HR Insights
April 21, 2020

The importance of agile learning in today’s workplace

Today, organizations need to modernize their learning strategies to address changing business needs. Here’s how to build a culture of agile learning to acquire the skills needed to maintain business continuity and drive continued success.


Business leaders are identifying the need for improvements in learning and development. In fact, 86% of respondents in Deloitte’s 2019 Global Human Capital Trends report rated “the need to improve learning and development” as important or very important. As companies now navigate the implications of the pandemic, workplace learning has only grown in importance and has required a fundamental shift from traditional classroom and instructor-led training to virtual e-learning platforms.

For many industries, the world of work looks vastly different today than it did just a few months ago. According to the World Economic Forum, the crisis is accelerating the use of automation for highly repetitive tasks while also highlighting the need for innovative solutions to enable a rebalancing of talent. This rebalancing of talent is critical for industries that are experiencing a decline in demand as well as those experiencing a spike in demand. This new environment is requiring the need for many businesses – such as those in delivery, retail, and healthcare – to reskill employees in order to address demand. As well, businesses of all kinds will need to have the right skills required to resume business activities after the health crisis.  

The COVID-19 pandemic has required organizations to consider digital learning as an imperative for both business continuity and continued success in the years ahead. Companies that take a more modern, holistic approach to learning and embed it within the culture of their organizations will be able to acquire the skills and build on core competencies needed to adapt to the changing business environment today and in the future.

Moving towards a culture of digital learning

Despite the efforts and investments being made in learning and development, research suggests that organizations weren’t moving the needle far enough in 2019. Many companies have been taking positive steps such as adopting agile and self-directed learning models and acquiring new libraries of materials. However, while 50% of respondents in Deloitte’s 2019 Human Capital Trends report claim that their organizations’ learning and development were evolving quickly, 14% said that this evolution was not happening fast enough.

In the context of the pandemic, employers are investing in learning and development opportunities in a number of ways. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, prior to the COVID-19 crisis, approximately 29% of employees regularly worked remotely, while today, that number is projected to double. With the shift to remote work has come a steep learning curve as employees adapt to working remotely at scale, and that includes employers providing learning opportunities (from basic to complex, and from technical to social) to help employees master their new environments.

There’s also a greater need for some organizations to train employees on new procedures and policies to help maintain compliance and protect their health and safety. And others are aiming to reskill and upskill their employees as part of reallocating their people to mission critical projects and tasks to maintain business continuity.

The need for digital learning is heightening, however, many organizations are still treating workplace learning as separate from the employee experience (EX), and beyond onboarding, offer few and irregular opportunities for learning day-to-day. Organizations must work to instill an end-to-end cultural focus on learning if they want to meet the talent challenges that lie ahead.

What does agile learning in the workplace look like?

Building an agile learning culture means learning experiences are embedded throughout the employee lifecycle – that is, employers offer an agile experience starting on day one. Learning is the hub at the center of the EX, connecting to activities, such as onboarding, daily work or career pathing, while also supporting critical compliance.

The benefits of agile learning

Agile and strategic learning and development programs can impact all areas of the business, from productivity to engagement and retention.

Improve employee engagement: Building a learning culture can help increase engagement, which directly impacts productivity, employee retention, and customer satisfaction, according to Bersin by Deloitte.

Gain access to in-demand skills: Technology is changing at a rapid pace and now, the lifespan of skills is shorter than ever. According to a World Economic Forum report, 54% of all employees will require significant reskilling and upskilling in just three years. Organizations can take advantage of this time of crisis to identify the skills they will need to acquire to stay relevant so they can succeed today and in the future.

Support business continuity: Employees can more seamlessly move into roles when another employee leaves the company or an unexpected circumstance – such as the pandemic – occurs. Only 20% of HR professionals feel they’re adequately prepared for an employee in a key position to leave. Companies that build agile learning cultures are better prepared to fill job vacancies.

Build a strong employer brand: Training and development opportunities are attractive benefits an employer can offer candidates during the recruiting process. In fact, people now cite the “opportunity to learn” among their top reasons for taking a job.

Systemize compliance: Organizations can make compliance less tactical, and more on-going and strategic by engaging employees in training throughout the year. Approximately 40% of companies deliver compliance training annually, but few do it more often or regularly.

Creating a culture of learning in the workplace

In today’s increasingly digital workplace, the modern learner is self-directed, empowered, and wants to be able to access information customized to fit their needs, whenever they want – and learning should be seamlessly integrated in the journey, facilitated by technology.

Here’s how organizations can build an agile learning culture to acquire the skills needed today and in the months and years ahead:

1. Employee onboarding

The cost of losing an employee in the first year can cost upwards of 30% of that person’s salary. Robust and well-rounded onboarding programs can be a solid tactic for retention which is particularly important for businesses that are experiencing spikes in demand such as manufacturing, healthcare, and delivery. These businesses will need to rethink the onboarding process in the context of an increasingly virtual world.

Additionally, engaging and caring for the workforce during a pandemic is critical and this includes new hires. Organizations can provide their employees with learning resources during onboarding to help employees manage stress, improve their mental wellness, and get the most out of their work from home arrangement. Companies can also link courses and plans to employee onboarding requirements for new hires. This can range from cultural training (are your new hires clear on business goals and company values?) to job-based training.

Learn more about our complimentary COVID-19 related learning resources

An onboarding platform can help assign coaches, mentors or buddies before the employee’s first day, or introduce them to subject matter experts in their department or specialty area. Providing learning opportunities at the outset establishes engagement and purpose in the employee’s crucial first days.

2. Daily work life

In the new work environment, some employees may be on the frontlines while others are preparing to transition into new roles. Organizations that have effectively built a culture of learning will be able to provide their workforce with the technology and resources needed to quickly access learning materials so they can learn new policies, receive training, and develop new skills quickly to adapt to the changing business needs.

Establishing an agile learning culture happens when employees see opportunities alongside their daily work tasks. Embed course dates and deadlines in employee calendars to regularly present opportunities for learning in the day-to-day, or consider context-based training: for example, when an employee clocks in to begin their shift, present them with learning content that will help them be more effective on that day.

Additionally, as the workforce is transitioning from in person collaborative learning to digital, companies will need to look for new ways to encourage greater collaboration. Social learning experiences – whether on desktop or mobile – will help employees build knowledge and skills through peer collaboration and coaching in an informal setting, making it more engaging and effective. Learning Experience Platforms (LXPs) encourage collaboration and knowledge sharing by allowing employees to publish, share, and discuss learning content they find useful. This type of technology also helps employees learn more quickly and efficiently which is essential for businesses that need to meet spikes in demand. If an employee has a question, for example a nurse asking for an updated protocol or procedure, they can post it in a forum and quickly get answers on the subject matter.

Related: Engage and retain top talent by elevating your employee learning experience

3. Performance management and career pathing

Research shows that leaders in learning mode develop stronger leadership skills than their peers. Learning platforms can make the performance management and career pathing processes more efficient and transparent.

For example, employee performance plans can be tracked easily by monitoring completion of various courses or training that drive those plans. Managers, when it’s time for performance reviews, can access manager toolkits to learn how to effectively coach their employees based on different scenarios, and provide both formal and informal feedback.

From a career pathing standpoint, learning and career development are inseparable. Employees must see how courses align with career objectives; and managers require visibility into employees’ readiness for promotions based on both predictive analytics and their learning accomplishments. Companies can link courses and training to performance management plans and enable your managers to recommend course materials to help employees achieve a goal.

Related: Trends in workplace learning and the outlook for 2020

Modernized learning experiences for the new world of work

The global health crisis may present businesses with the opportunity to modernize traditional learning strategies to deploy information quickly and efficiently and build a more resilient, future-ready workforce. A critical part of this is delivering the right learning opportunities at the right times, in the right format. Embedded learning – or pervasive learning – will provide ongoing and intrinsic motivation for employees to direct their own learning so they can build the skills needed to adapt to an evolving business environment.

Further, companies will need to think about attracting and retaining talent as business activities resume. Employee learning and development programs signal an investment in employees’ success – and employees will stay at organizations where they feel there is great potential to learn. From a career standpoint and with the rules of work rapidly changing, continuous workplace learning leads to continued relevance – a win for both the employee and the business. In fact, companies with strong learning cultures are 92% more likely to innovate.

Modernizing traditional learning strategies will help organizations build a culture of learning to help employees adapt to changes and uncertainty, build necessary skills, and for businesses that are ramping up, attract and engage new hires efficiently.

 Access our Learning Portal for resources on COVID-19 preparedness and spread prevention, managing remote teams, and workplace mental wellness. These resources are available free-of-charge to both Dayforce customers and prospects.

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