Why Continuous Learning is the New L&D Benchmark


Digital disruption has become the norm and there is no shortage of reports on the changes taking place. A recent study by MIT and Bersin by Deloitte found that 90 per cent of business leaders believe their core business is threatened by new digital competitors. Rita McGrath, Columbia Business School professor believes organisations now need a strategic planning process where they continually anticipate, predict and adapt to the changing marketplace. Strategy needs to be a continuous process, not a periodic exercise, and so does learning.

To remain competitive and successful, organisations need a culture of knowledge sharing and continuous learning. 70% of business leaders believe they currently lack the leadership, skills, and business models to adapt.

“In a world of rapid change and increasing complexity, the winners will be those whose rate of learning is greater than the rate of change and greater than the rate of their competition.” Tom Hood

In this post we look at:

  • why continuous learning is essential to career success
  • the role of individuals in continuous learning
  • the role of continuous learning platforms
  • the role of L&D professionals

Continuous Learning: The Essential Component of Career Success

Job security and career development is about employability. It is about having constantly updated skills and experience that are relevant and which makes an individual employable. Job security no longer comes from being employed. Every industry is being disrupted and changing. Those that succeed will be the continuous learners. These individuals will:

  • always be learning something new and seeking more knowledge
  • learn a wide variety of things, not only those related to your current role
  • seek new ways of doing things and new experiences
  • always be up to date on current and future trends and technologies
  • be agile, things change, stuff happens be flexible
  • maintain networks, well connected and connect people
  • be active and visible on social media both tracking and sharing latest developments

The educators and learning professionals who are using social networks to share knowledge, resources and best practices with peers around the world are the pioneers in the continuous learning movement.

The key takeaway for individuals is that learning is not optional. Whether it is formal training, informal learning with colleagues, learning in their own time, moving job roles or changing company – employees have to invest in lifelong growth and development to be secure. This can take many forms. For me personally I read extensively, I use Twitter lists to see articles what professionals are sharing, I have Anders Pink briefings on my topics of interests and regularly browse key websites. I also conduct regular research using tools such as BuzzSumo. As part of my sense making or learning process I write up my learning in my blog Brighton Cafe, which is my form of working out loud. I find it imposes a discipline on me to read with purpose and to pull out key learning points. It also provides me with an opportunity to discuss my findings with other people.

We can all become obsolete, the danger is we can now become obsolete faster than ever before. Individuals must be able to acquire new skills and adapt to remain relevant and valuable.

The Role of Individuals

Harold Jarche’s Seek > Sense > Share model exemplifies how individuals can play a key role in continuous learning across an organisation. Collectively individuals can seek and find relevant content from many sources from competitor announcements to client case studies to blog posts. They can review, evaluate and assess how relevant this content is and they can share the most relevant content with their colleagues.

To operate effectively individuals need to use tools and platforms which allow them to review, assess and share content, and also for collective discussion or commenting.

As Harold Jarche puts it, this is one way individuals can stay ahead of automation:

“Machine Learning is great, but machines can’t cooperate and exchange value in the way that humans can in networks.”

The Role of Continuous Learning Platforms

Learning platforms need to be continuous learning platforms rather than platforms that support episodic learning. To promote continuous learning these platforms need to be updating content frequently, preferably daily and bringing in relevant new and external content, not just formal learning content. This content can then be curated by L&D professionals or shared by learners.

A continuous learning platform needs to provide the ability to curate content. In an ideal world someone would review all the content and news about their industry and curate the items that are most relevant to staff. The reality is there is simply too much content for any one individual or group of individuals to review.

This is where automation can help, for example, algorithms that crawl all content and filter potentially relevant content. This filtered content can then be reviewed and curated by humans, who can add value and context, and direct it towards certain teams and individuals. Another way to curate content is to use social networks, where people share relevant and interesting articles.

Continuous learning platforms need to integrate with other platforms using APIs to allow automated content filtering and make content curation easy. The platforms must allow users to share and comment on content as they find it.

The Role of L&D Professionals

So what can L&D professionals do to promote continuous learning?

There has already been a move to support more on demand learning by breaking down formal learning into more bite sized chunks and to allow delivery to mobiles and other devices. We can see this through the shift from courses to resources, mobile learning and microlearning. However, breaking down formal content into smaller components which learners interact with over time is not the same as continuous learning.

Continuous learning leverages informal learning including social learning and curating content daily that is relevant for learners. Continuous learning should be a relentless activity that is embedded deeply into the daily workflow and becomes as habitual as checking email.

Bersin have produced a model for continuous learning which is outlined below. This model looks at different learning requirements from immediate learning for the task in hand, to transitional learning for new roles and business goals. This embraces traditional performance support and expands to consider ongoing skills development of the individual.


L&D: Champions of Continuous Learning

L&D professionals are perfectly placed to support continuous learning. Through curation they can bring highly relevant external content to audiences to promote and encourage continuous learning. They can also support a culture where employees collaborate, combine and share knowledge on an ongoing basis.

L&D’s role includes:

  • Promoting a culture of continuous learning, encourage employees to take time for professional development
  • Leading by example, demonstrating continuous learning by curating and sharing content on Learning, HR, Talent and Technology in their own networks
  • Providing tools to support continuous learning such as curation tools, news feeds and social sharing.
  • Providing continuous access to resources and tools to help gather, filter and curate knowledge.
  • Focusing on the learner experience to ensure that learning becomes part of their everyday role and practice.
  • Making connections between individuals and groups who can help each other with insights
  • Helping people to “learn how to learn” again – the key skill for the future of work to remain agile and relevant