Now is the Time for Workplace Learning to Focus on Individual Learnability


L&D has a great opportunity to help organizations create a positive learning experience that will focus more on the individual.

Why should organizations focus more on individual learning?

Because workplace learning is on the second half of the chessboard. In the first half of the chessboard, there was more focus on the organizational view of learning. In the second half, there will be more focus on the individual view.

Workplace Skills are Evolving

As the graph below highlights, most of the tasks performed by employees in the U.S. has shifted to non-routine analytical and interpersonal tasks. You can see the declining needs of routine and non-routine manual tasks as technology is taking more of these tasks.

worker tasks


Descriptions from the study above include:

  • Non-routine cognitive – require problem-solving, intuition, persuasion, and creativity and include jobs professional, managerial, technical and creative occupations, such as law, medicine, science, engineering, marketing and design.
  • Routine manual -jobs such as repetitive production and monitoring  performed on an assembly line.
  • Routine cognitive – jobs like bookkeeping and data entry and routine manual tasks such as repetitive production and monitoring jobs performed on an assembly line.
  • Non-routine manual – jobs requiring situational adaptability, visual and language recognition, and in-person interaction and include jobs like preparing a meal, driving a truck through city traffic, or cleaning a hotel room.

In fact, all job growth since 2001 has been in non-routine jobs.

Break Your Routine

You can see the type of work people are performing continues to move towards non-routine cognitive tasks.

The skills required to perform this work is also changing.

And one of the most critical skills for non-routine cognitive work is the ability to learn. 

People Need to Continuously Learn

Not only are skills changing, the amount of time that a skill stays relevant is shrinking.  John Seely Brown says “the half-life of any given skill today is about five years. This means we must constantly be reinventing our skill base.”

Research conducted by Oxford Economics showed that employees are worried about being left behind because of their job changing. 50% of employees say the skills they have now will obsolete in 3 years and is their #1 concern.

As Josh Bersin points out, so we have a 3-year “half-life” for our own skills.

  • Is it 5?
  • Is it 3?
  • Is it somewhere in between?

Wherever it is, job requirements and the skills needed to perform these jobs are constantly changing.

Companies Need People That Continuously Learn 

In It’s the Company’s Job to Help Employees Learn, Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic and Mara Swan point out that we have moved from a time when employees required less thinking to a time when learning and the capability to keep learning are key components of jobs today.

If you’re thinking it seems obvious to say that jobs today require more thinking than in the past, it’s more than that as shown below.

Most jobs today demand the exact opposite from employees: the capacity to keep learning and developing new skills and expertise, even if they are not obviously linked to one’s current job.

Companies are looking for people who are curious and continue to learn:

  • Google looks for “learning animals”
  • Accenture  looks for “learning agility”
  • AT&T’s CEO says “There is a need to retool yourself, and you should not expect to stop”

Whatever you call it, companies want people that can continuously learn and adapt. This has been true for some time but the focus and importance of having this “learning engine” has increased.

People Want to Learn  More

In Wake Up to the New World of Learning, Bersin points out that employees won’t be happy if organizations don’t let them drive their learning.

The situation is urgent. Consider how important learning is to your company’s employment brand. If you look at Glassdoor ratings for companies, and correlate an employee’s rating of whether they would recommend you as a place to work, the no. 2 brand driver is “learning and career opportunities,” slightly behind culture and leadership.

When you look at people in the first 10 years of their career (i.e. millennials) it’s No. 1. The most common reason people leave a company is that “I just stopped learning and growing there” — again indicating people are no longer tolerant if you haven’t given them a place they can learn.

Mary Meeker’s Internet Trends 2015 highlights that millennials (largest generation in the workforce) value training & development over all other employer benefits.

Training is a priority

People are Taking Learning into Their Own Hands 

Research conducted by Degreed showed people spend 4x to 5x more time on self-directed learning (individual view) than what L&D or HR provided (organizational view).


A Great Opportunity for Learning & Development 

Organizations want people that can learn and people want to work for organizations that provide opportunities for growth and development. Seems like a good fit to me.

To help organizations make learning part of the employee experience, L&D should focus more on the individual perspective of learning.  Two views of learning include:

  • Organizational– the organization initiates something (e.g., a new assignment, coaching feedback, a class, e-learning, support group, etc.) that results in learning.
  • Individual – an individual initiates something (e.g., a new job, seeking a mentor, searching the web, talking with a co-worker, taking a class, etc.) that results in learning.

To determine which perspective it is, ask “who is initiating or directing the learning?”

Today, organizations focus more on the organizational view of learning.

This needs to change.

More to come….

What Do You Think?

  • Are people learning more on their own?
  • Should there be more focus on individual learning?
  • What opportunities are you seeing



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