Learning in the age of digital

Sam Colyer

Technology is changing the way in which we are learning.

It’s a simple statement to make: but how, why, and what does it mean as we charge towards a digital future? You’re probably familiar with the concept of continuous learning, but how is it relevant and how will it apply? And how can it be made personal?

Technology continues to impact the landscape of business, and we as consumers of technology are shaping its use. The roles we perform at work are evolving too, and this changes what is expected of us. User behaviour therefore must evolve to meet this new landscape (and technology must adapt to new user behaviour) as we move forward.

To deal with this transformation, it’s more important than ever for people to develop and reinvent themselves throughout their working lives to ensure they remain current and relevant. We have to accept and embrace continuous, ongoing learning: it’s not realistic to expect that learning stops the moment you leave school / college / university.

Equally, it’s no longer good enough to complete a specific training course, give yourself a pat on the back and consider yourself up to date for the foreseeable future either; employees will be expected to make lifelong learning a necessary part of work. In fact, analysis by Harvard Business Review indicates that demand for advanced technological skills will rise by 55% in 2030: that’s a lot of learning for a lot of people, and it needs to start now.

Demand for advanced technological skills will rise by 55% in 2030 - HBR

Technology is disrupting traditional roles and creating new roles, but it’s also disrupting the way in which we acquire the skills to fulfill these roles, and it’s difficult to decouple the two. Typically, lifelong employment (as earlier generations knew of) has made way to the “portfolio career” so managing more than a single “job” at any one time will become more common and perhaps necessary.

So there we have the problem at hand; we have an ever expanding amount of knowledge and skills to obtain and will be expected to pivot and adapt at an ever increasing rate.

But there’s only so much room in our brains, right?

Right. We risk being flooded with an overwhelming number of options and opportunities to learn because we live in a world saturated by data. The challenge of course is dealing with the number of choices: the sheer amount of information at our disposal can become paralysing, and overloading ourselves with knowledge which we simply don’t have the time to digest is going to be counterproductive.

So what’s the answer?

Clearly we can’t retain every single thing we learn and recall it at the opportune point in time. So we need to think about how learning can be there for us at our point of need. We need to utilise technology so that it can locate relevant information, refresh our knowledge and crucially, make sure it’s right at our fingertips exactly when we need it.

It would be intuitive therefore to mirror digital learning with the way in which we recreationally use social media. If employees want a netflix experience then employers need to understand what makes a well-curated platform. Not only should a platform be accessible and easy to navigate, but it would attract users if it could create personalised “playlists” of learning and utilise smart AI to suggest customised content which is immediately accessible and easy to locate.

To ensure learning stays personal, there are many options on the table including:

  • Microlearning
  • Video
  • Virtual reality personalised learning
  • Face to face
  • Peer to peer

And the list goes on, but all of which will be most useful when made available at the point of need.

Accessible content will be really relevant for employees because in reaction to digital change we’re moving towards a higher population of specialists and experts in the workplace, and, as you’d imagine there’s an expectation that these experts need to be, well, an expert in their field. They need to stay “on trend” in order to stay relevant and so up to date, readily available and ongoing learning will be vital.

So, with the challenges of having to reskill regularly in a lifelong learning environment, it’s critical to give employees opportunities to have an ongoing, interactive, learning experience.

Critical to give employees an ongoing, interactive, learning experience.

So there we have it, the tip of a topic which no doubt we will be battling with for years to come. The changing nature of the skills we need, and how and where we choose to acquire them will help form the ever changing landscape of learning. The survival of employees and workers in the future world of work will depend on skilling and reskilling; businesses therefore need to be at the forefront of providing the right learning environment if they themselves are to succeed.

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