Can Employees Take Charge of Their Own Learning?

employee learningMost employee training is delivered top down. Leadership or L&D determine who needs what training, and employees passively accept information handed to them. Even with more interactive teaching strategies, students have little control of what gets taught, when, and how.

High-performance companies are distributing learning.

But according to Deloitte’s Global Human Capital Trends 2016 report, many high-performing companies are “upending traditional models” and placing employees “at the center of a new architecture and new vision that treats learning as a continuous process, not an episodic event, and as a company-wide responsibility, not one confined to HR.”

These companies are putting employees in charge of their own learning. And it seems to be working. But why?

For one thing, putting people in charge of their own development provides a key element of personal satisfaction – autonomy. Daniel Pink, in his book Drive: the Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, identifies autonomy as a key motivator for taking action.

Plenty of research has linked autonomy at work to increased job satisfaction, better engagement and performance, and change-oriented behavior. When you have control over your choices, you’re more excited to act on your decision.

Decentralized learning also helps create a culture of knowledge sharing among employees. At Google, for instance, anyone can create and teach classes. In a Fast Company interview, Google’s Head of People Operations, Karen May states, “Giving employees teaching roles makes learning part of the way employees work together rather than something HR is making them do.”

But when responsibility is dispersed, accountability becomes crucial.

As with any major change, you can’t just tell employees they’re now in charge of their own development and call it a day. You have to have a way to hold people accountable. In a recent Harvard Business Review article by Michael Li, founder and executive director of The Data Incubator asserts that unless employees are held accountable for using the information they learn, your training dollars will be wasted.

Tom Fehlman, author of Low Hanging Fruit and Highly Placed Vegetables: Ripe or Rotten Leadership, stresses that if you ask someone to be accountable for a task, you have to make sure they have the support to do so.

He lists four “Laws of Accountability” which state that people need to know what’s expected of them and how to meet those expectations. They need time and resources along with feedback on their progress.

In other words, management needs to help employees determine what skills they should develop and why. There has to be a range of resources they know how to access, such as existing classes, online courses, practical experience, subject matter experts, coaches, and mentors.

Managers have to budget for “learning time” in the schedule and meet regularly to see how people are coming with their goals. And as with any behavior you want to encourage, bonuses and recognition should reflect learning progress.

Many employees are already taking control of their own learning.

Whether you stick with a traditional top-down training agenda or not, your employees may already be moving on. They have learning resources at their fingertips, and the Millennial workforce is used to seeking out their own opportunities to grow. With a little effort, you can take advantage of that trend by bending your team’s efforts toward skills that make a positive difference to your business.



Carol Bleyle

Carol Bleyle

Carol Bleyle handles client services and marketing for Pract.us Software, a training platform designed to promote experiential, on-the-job learning and development. She works to realize the vision of turning the 70 percent of informal learning we do at work into a powerful training and development tool. With an M.A. in Cognitive Linguistics from the University of California at Berkeley, Carol views skills development through the lens of cognitive science and psychology. Over the past 23 years, whether in traditional classrooms or on-the-go mentoring in her own company, Carol has constantly searched for realistic ways to make learning more natural and engaging. As a writer, trainer, consultant, entrepreneur and public speaker, Carol helps business owners find practical solutions to employee performance.

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