Lifelong learning is key to business and employee success AACSB International—The Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB) connects educators, students, and business to achieve a common goal: to create the next generation of great leaders Twenty-five years ago, the popular catchphrase often used to characterize change in the business sector was ‘paradigm shift.’ This terminology evokes a gradual transition from one way of doing things to another in a manner that facilitates a change in how things are done overall. Today the term is ‘disruption.’ The difference is more than a semantic one. Today, disruption signifies a pace and scope of change that demands a remarkably versatile effort to help employees and employers not only keep up, but anticipate change and adapt. Disruption is not just about the way an industry does things; it is also about the knowledge, abilities, and roles of the individuals who work in that industry. Disruption is the problem that must be addressed. Lifelong learning that builds and rebuilds the employee’s skills is the solution. As a consequence of this evolving environment, new demands are being placed on the ability of employees to learn new skills. To meet those demands, we must combine the experience and talents of business educators with business professionals to co-create learning solutions. The lines between training and development and education—including continuing and executive education—are blurring. Business practitioners and educators must work together to meet the rapid need for continuous learning—a key pathway to achieving innovation on all levels. Finding a means to provide lifelong learning is the responsibility of the entire business continuum. Ultimately, talent managers and human resources directors hold the responsibility to foster a culture of lifelong learning and development. Building and maintaining this culture is probably one of the greatest demands facing a human resources or talent manager today, and if it is not a part of the job description for any talent professional, it should be. There are two new resources available to which talent professionals can turn to inform their thinking. AACSB International—The Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB) recently released the report To Empower Learning Over a Lifetime, developed in partnership with Chief Learning Officer magazine, that examines best practices being employed by academia and business to address lifelong learning. The report was based on findings from a survey of 424 human resources and talent professionals in the United States who were asked about the challenges that exist in bringing about a culture that meets the need for education and learning—one that is continual over the course of a career. The second resource, the AACSB Industry Brief: Lifelong Learning and Talent Management considers the challenges and opportunities in lifelong learning that talent managers face and summarizes the perspectives of the AACSB Board of Directors and Business Practices Council. The survey and report identify a significant difference between delivering a program of lifelong learning and fostering a culture of continuous learning. Simply put, there is too much complexity in today’s business environment to expect that employers can anticipate and direct all of the learning and development needs of their employees. Ultimately it is the employee who has to embrace opportunities and adopt a mindset of learning in order for the benefits to be achieved. The importance of lifelong learning Numerous studies have shown that investment in learning and development does create a competitive advantage for organizations. Recognition of the role of learning was evident in responses to the chief learning officer (CLO) survey, with 82 percent of talent management professionals stating that they have been tasked with fostering lifelong learning among their employees, and nearly three-quarters of them saying that it is a critical or important part of their talent strategy. The reasons are numerous. Over half of respondents stated that a learning environment helps them meet the challenges of a disruptive market, and half stated that it helps the organization attract and retain talent in critical roles. The latter can be considered an essential attribute in the United States, where the average employee with a college degree has an average tenure of 5.2 years with an employer. Beyond the retention and attraction of employees, however, is the need for those in the workforce to have skills that are relevant to the competitiveness of the organization itself. By ensuring that a methodology is in place for continuous learning, organizations are able to be more agile, meet the challenges of disruption, and retain their relevance in today’s market. To accomplish this objective and to mark progress, the survey found that nearly half of the organizations we spoke with track the progress of lifelong learning into employee performance evaluations and are engaged in regularly surveying employees. One in three organizations track the hours of learning that are being delivered to employees, as well as measure productivity over time to assess the impact. Finally, the importance of engaging employees and getting their input into learning becomes a means to strengthen the relationship with the individuals in a workforce. This cooperation demonstrates that an organization cares about its employees as more than just assets of the company. Strategies to empower learners The industry brief on lifelong learning and talent management states that the shift to lifelong learning means the world will have a larger, more diverse pool of learners than ever before and that a resulting implication of that fact is that learners themselves must take on more responsibility. This responsibility includes assessing their own needs and identifying learning opportunities to address them. This view was affirmed in the survey report, as well, where there was almost a universal sentiment among respondents that employees should be ultimately responsible for their own lifelong learning, and 61 percent of respondents said that employees should be solely responsible. But there was also strong sentiment from survey respondents that business organizers and education providers also have responsibility to help pave the way for those employees in their learning journey. The role of the organization belongs more in the realm of ensuring that employees are empowered to learn by providing guidance about opportunities that may be available and how and when to best access them. The organization’s role as a guide is partially due to the fact that the avenues for engaging in lifelong learning are varied. A majority of businesses look to professional associations that offer credentialing as well as to other providers of education that have emerged, like online career platforms. But nearly half of respondents to the CLO survey stated that they will be looking in the future for universities and colleges to play a stronger role in offering credentials that are not associated with earning a degree, such as badges of achievement and certificates. This shift signals an important need to deepen the relationship between employers and universities. Whatever the strategy, it is clear that both employees and employers are starting to expect that ‘what is best’ for an individual is a decision usually not made for the individual but rather a decision made in partnership with or by the employee with the input of the employer. Different approaches valued for different reasons As noted in the industry brief, learners want not only new knowledge, they want to be able to demonstrate their achievement. Consequently, there has been a proliferation of mechanisms that signify achievement including degrees, certificates, licenses, or other means to credential an individual. Credentials serve the important function of enabling organizations to track success, but it is essential that any credentialing program provide clarity about the learning content and reassurance that what is being taught will, in the end, have value and be applicable in the workplace. Looking at various categories—certifications, certificates or digital badges, licenses, master’s degrees, bachelor’s degrees, and dual degrees—certifications and licenses were highly rated by survey respondents because they made clear what would be achieved by obtaining them and that learners will be able to apply the skills acquired as a result. Degrees, on the other hand, were well rated for being highly transferable, credible, and, of course, transportable with the learner. Degrees are universally understood. Certificates and earned badges were valued because they are highly accessible, but were not as highly rated when considering their credibility and transferability. There are also varied pathways for attaining credentials. In the CLO survey, with regard to the future of learning, four out of five respondents thought that formal learning will increasingly become more stylized for the individual rather than being standardized for a large group of students or learners and, perhaps related, will be much more likely to occur online than in a formalized classroom. Three-fourths believed that this stylization also afforded the opportunity for learning to be organized more in groups or teams as opposed to individual self-study and will be self-managed by employees rather than by the organization that employs them. And in recognition of trends underway, just over half of respondents—56 percent—believed that new learning platforms could involve gamification, artificial intelligence, and virtual and augmented reality. But it is also clear that the means for learning must be affordable and accessible. In that respect, digital pathways can offer a great deal. Participants involved in developing the industry brief noted that advances in digital learning, as well as learning analytics and virtual and augmented reality, all serve not only to increase the quality of lifelong learning but also to increase the ability to provide access. Active engagement and input of managers Lifelong learning in an organization’s culture doesn’t just happen. Managers can help develop an environment that encourages lifelong learning in ways that will ultimately be of benefit to both the organization and the employee. The role of managers—those who will not only help guide the employee in their effort but also hold a position to help apply and reward the learning—is extremely important in the success of that culture. Ultimately, managers themselves are accountable for the learning in their organization. How did respondents believe this new culture would be accomplished? Mentoring and coaching programs were identified by two out of three as being the preferred means by which to support learners, followed by the provision of direct feedback mechanisms between manager and employee. Other means for fostering learning included content library subscriptions that were open to employees and guidance programs for learning as it relates to employee career paths. In addition, 40 percent of survey respondents stated that programs whereby managers were held accountable for the development of employees were important, and 35 percent cited the role of toolkits and job aids to support managers in that effort. As noted in the industry brief, the global shift to lifelong learning is only beginning to gain traction and lacks a universally accepted definition. Certainly the business environment is changing on every level, without and within, at a growing pace and with a breadth and depth that is unmatched. That makes the role of a talent manager much more daunting than it was only a decade ago and obviously means that the role of a talent professional today also demands its own path of lifelong learning. The findings of the survey report strongly suggest that talent leaders see important roles for business organizations and education providers to partner with one another to identify, create, and deliver the learning opportunities that are needed. In addition, there will clearly be a heavier reliance on technology, personalization, and social learning, which are changing the way we define and develop learning opportunities, leading to new ways of unbundling and combining approaches previously thought to be independent. Each of the stakeholders in lifelong learning—the organizations and their talent professionals, employees who want to learn, and the education providers who can offer the means and certification of that learning—has an important role to play in shaping the future competitiveness of the employer and the employee. Organizations need to stake out their own needs to identify the skills and credentials their staff will require to get the job done. They must position their managers in a way to make them successful coaches who in turn should be reaching out to educators of all kinds and among varied platforms. Employees have to recognize that they are engaged in this effort, take responsibility for their learning, and be incentivized to be hungry for new opportunities to learn. Finally, educators need to vary their offerings to ensure that all types of learning and credentialing are ready and accessible, either in person or virtually, to expand the pathways to lifelong learning. Clearly, the need for lifelong learning is not going to diminish, and just as the environment grows more complex and challenging to the employer and the employee, so too is the effort to engage and educate. That means there is no reason to expect a lessening in demand, but that in fact, as the value of learning grows, the demand will continue to expand in volume and in need.
... the need for lifelong learning is not going to diminish, and just as the environment grows more complex and challenging to the employer and the employee, so too is the effort to engage and educate