Spark Trader Limited

Microlearning moments in workplace learning

Spark Trader Limited reports:

Just as formal education systems have dramatically shifted to digital since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, on-the-job training is also changing. The same forces that are transforming the classroom are also accelerating the use of digital learning in workplace training, fueling a trend that has already begun.

Many employers are investing in the professional development of their workers at a higher level than before the pandemic. One motivation is the need to provide workers with new skills so they can grow their businesses at a time when skills are deteriorating more rapidly, driving the need for lifelong learning. Employers are competing to attract and retain staff in what has been described as a “war for talent”.

In short, a brief recession in 2020 gives way to a massive shortage of workers and skills in 2021, and puts talent strategy and human capital back at the top of the corporate strategic agenda.

My colleagues and I have been examining these dynamics in a recent study of employers exploring new areas of workplace learning.

Our analysis highlights that learning is increasingly digital, delivered when needed, in shorter, more structured ways than in the past.

These developments will have important implications for institutions of higher learning, training and skills providers, education technology companies, investors and other stakeholders in the education ecosystem.

The changing market also lays the foundation for the emergence of new technology solutions and partnerships.

Smaller, faster and cheaper
Prior to the pandemic, learning in the workplace was already increasing, including more technology-supported “micro-learning,” which is less formal and structured than traditional training programs. A few years ago, lead analyst Josh Bersin popularized the idea of “learning in the workflow,” which is continuous learning and immediate application to real-world work problems.

Where our traditional notion of “training” refers to taking time off from your day job to go to the classroom, on-the-job learning increasingly refers to timely access to work-related content — often via a laptop or smartphone, whether at a desk or on the production floor.

Spark Trader Limited
Spark Trader Limited

The shift is also being driven by the adoption by many employers of “learning experience platforms”, or LXPs, which manage content and learning from a variety of sources in a single portal and create personalised and traceable learning pathways. As one training executive interviewed for our research described it, “the learning experience platform allows us to democratize everyone’s learning and make it accessible to the masses” — in contrast to past programmes that typically focused on a small group of executives. The shift to remote work during the pandemic has also prompted people to buy low-cost online training libraries.

The boom in short-term digital learning in the workplace does not mean that classroom-based corporate training or more structured on-the-job learning will disappear. But it does mean that employers’ and employees’ expectations are changing, and that data and algorithms are driving and measuring what employees are learning.

Before the pandemic, about half of corporate training time was already being delivered online or on mobile models, which has grown rapidly over the past 20 months. This means that there is an even greater gap between the digital training world of many workplaces and traditional training practices in universities as they return to face-to-face teaching.

When it comes to employee learning and development, employers have long favored choices that align most directly with their business goals and impact the bottom line. Of course, employees often want external recognition for skill development and value in their careers outside of their current employer.

Microcertificates may be emerging as an ideal bridge between employers’ and workers’ interests: employers may support investment in job-related courses or certificates, which employees can then “pile” directly into degrees, either at their own expense or with employer support.

As more employers offer educational benefits to their employees, it’s worth noting that there’s a trend to offer shorter, faster educations rather than just degrees. In response to inquiries about our study, Guild Education, an educational benefits manager, reported a 149 percent increase in applications for certificate programs during the pandemic. From the end of 2019 to the end of 2020, the number of active students taking the short courses offered by the company increased tenfold.