Enabling learning in the flow of work makes sense once people have a basic level of proficiency"


With the time pressures many of us experience, scheduling training is just one of the development challenges we face. Even when we don’t need to get away, we may not be able to devote an hour to taking an eLearning course or attending a webinar. Also, the workforce demographics are changing. According to some estimates, millennials will make up three-fourths of the workforce by 2025. The trend of developing micro-learning is largely driven by the fact that their attention span is around 90 seconds.

Recognizing this, there is a current trend to chunk things down into small units that are specific to a step in a task and can be taken in two to five minutes. This trend enables people to be in control of their own learning deciding what they want to learn and when they want to learn it. The topic may be relevant for a current task and done in the flow of work or done to develop future capabilities during a break.

Units may be combined to accomplish all the steps in a task or remain separate representing a single step or small task. These can be offered prescriptively (through coaching or an artificial intelligence tool) or self-selected for use the moment it’s needed.

Technology-driven Development

No matter how learning is developed or sourced, the technology available today is enabling development independent of human intervention. Artificial intelligence (AI) will continue to emerge as a method of helping people develop in a personalized and prescriptive way.

The use of AI in development is best illustrated through an example. Imagine you arrive at work and after chatting with your peers and starting your computer, you get a prompt from a virtual coach on your smart phone. She is asking if you had a chance to read an article that she sent the previous day. Since you completed that assignment, she asks a few questions about it and suggest a short video that may help with your current development need. These needs were identified by your virtual coach through an assessment you completed the prior month.

There are many factors that have come together resulting in technology being at the state where it can guide learning. Some of these are driven by need such as the speed with which people must learn new tasks, “opportunities to learn and grow” being a top driver of engagement, and people’s desire for development that is meaningful and customized for their specific needs. Other factors include the wealth of development opportunities available in a simple web search, the ability of AI programs to process large amounts of data and determine what would be most useful to an individual in the moment of need, and the human-like experience of bots driving acceptance and usability. These converging factors have led us to a point where continuous AI driven development will become natural and common in the coming years.

Getting There

It’s important to not just know these trends but to incorporate them into your training and development strategy. Staying ahead of the curve will allow you leverage opportunities and drive greater business results. This requires organizations to change their culture and thinking. They must focus on providing opportunities for continual and seamless learning and development and to take a more development-centric approach in working with people. This is critical because the path to profits is wholly dependent on your people.

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