Lifelong learning in organizations helps companies innovate, grow their own talent pool, maximize efficiency and develop a stronger culture. Like other aspects of company culture, it can be hard to measure its effects but we instinctively know about the power of learning and its historic ability to transform every aspect of our lives.
Traditionally, the vast majority of companies have invested in some from of education for their employees. This has typically come in the form of corporate training programs. But these programs are quite different to the concept of lifelong learning. The main difference being that the former can be seen as one aspect of the latter which is a more holistic approach. The two concepts aren’t opposed but instead represent an evolution in the space which adds additional layers when it comes to employee education.
Learning and training in an organization usually happens at fixed events during an employees tenure. Typically corporate learning experiences occur at the following times:
Corporate training typically has the following attributes which distinguish it from lifelong learning:
Lifelong learning represents a fundamental change in the learning paradigm. It is more of a philosophy than a learning approach, initiative or program, as compared to corporate training or formal education. This learning philosophy is about making learning a core part of who we are as opposed to a means to an end. It recognizes that learning is a cumulative, on going process of which it’s best effects are seen the longer we do it. Given the information explosion and the rapid change of industries it is also becoming the only sensible way to approach work and education.
What it looks like:
The qualities of lifelong learning:
Innovation is driven by creative ideation. This process involves the researching and accumulation of information that can be used as the raw material which gives birth to a new idea. At the core of innovation then lies the process of learning. As corporate innovation is a continuous process that needs constant ideas, the only logical learning approach is that of lifelong learning. There is already an existing body of information out there that can provide millions of new ideas, not to mention the rapid increase on a daily basis. To access this opportunity, everybody in your organization needs to be scouring this sea of information and looking for insights that can be combined in novel ways.
As technology also becomes more sophisticated, so does the level of innovation. Increasingly, we are seeing the need for a cross-disciplinary approach as a means to problem solving. In one case, it may be simply borrowing a concept from one field to another, for instance the marketplace or data driven business model. In others, it may be that a new way of thinking is necessary to increase breakthroughs. For instance, bringing an engineering or design mindset to a non-technical field, or how psychology and philosophy is informing AI development.
With the challenge of AI displacing jobs, you may find that some of your best and loyal employees may become redundant. These are people who may know a lot about your organization and play an important role both culturally and operationally at present. But there is no stopping automation and it may be necessary for you to remain competitive in your market. Lifelong learning in addition to structured programs can be a way for you to start transitioning at risk employees to other roles in the company. Otherwise, it would be a waste of company knowledge and loyalty to simply let these people go.
Maximizing skills and efficiency across the organization is also an outcome of lifelong learning. Imagine the situation where your sales, design, product and marketing teams are all at the top of their class. They know the latest trends, have the most refined skills and they are able to problem solve in different ways thanks to the continuous flow of knowledge and ideas in their teams. As a result, operational efficiency in each department will go up as you maximise the human and intellectual capital in your organization.
As employers report that universities aren’t able to supply well prepared graduates, it may be necessary for companies to create their own home grown talent pool. Traditionally this has taken place in the form of apprenticeships, but they usually come up short in the academic rigour and thinking needed for higher level position. Lifelong learning in the form of online courses can be used in addition to apprenticeships to give employer grown talent both the skills and intellectual sophistication to become effective players in the company. As you are also in control of the educational direction, you can help mold your young hires to how you want them to be.
Lifelong learning can enhance a company’s culture in a number of ways:
As mentioned earlier, lifelong learning is a holistic approach which encompasses and enhances other aspects such as corporate training, apprenticeships and formal education. A combination of all these learning experiences will likely yield the best outcome and ensure that your organization can meet the challenges ahead. In the next part, we will take a look at the challenges of lifelong learning in the organization which include mentality, time management and prioritization.
Stefan Soellner is an expert in scaling for companies, experienced consultant for business model and product innovation, and coach in the field of innovation management.