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How to enable autonomous learning in the workplace for long-term training success

How to enable autonomous learning in the workplace for long-term training success

In 2021, the average training budget for large companies was 17.3 million, while midsize companies spent 1.3 million. When organizations are looking for cost optimization, it's important to ensure the money spent on learning is an investment with visible results. Formal training has been the main focus of corporate learning and development (L&D) for a long time, but now priorities are beginning to shift to accommodate employee preference: 68% of employees prefer to learn or train in the workplace, while 58% of employees prefer to learn or train at their own speed. What is clear is that learners prefer more autonomous learning in the workplace, and taking this into consideration leads to better engagement and training ROI.

What is autonomous learning in the workplace?

Autonomous learning is closely tied to the concept of self-directed learning (SDL), which dates back to Malcolm Knowles' studies on self-directed andragogy. He defined it as "a process in which individuals take the initiative without the help of others in diagnosing their learning needs, formulating goals, identifying human and material resources, and evaluating learning outcomes."

Today, this concept is as relevant as ever as adult learners want to have control of their training and development.

Why is learner autonomy important for corporate learning?

L&D departments have had to adjust and transform tremendously in the past decade. First, the digital revolution has moved much of the learning online, then the pandemic moved much of the workforce out of the office. The subsequent workforce realignment placed extra strain on the employees as well as the L&D departments. As shown by the LinkedIn Workplace Learning Report, leadership development is the top priority of corporate L&D, closely followed by upskilling and reskilling projects.

What these types of programs have in common is what organizational psychology defines as the need for learner commitment. Learner commitment happens when employees feel like there is a benefit at the end of the journey and they have a say in how that journey looks like.

Adult learners want self-direction

SDL has many facets, yet the critical element in all these is an individually-motivated desire to learn. E-learning is the optimal format for SDL since it allows for more flexibility and integration of various learning content formats to accommodate a wide array of learning preferences.

Furthermore, since today's workforce is global and team members are often geographically scattered, it's vital that time and location constraints are not issues when it comes to learning. For instances when interventions need to be instructor-led, or there's a need for a mentor or coach to be online, flexible scheduling with multiple sessions should accommodate the entire learner pool.

The growing appetite for self-paced learning

Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) are free, web-based courses scalable to a large public. They have gained popularity due to their minimal cost and lack of eligibility criteria. Furthermore, these courses provide people with the opportunity to acquire new skills and advance or change their careers. Organizations must learn from them and set up formal programs for developing the skills they need. Furthermore, companies should develop a greater understanding of autonomous learning and adopt learner-driven approaches to developing human capital.

How can companies support autonomous learning in the workplace?

Companies have a lot to gain if employees embrace SDL. Intrinsically motivated learners give organizations an excellent competitive advantage in the market. But to get there, they need to take some steps to ensure that the work environment is conducive to continuous learning. Here are some ideas:

Fostering a positive company culture

A positive company culture encourages growth, and mistakes are seen as development opportunities. It’s particularly important to frame errors as natural milestones in any learning process. Employees who are not constantly worried about failing will be more motivated.

Learning programs that look to the future

Long-term thinking means more than bridging present skills gaps. The "quick fix" method, where learning is swiftly deployed to close urgent learning gaps, is not a winning one. Companies need to plan ahead and allow the learning function to be strategic.

Choosing the right technology

Don't expect employees to take control of their development while providing sub-par or outdated learning platforms. You need a platform that can accommodate all learning preferences, offers rich in-house and third-party content, and is intuitive.

How an LMS supports autonomous learning in the workplace

Learning platforms are continuously evolving, and it sometimes may seem difficult to keep up with all the developments. That's why learner autonomy should be a major factor when choosing a learning management system (LMS). Here are some of the more advanced capabilities that it should have: 

1. Skills development

Skills development is at the center of self-directed learning. Learners must be able to set their goals and immediately see the skills that need to be acquired to reach them. An intelligent learning platform will help set learning goals and provide personalized content recommendations based on them.

2. Auto-graded quizzes

If the goal is for the learners to do as much as possible by themselves, they need to have reliable evaluation opportunities. Learners can take a quiz at the end of each module, assess their own knowledge, then understand what they need to relearn or review. Auto-graded quizzes are great since all instructors must do is add the right questions and answers. They can also leave comments whenever learners get a wrong answer to guide them through the process of closing learning gaps. 

3. Learner progress

Your LMS must show learner progress, as it is one of the greatest motivators for training. Having a clear idea of where they are and how much is left until reaching the goal helps employees remain committed to their development. For example, they can see how much is left until finishing a learning goal, a course, a learning path, or a module.

4. Personalized learning paths

Learning paths can be personalized for each learner. Courses and content must be curated to fit specific learning needs. Skills development needs to be focused and pick up at the level that the employees have already reached rather than make them take an entire sequence of courses, regardless if some of them might have little or no value for them.

5. Communication

Much of learning is social and informal learning can still happen in an online setting. Self-directed learning is great in many ways but is limited to being mostly done in isolation. That's why you need opportunities for employees to connect with colleagues as well as coaches and mentors. Collaboration often leads to new ideas and better training content, whether it's via chat, groups, forums, or other channels.

Enabling learner autonomy

Employing SDL in your organization comes with many advantages: lower training costs, targeted skill development, greater employee engagement, and long-term training success. The best way to achieve all these is to use an intelligent learning platform such as MATRIX LMS that can offer quality skills development, personalized learning path creation, automated recommendations, multiple self-assessment methods, and many communication features.

Take a tour of the CYPHER LEARNING platform and see how it can help you empower your employees to take ownership of their learning. 

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