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Battling the Lonely Learner Syndrome; Future of Workplace Learning with Manavi Pathak

Updated: Dec 16, 2021

How has Workplace Learning evolved in the last 5-10 years?

Learning was earlier seen as a ‘nice to have’ function. Companies would focus only on technical training, to the point that the nomenclature was “Training and Development”. In the last 10 years, it has pivoted to learning, to leadership development, to looking at learning as a way to drive business forward. In terms of leadership, earlier there was a strong belief that leadership is innate, something a person is born with. Now, companies are exploring training, coaching and mentoring as ways to develop leaders.

You can see it in the numbers. E-Learning in India is growing 25% YoY and is projected to be a $1.96 billion industry by 2021. Use of Audio-Visual mediums has increased. Workshops, events, and classroom-based training are slowly losing their prominence due to the higher costs, and now to the health risks associated with COVID19. MOOCs are growing in popularity, with eminent institutes like IITs, Harvard and MIT offering their courses, which is a great hook. The personalization and self-paced style of learning is finding takers not just with students, but corporates and professionals too.

“The most significant shift in thinking is, earlier, online learning was seen as inferior to in-person and classroom training. Thanks to everything going virtual with COVID-19, that’s changed for the good.”

To give a comparison, E-learning today is where E-commerce was a while ago. But now, with more platforms and easy access, more people are getting comfortable with this style of learning. Technology has enabled M-Learning, Social Learning, Blended Learning; all of which bring in a comprehensive user-focused staging to offer maximum value to the learner.

This is terribly important as fulltime remote work is leading to learners feeling a sense of disconnection. Recently I heard from L&D professionals in Japan, that they are exploring Peer Learning and Social Learning, as a way to overcome ‘Lonely Learner Syndrome’. Not being able to connect and collaborate, learn in a group leads to a loss of enthusiasm, and we need to look at smarter solutions to overcome this.

I think primarily, there’s increased focus on creating L&D programs that help managers to evolve their skills, leading to a culture of contributing to the business. L&D is no more ‘nice-to-have’, but is business centric, driving the company to its goals.

What are some of the inherent challenges of Workplace Learning & how are you looking to address them?

The biggest challenge is building and maintain a Learning Culture. Without that, priorities change and other things become more important. This is because learning is not rewarded, not recognized, possibly not even linked to employee growth. Organisations with a robust learning culture recognize needs, and provide resources, and also build role models of people who are learning oriented.

“One of the best ways to motivate learning is by rewarding employee enthusiasm; by acknowledging people who not only meet their KRAs, but also demonstrate a consistent thirst for development.”

In our own company, we are using E-Learning platform at the group level, and are sending multiple emails to communicate this to the workforce. This consistent messaging is very important, and we’re seeing close to 60% signups. The opportunity is in getting managers to endorse and recommend courses, as that creates an instant likelihood for team members too. In fact, incorporating learning and skill development at appraisals, in every employees Personal Development Plan, is a great way to get managers and employees to actively focus on learning. 

What is the impact of COVID-19 that you’ve noticed on L&D, specifically in formats, duration and frequency?

There are definitely some positives that COVID-19 has brought in. Companies are looking at learning leaders, to help them adapt to the new normal. A company I read about has developed a ‘Winner’s Toolkit’ which is basically made up of programs and modules that can help employees navigate the crisis. Instances such as handling teams virtually, dealing with ambiguity, empathy, were all covered in the Toolkit to better equip employees.

Because budgets are going to be cut, L&D is going to be under strict control and so all decisions are going to be business centric. This means L&D finally gets a strategic position.

Bite-sized, microlearning is growing. Gamification, being interactive, counters the lonely learner syndrome and so is becoming popular. If things continue the way they have gained momentum, a stronger culture of learning will emerge.

What are some of the innovative ideas you’ve come across for Employee Engagement?

Some organizations have huge budgets and so are able to do some really innovative programs. Organising health and wellness sessions, book clubs, speeches with motivational speakers, sessions on financial wellness, mental health, even virtual family engagement initiatives are all ways to build employee morale and keep them engaged.

Chai with Leaders or AMAs with Leaders are really popular, so are Townhalls where employees are recognized.

I read about an online grocery delivery service, where their delivery boys were featured on the company Instagram page, as a way of showing appreciation. Other such ideas that work well are Thankyou cards, recognition events, The Wow! Wall – where people can post stories of when co-workers have gone above and beyond.

Some organizations use really outside the box, innovative ways to engage with employees and that’s incredible!

3 wishes for an HR Genie

  1. People are an Asset, and we need to continue focus on asset building for the organisation. Arm them up with new skills for the post COVID reality. 

  2. Experiment with Next-Generation tools. 

  3. Approach HR practises with a business lens. 

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