Learning and development have always played a crucial role in helping employees adapt to changing business needs and environments. However, rapid technological advances and changing workplace demographics are transforming the very nature of work and the skills required of the modern workforce.
Today we will explore how learning and development activities will need to evolve to keep pace with these trends in order to build an engaged, skilled, and future-proof workforce.
Embracing Blended Learning Models
A Shift Towards Self-Directed, Blended Learning
Traditional classroom-style training will continue playing an important role. However, learning and development will increasingly emphasize self-directed, blended models that combine online modules, videos, collaborative projects, and on-the-job experiences. There are a few key reasons for this:
Blended models are more scalable and cost-effective for reaching large, global workforces. Employees can access learning anytime, anywhere on computers and mobile devices.
Younger generations entering the workforce have grown up with technology and expect learning resources to be digitally-enabled. Blended models match their natural styles of learning.
Workplace skills are evolving rapidly due to new technologies. Blended models allow continuous, ongoing skill development versus one-time classroom sessions that quickly become outdated.
Real-world, collaborative projects and on-the-job experiences are invaluable for developing critical thinking, problem-solving, and "soft" skills increasingly in demand. Blended models facilitate these types of learning.
For example, technology giant Cisco uses a 70-20-10 blended learning model - 70% consists of on-the-job experiences, 20% involves mentoring and coaching from others, and 10% comprises formal classroom-style training. Employees can access a diverse catalog of online courses and micro-credentials from their internal learning portal.
Adapting Content and Delivery for Online and Mobile Learners
While blended models are the future, simply moving traditional classroom content online is not enough. Learning content and delivery methods must be adapted for online and mobile platforms. This means:
Content should be modularized into short, digestible chunks (5-10 min videos or readings) that can be easily consumed on the go.
Interactive elements like polls, quizzes, and gamification should be used to engage learners and measure comprehension.
Video, infographics, and other visual mediums hold attention better for online learners than walls of text. Multimedia should be leveraged.
Mobile-responsive design and apps allow learners to access content from any device at their convenience versus being tied to a computer.
For example, Anthropic optimizes all its training content for both web and mobile consumption. Videos are kept very short (3-5 min) and are accompanied by knowledge checks. An internal mobile app allows engineers to learn new skills during their commute or breaks. Consumption data shows high engagement levels.
Evolving Skill Sets Through Upskilling and Reskilling
Focusing on Future-Proof Skills
As technologies like AI, robotics, and cloud computing transform industries, routine tasks will increasingly be automated. Therefore, tomorrow's workforce must be equipped with skills that cannot easily be replaced by machines. These include:
Critical thinking and complex problem-solving abilities to navigate ambiguous, creative work.
Strong communication, collaboration, and "soft" skills to work effectively in interdisciplinary, global teams.
Technical skills tied to new and emerging technologies like data science, cybersecurity, and cloud architecture.
Continuous learning skills since required skills will constantly evolve. Employees must be self-directed, lifelong learners.
Upskilling the Current Workforce
Given rapidly changing skill needs, simply hiring new talent is not enough. Organizations must also upskill their current workforces through targeted reskilling and development programs. Some successful upskilling strategies include:
Conducting skill gap analyses to determine specific skills lacking within teams and individuals.
Creating micro-credential/certification programs focused on high-priority skills like Analytics, Project Management, UX Design.
Subsidizing external learning opportunities like online courses and boot camps for employees to develop new skills.
Rotational programs that expose employees to different functions and give hands-on experience with new technologies.
For example, Anthropic runs intensive 8-week internal reskilling boot camps for engineers to transition to AI Safety roles. Engineers can opt-in and spend 20% of their time training without impacting primary duties. Over 90% are successfully reskilled.
Building a Culture of Continuous Learning
Incentivizing Self-Directed Learning
For continuous skill development to take root as a norm, organizations must incentivize and reward self-directed learning beyond formal training requirements. Some tactics include:
Recognition programs that spotlight employees furthering their skills through internal or external learning efforts.
Monetary or time-off rewards for completing skill-building milestones like certifications or nanodegrees.
Considering ongoing learning achievements equally in performance reviews and promotions alongside job duties.
Embedding relevant online courses and resources directly into employees’ day-to-day workflows.
Leaders Modeling Learning-Focused Mindsets
Leaders play a vital role in cultivating a learning-centric culture. To successfully champion continuous skill development:
Leaders must visibly invest in their own learning to gain new perspectives and skills.
They should encourage employees to take calculated risks with new ideas and technologies without fear of failure.
Leaders should facilitate knowledge sharing across teams through discussion forums, internal networking, and mentoring programs.
An environment of psychological safety and trust must exist where asking questions and admitting gaps is accepted.
The overall organization structure and processes should support flexibility, mobility, and boundaryless learning.
As work and skills continuously evolve, the days of one-time training interventions are over. Organizations that view learning as a strategic, ongoing process - and empower their workforces to embrace continuous self-development - will be best prepared to thrive amid disruption. Blended learning models, skills prioritization, upskilling initiatives, and learning-centric cultures will increasingly define the future of talent development. Organizations must adapt quickly to changing needs to build engaged, future-proof workforces.
Jonathan H. Westover, PhD is Chief Academic & Learning Officer (HCI Academy); Chair/Professor, Organizational Leadership (UVU); OD Consultant (Human Capital Innovations). Read Jonathan Westover's executive profile here.