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Work-Learn-Flow: Let employees learn, what and when they want to!

When we talk about a good employee experience, we also mean good educational and developmental opportunities for employees within companies. In many areas of business, continuous learning is an integral part of the job profile – at least it should be. The conditions under which organizations operate are constantly changing, sometimes insidiously, sometimes with a bang, as the pandemic has shown. But how do companies create a good learning experience throughout the entire duration of an employee’s stay within the company?

First, something fundamental needs to be in place: a strong learning culture. This means that there should be a general awareness that learning and trying out new things are welcomed. This must be reflected in corresponding structures. For example, it shouldn’t be expected that employees take advantage of learning opportunities “on top”, after work, or after a full 40-hour week. If you want employees to develop their skills, you need to destress their workday, for example through flexible work models, trust-based working hours, realistic job and role requirements, a culture of self-structured work, and general autonomy of choice. Besides these, there are also other methods and behaviors that promote a good learning culture: 

Holistic and individualized comprehension of learning goals

A good employee experience requires managers that put themselves in the employees’ shoes and think from their perspective. This requires getting to know colleagues, talking to them on a regular basis, and really listening. A lively culture of discussion and feedback based on mutual respect and appreciation is an essential component of learning organizations. Methods such as 360-degree feedback allow a differentiated view of existing skills and learning needs.

Managers as learners

Practice what you preach – if managers want their employees to learn continuously, they should lead by example and consciously break down the image of the “know-it-all manager”. They should not be afraid to ask colleagues for advice, to communicate their own learning needs, or to openly share learnings, for example in a blog or in the form of open formats such as “Open Wednesday”. These kinds of internal bar camps are an excellent opportunity to learn from each other, to exchange knowledge and experiences, to get to know the skills of other colleagues, but also to show as a leader: Wow, I didn’t know that –  I learned something new.

Enable learning transfer

Learning should not be an end in itself but should have an immediate effect on the learners themselves and the organization as a whole. What better motivation can there be than to know that new opportunities and worlds of experience will open up as a result of what has been learned? For example, when employees themselves transition from student to teacher and pass on their new knowledge to colleagues as mentors. Or by using their new skillset to take on an additional role in the organization or responsibility for a new project. A successful knowledge transfer is the best return on investment for organizations, because it not only results in motivated and committed employees, but also pays off for the further development of the entire organization.

Dynamic through networked learning

The increasing complexity of the world requires companies to increase their internal complexity by networking the many perspectives, skills, experiences and talents of their employees. Collaborative and networked learning, for instance in the form of mentoring, projects, peer learning, job shadowing, or simply on a lunch date, meets all the criteria for a contemporary and effective learning experience, both on an individual as well as on an organizational level:

1. Speed of learning

Knowledge is constantly in motion. Traditional learning formats often lag behind the pace of change by the nature of their format. People, on the other hand, “update” automatically when their area of responsibility requires it and can share their knowledge easily with colleagues, for example through a web demo, a “Lunch & Learn” session, or in a personal conversation.

2. Enthusiasm for learning

Learning is most effective when it is fun and connects to existing experiences. Interaction with colleagues is an uncomplicated way to find out where people stand and how their needs can be met. At the same time, working together on a topic is often more fun than reading through slides in a quiet room. Depending on the type of learner and learning needs, both approaches are of course justified. In personal discussions, however, completely new, unexpected twists and insights often emerge that can only result from the direct connection of different experiences.

3. Learning on Demand

A good employee experience requires that employees can learn when they want or need to. This can be, at times, spontaneous or at short notice, for example when they are confronted with a new task for which they need input from experienced colleagues, or because an attractive project opportunity arises. In open learning spaces and digital talent marketplaces, they can network with colleagues at any time, on-demand, quickly fill knowledge gaps, get a second opinion, or have experienced colleagues prepare them for new roles. This type of collaborative, self-organized learning gives employees control over their professional development and enables them to shape it according to their current life situation.

4. Interactive learning

Collaborative learning is rarely a one-way street. When two or more people come together and exchange ideas, teachers become students and vice versa. Everyone takes something away for themselves. This way, organizations transform into a learning organism that is always in motion – and thus ideally equipped for changes that come from outside.

5. Interdisciplinary learning

The greatest learning effects occur when people who do very different things come together. For example, when someone from the marketing department decides to ask someone from production, who holds the product in their hands every day, or a colleague from sales who hears the feedback from customers every day, instead of repeatedly turning to their marketing colleague for their opinion. Learning needs openness and permeability, not silos nor departmental thinking. Learning thrives on contrasts and the linking of very different areas of expertise, as is also the case with a generational exchange or reverse mentoring.

Preventing a skills gap with good data

Networked learning that is initiated by employees themselves is highly adaptive, meaning that it adapts automatically to the different needs and wishes of learners. At the same time, it makes sense for organizations to continuously get an overall picture of the learning needs in the organization. After all, not all learning interests can be addressed internally right away. Digital talent marketplaces, such as the one by Tandemploy, automatically create an aggregated and anonymized skill map based on the learning desires and learning opportunities in the organization indicated by employees. If an imbalance (“skill gap”) develops, additional learning opportunities can be developed and made available in a targeted way. In this way, formal and informal learning opportunities optimally complement each other and enable a learning experience that is hardly recognizable as such because it integrates naturally and as a matter of course into the workflow – or better: work-learn-flow.

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