The nature of today’s workplace means that workers are expected to learn constantly or risk falling behind. It’s also clear where learning is going: mobile, collaborative, and maker-centric learning are just some of the big emergent trends. But what are employees actually looking for in education?
The obvious answer to that is a big fat “it depends”: different people, in different fields, and at different stages in their career, want different things.
There are, however, a few educational wants that are universal, or pretty close to it at any rate.
Here are some of them:
While technology means that there are more ways for workers to access education than ever before, many workers still face barriers.
Free courses, for instance, only take you so far. The kind of career advancement that depends on certification often costs money.
Time meanwhile is also a barrier, especially for workers with big family responsibilities.
Companies can alleviate these barriers by providing a continuing education allowance and giving workers time to study.
Another option is to pay for the courses and put them in an open database that employees can use at will. An example of this is AOL’s AOL University programme. You could also give employees dedicated study leave, especially for courses that will benefit the business.
Nothing will turn an employee off a course like feeling that it has no relevance to the advancement of their career.
Naturally, there might be some discord between what an employee thinks is relevant to their career and what a company wants from its employees.
As Marieta Mandoza of AOL Canada points out, one of the best ways to deal with this is for companies to make employees “the CEOs of their careers”.
“They determine their ‘career sparks’ (what drives them) and your organisation provides them with education and opportunities to help them develop and grow,” she writes.
Of course, there is some serious variance in this by industry. According to a Forrester whitepaper:
IT professionals are among the most narrowly focused, with 73% showing interest in an IT-related opportunity. Interest in specific training related to their job role is at 64% among finance/accounting employees, and 51% among sales professionals. Only 36% of HR professionals and 34% of marketing/PR employees indicated interest in training related directly to their current field.
Even with company time and funding, it can be all too easy for employees to lose interest in a course. This is especially true when it comes to mandatory training (hint: if all you’re doing is sticking people in a classroom and turning a video on, you’re probably doing it wrong).
Fortunately, there are a raft of new education providers aiming to bring enjoyment and engagement back into employee education.
In the online space, for instance, 42Courses uses gamification to help people learn about everything from behavioural economics to fintech and the Internet of Things.
And in the real world, design consultancies such as Inquisition use challenge-based education models to help companies make experimentation and continuous learning part of company culture.
According to a 2014 Forrester report, employees are open to both degree and certification programmes and are interested in furthering their education for a number of reasons. These range from increased earning potential, to achieving a better work-life balance and pursuing interests in a type of work they aren’t currently schooled in.
Given those different wants and needs, surely it makes sense to allow employees to tailor when and how they learn.
There may be exceptions that everyone has to nail down within a certain period, but remember the ideal is to have employees be the CEOs of their own education.
The best a company can do is make a variety of resources available, from online courses to boardrooms for group-based learning.
Just as employees don’t want to have what they can learn dictated to them, they also don’t want to have where and when they learn dictated to them.
According to Forrester, of the top five things people look for in employee education programmes, “three relate to flexibility and convenience of learning: proximity to home/work, flexible program durations, and availability of online programs”.
When you think about it, that’s not actually asking for a lot. Thankfully, there’s no reason for any company not to include any of these wants and desires into their employee education programmes and incentives. All that’s really required is the will to do so.