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Gerry Griffin

Skill Pill


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Successful transitions from mandatory to self-service based learning


As any decent trainer will tell you, making participation compulsory can often lead to resistance in the mind of the learner. Not a great ‘space’ in which to progress.

As a result, many organisations are offering a self-service option to users. This is where employees can choose what learning they consume, when they do so – and often on their own devices or locations of their own volition.

Why self-service?

First of all, in the UK and across the globe, a self-service culture has emerged. The web has changed how we carry out many daily tasks, buy products and search for information. We are used to having instant access at point of need. This societal trend has impacted how employees learn and develop in the workplace.

Furthermore, organisations have less time and budget to allocate to face-to-face interventions. Rolling out a self-service learning system can lower costs and time commitments. While the move to a self-service learning environment is inevitable in our opinion, organisations need to plan their own route carefully. Let’s look at how people management professionals can make the transition to self-service as smooth as possible. 

Adopt a market-based perspective to learning

You could term the approach up until now to be based on a ‘manufacturing’ or ‘production’ model. The model T ford was available in any colour as long as it was black. In learning, the production model manifests itself by a focus on quality of the faculty, content or technology system.  There is nothing wrong per se except it tends to position the learner as a passive object who ‘receives’ the knowledge/skills. 

For self-service learning to succeed, the learner themselves – what we call the ‘market’ – has to be at the centre of the learning experience. This can be achieved by simply listening to your learning population. As they are the users and beneficiaries of any learning programme, their opinion counts hugely. You may protest that this is being done already – great. 

Consider user input at all stages of your learning strategy:

  • From the onset, when developing a new implementation, ask your population what would help them perform better. Use employee input to develop and improve interventions. For example, make a well-respected member of staff the face and voice of a new programme. Workers are more likely to engage with a colleague delivering relevant advice in a buddy style tone than an anonymous e-learning personality.
  • When a programme has been put in place, constantly seek and encourage feedback on all areas of your L&D offering. Provide staff with some sort of an outlet to comment on and rate initiatives.
  • Finally, use employee feedback to assess the effectiveness of learning material. Ask not just what did they learn, but also how useful was it?  Did a particular learning intervention raise the performance bar? How is this being calibrated?

Move from knowledge broker to Sherpa

HR’s main role in learning has traditionally been that of ‘broker’ i.e. it intermediates between knowledge/skills providers and employees. However, in a self-service environment users directly access learning material so the ‘broker’ position is no longer as pertinent.

People management professionals need to shift stance from the ‘centre’ to the side, and take on the role of ‘Sherpa’ guiding their population towards best practise. By this we mean HR should take a step back from feeding employees information and instead use their expertise to help the users themselves identify and access learning content relevant to their situation.

Enable self-service learning

To enable self-service learning effectively, L&D need to provide users with easy and elegant access to a variety of learning objects. Users are more likely to engage with content delivered on their device of choice in a style and format that is easy to consume.

To conclude, in order for self-service learning to take off in any workplace, HR needs to nurture and foster a culture in which the learners own and are responsible for their career development. This will require a leap of faith from people management professionals.

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Gerry Griffin


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