Employee training, as we know it, has changed dramatically over the past couple of years. And while online learning was already gaining more traction before the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s gearing up to be the training method of choice for many remote and hybrid workforces.

However, when it comes to training, some things haven’t changed at all: For instance, at many companies, convincing people to make time for training is still a significant challenge — despite the fact that employees view learning as crucial to career success and are apt to stay longer at companies that invest in training.

This creates a corporate training paradox in which learning is simultaneously very important but is often put on the backburner, which leads to lower productivity levels.

If you take a closer look at this problem, it’s often not that employees are actively choosing to ignore the company’s training efforts. The real issue is finding room in their busy schedules for learning. When employees are juggling activities, it’s usually more important to them to meet a tight deadline by the end of the day than dedicate a single hour to a video training session. Moreover, employees value their free time and don’t tend to want to use it to catch up on training.

Learning in the Flow of Work Requires a Bottom-up Approach

What if the lack of training engagement doesn’t indicate a problem with training itself? What if the problem is that companies don’t take advantage of the fact that learning happens all the time?

Employees learn while listening to a podcast on their commutes, reading an article during lunch or simply “Googling” a problem mid-task. The internet is already their go-to for learning, especially among younger generations. Gen-Z employees, for instance, watched 50% more hours per learner of learning content in 2020 than in 2019.

Online learning is convenient, cost-effective and blends in with employees’ schedules, while supporting what they need and want: just-in-time learning.

This calls for a type of bottom-up training approach in which employees have access to a convenient way to find solutions to their work problems as they arise. They should be able to be proactive in addressing their needs, get timely feedback and anticipate problems before they occur.

How Can You Empower Employees to Learn More?

Incorporating more opportunities to learn in the flow of work is empowering for employees and has many benefits, giving them:

  • A growth mindset: Employees will learn to use training support as a ladder to help advance in their careers.
  • Hands-on learning: More practice in real-life scenarios improves retention.
  • Motivation: Learners are more motivated to watch a training video or ask for help from peers since when is a task to complete.
  • Experience: Learning in the flow of work is a way to gain more experience that will help employees tackle new problems, come up with creative solutions, make better decisions and feel more in control of their tasks.

Here are three elements to enable learning anytime and anywhere:

1. Interactive, Quality Asynchronous Training

L&D specialists have more options for creating training programs than ever before. Training happens on a spectrum, ranging from purely synchronous to asynchronous, and it’s important to vary the delivery methods.

Asynchronous training is an ideal way to learn in the flow of work since it’s convenient and accessible. Here are a few ideas to make this type of training highly engaging and effective:

  • Use microlearning to create video lessons. Instead of scrolling through a PDF to find what they need, learners can click on a video lesson during a five-minute break.
  • Offer courses designed by the L&D department and third parties. This is a winning combination for sharing company and industry-specific knowledge, as well as more general training that can be outsourced (such as on soft skills).
  • Get employee feedback and do a thorough needs assessment before creating asynchronous resources. For example, learning platform surveys and course reviews are great ways to quickly collect feedback.
  • Make use of gamification and reward employees for learning at their own pace. Points, badges, levels and even discount coupons can boost interactivity and learner motivation.

This type of learning design is based on the assumption that employees are already looking online for ideas on how to solve their tasks while at work. Why would they have to “Google” something and search through thousands of (often dubious) resources? The best way is for them to go directly to the company’s online learning platform and find the right answers instantly.

2. Helpful User-generated Content

While having both in house and third-party learning materials is a great starting point, there’s one more element that usually tends to be neglected: user-generated content.

Most people are familiar with user-generated content through social media and other collaborative websites; getting learner buy-in would not be a problem.

Here’s an example of how to incorporate it into learning initiatives: Using the company learning platform, an employee can set a goal such as “I want to be a senior graphic designer.” Clicking on the goal, they see everything related to it, including a Q&A discussion forum with dozens of participants. In addition, they can see that the role requires learning how to communicate with global clients — so they can go back to the forum and browse previous questions related to this skill. They can post their own questions too and generate more content without being explicitly asked to.

User-generated content is a great learning tool since employees in similar job positions encounter similar problems and are motivated to contribute to growing your learning database. They can do this whenever they need help with a task, no matter how small (e.g., setting up their company email signature) or big (e.g., learning a new skill).

3. Social Learning

Just because employees learn while working, this doesn’t have to be a solitary exercise. People exchange information all the time while working in the same office, and as more employees choose remote or hybrid work options, it’s important not to lose this collaborative, social part of the learning experience.

It pays off: LinkedIn research found that learners who use social features such as participating in Q&A sessions and learning groups watch 30 times more hours of learning content in a year than peers who don’t.

This is your cue to start leveraging chat rooms, forums and groups that are dedicated exclusively to learning.

Furthermore, social learning includes mentorship and coaching programs as an essential part of the online learning ecosystem. Thankfully, if you take advantage of asynchronous training and user-generated content, it will be easy to find subject matter experts who can also take the role of mentors and coaches, as they’ve already completed certain courses and can help others.

Learning Anytime, Anywhere

Finding time for training is a significant problem for employees, so it’s the L&D department’s job to find alternative ways to engage them. A great solution is enabling employees to learn anytime and anywhere, especially while working.

Interspersing regular work schedules with learning opportunities will also help employees complete their tasks successfully, increase their motivation and interest in a subject, and have more control over their work and training.

Companies have many tools at their disposal to make this happen and can work collaboratively to forge a successful learning strategy that’s not time- or location-dependent.