Across industries, the digital disruption is reshaping the way people work, learn, connect and perform in the workplace. As Alvin Toffler said in “Future Shock,” “The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.” We are now seeing that expand to include those who cannot connect, re-connect and collaborate with others in order to continuously adapt.

The Evolving Way We Work

The way we work is changing. In the midst of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, we’ve seen our workplaces and the ways we accomplish work reshaped and refashioned. Artificial intelligence (AI) plays a role as well. Not only will AI impact the way the workforce and automation work together, it has also created an increased need for emotional intelligence, creativity and critical thinking. This reshaping is generating a range of new jobs; these jobs require a diversity of skillsets and combine to support a new direction in the value chain.

In addition, consumers are now demanding nothing less than highly personalized, excellent experiences. Research shows that roughly half of customers are dissatisfied by the companies they deal with, and it is easier than ever before for them to take their business elsewhere. With peer review sites and social media offering unhappy customers a greater audience for complaints, a company’s reputation can easily be damaged.

To satisfy this, employees will need to continuously adapt their skills, combining them in new ways to meet work demands. As learners, employees will need to have the right mix of skills to keep pace with ever-evolving job roles and supporting technology – and it is crucial that organizations support their employees in this endeavour.

Although organizations need to prepare employees for the new world of work, the employees themselves must take accountability for their learning experience. As a partnership, the organization and the learner need to prepare themselves not only for a continuous, agile learning environment but one that is connected as well.

To deliver the workforce of the future, organizations need to adopt and implement a holistic system in which both learners and organizations can thrive. Building the workforce for the evolved workplace is not just about supporting learners in acquiring or sharpening technical skills.

The Evolving Environment

So, the workplace is also changing. The environment is shifting in a few different dimensions. Roles are becoming less structured and predefined, becoming roles of continuous evolution and change as technology emerges. Now, employees will find that their needs won’t be met solely by the organization; they will have to take ownership for their learning journey.

The environment is becoming more layered with regards to both technical elements and peer relations, moving from a simpler environment to a complex, multi-dimensional learning path.

The technology landscape is increasingly complex and will be a driver for the learner to continuously adapt to and own their learning experience. Just a few of the technology layers that will affect both what and how learners learn:

  • Artificial intelligence (AI) drives systems that are able to recognize complex patterns, process information and make recommendations. AI integration will push humans deeper into the value chain. Learners will need new skills to be able to work with these systems to seamlessly connect with peers, customers and teammates.
  • Blockchain is a transparent way of recording and sharing data without third-party intermediaries. This will allow systems to become more transparent, traceable and secure. With this availability to relevant, accessible and real-time data, learners will need to be able to access, analyze, gain insights from and apply those to complex business challenges.
  • Mixed reality and immersive digital experiences can simulate the real world and provide real-time collaborative interactions in the moment and at a distance. Learners will need to collaborate, connect and positively interact in both virtual and layered environments – all of which bring a new context to emotional intelligence.

Seeing It in Action

I recently refinanced my mortgage, and the experience was markedly different from the first time. The last time I applied for the mortgage, I was required to collect a good deal of financial documentation, bring it into the lender’s office and work through the process with them.

This time, I was able to complete the process online; the lender had an online workflow tool which helped me finalize my credit rating, determine which updated financial documents I needed and notified me when documents required my signature. Most importantly, I had what I call a mortgage process coach, who we will call “Alex.”

Alex was available throughout my mortgage refinancing. I could call him at any point in the process; the street went both ways, and he would check in on me as well. What’s key here is that Alex’s role has changed substantially from the last time I completed a mortgage. In the past, the human – that is, Alex – was focused on collecting documents and signatures. In the present, Alex was moved up the value chain where he supported me in my specific needs, those which required more complex problem solving and human touch.

From the consumer end, I found that I was supported by both the technology — the online workflow and alerts — and by the human, who showed emotional intelligence, problem solving and was able to quickly pull information throughout the system.

The human’s role has changed in the value chain and will continue to evolve and shift over time as technology improves. The mortgage process changes, and customers’ needs morph. In his learning journey, Alex will need to take ownership for that journey. The following is an approach that will enable Alex to remain relevant and agile.

A Three-part Agile Learning Strategy for the Modern Learner

To support Alex — and Alexes the world over — employ a three-part agile learning strategy for the modern learner that includes the following:

  1. Supporting a range of learning needs.
  2. Expanding and address new learning roles.
  3. Crafting a learning and performance network.

Supporting a Range of Learning Needs

The learning plan accounts for a range of moments of need, from the first time the learner embarks on the learning journey to when he or she applies a new skill or something goes wrong. The critical consideration here is that the sources for learning will change based on the moment of learning need. The goal here is to proactively identify those sources including content, expert networks, peers and coaches that can help you as your learning needs evolve.

Action: Employees can use this network to:

  • Identify sources of content across the moments of need.
  • Identify and join communities that support across each of the moments of need.
  • Continuously update and evolve your relationships and sources.

Expanded Learning Roles

The learner will need to expand the role from learning consumer to collaborator, creator, moderator, curator and mentor. Traditionally, learners have consumed learning that the organization provides. As we move to the learner driven plan, learners will need to expand the roles they play.

Action: actively engage in your learning network by:

  • Moderating relevant conversations that meet an emerging challenge – shared among other learners.
  • Curating insights and solutions that can be used by other learners or expanded and shared in return.
  • Collaborate on solving a challenge by resolving an issue with peers that are experiencing similar problems.
  • Offer and ask for micro-coaching opportunities – feedback and mentoring around a specific activity or task.

Create a Foundation for Agile Coaching and Mentoring

To support the learner throughout the experience, the learner will need a network of support including coaches and mentors that can help through the journey.

According to Rob Cross in “The Invisible Network Strategies of Successful People,” a successful network presents five benefits:

  • Producing innovative solutions.
  • Executing work efficiently.
  • Revealing and energizing hidden potential.
  • Yielding purpose and well-being.
  • Transitioning into new roles and learning or adapting through experiences.

This is where micro-coaching and micro-mentoring come into play. Essentially these are the core conversations that further needs for the learners. Each person you add to or connect with in your network should be able to collaborate to achieve one of these needs. These interactions can also be wrapped around moments of need.

Actions: In addition to enhanced personal networks, learners need to build by:

  • Mapping individuals to needs.
  • Planning for micro-coaching and mentoring.
  • Starting and stopping the engagement as appropriate.

Key Takeaways

As the work changes and the points of value change for humans, individual learners need to take a proactive, modern approach to creating their own learning criteria. The reshaping of the workforce is generating a range of new jobs. The key will be to curate a workforce that is enabled, empowered and equipped to make the transition.