Putting learners in control

Trainee engineer
Date Published


Reading time

3 mins read



Telling employees what to learn, how and when to learn it, is a thing of the past.

Employers want employees to be in control of their own learning needs, actively seeking out the learning they need, when they need it and how they want it.

It’s these employees, the self-directed learners, who will get ahead in the future. Why? Because they will make sure they have the skills and the knowledge needed to do their jobs better. They are engaged with their learning and their role and are on a constant quest to do things better. This mindset of always looking forward, and always learning is vitally important if employees and employers are to meet the challenges of the future.

Workplaces are changing, as we all know. We are moving from a human workforce to hybrid workforce and employers need people who are willing and able to step into this new future and keep learning along the way.

It does mean employers and employees letting go of the old way of doing things and employees assuming control of their own learning. And not everyone finds this easy. Some employees need help in learning how to learn for themselves and organisations need to help those people make the transition.

Our research shows that currently only 49% of employees demonstrate high levels of learnability. Flip that statistic around and it looks more alarming – half of employees don’t. This really demonstrates the need for employers to put some work in to achieve the learning workforce they need.

The first thing that needs to happen in order for the right learning attitude to flourish is of course, to have the right culture. The culture has to support and facilitate self-directed learning. That is the number one key to enabling self-directed learning.

There are lots of other elements that need to be in place too. Learning needs to be accessible and it needs to be flexible, allowing employees to choose the type of content they want and on the device of their choice. It absolutely has to be mobile friendly, so that employees can consume learning on the go, in between meetings and remotely. 

On demand learning is one of the major buzzwords of the day and for good reason – if employees are to have control of their learning they need to be able to access it when they want to and when they have a need.

Micro learning naturally supports on demand learning and learning in the flow of work. It allows people to consume learning quickly and easily. Bite sized chunks of learning can be much more easily squeezed into the working day.

Employers can reinforce this message of self-directed, continuous learning at key points in the employee life cycle. The most obvious and perhaps most important of these is day one, as employees start a new role in the company. If people know from the outset that they are working for an organisation that believes in learning and that they are expected to be in control of their own learning, then chances are that’s what they will do. Self-directed learning will happen naturally.

Other key points in the employee life cycle include someone passing their probationary period, passing the six month, one year, five year mark... along with when people gain a promotion or start a new assignment or a stretch project. These are all good times to revisit the importance of learnability and signpost employees in the right direction.

This kind of self-directed, continuous learning is also good for organisations. It leads to a more highly skilled, engaged and modern workforce. It enables not just learners to stay relevant, but also the organisation.