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Self-Directed Learning in the Workplace

Getting employees to participate in training seminars (let alone actually pay attention to them) can be like pulling teeth.  No matter how important or relevant the training, there will be people who think it doesn’t apply to them, people who show up then sit in the corner and doodle, people who leave after lunch, and so on, which can create the impression that you’ve just wasted a lot of money trying to get people to learn a new skill or process that could help them perform their job more effectively.  One way to combat this is to implement a self-directed learning program that allows employees to pursue their own education, expand their skill sets, and improve performance on their own schedule.  Below, we’ve provided some insight into why self-directed learning can be of value and how to implement a program of your own.

What is Self-Directed Learning?

The phrase may conjure up images of empty classrooms or lonely nights spent alone in front of a computer, but self-directed learning in the workplace means much more than that.  The basic principles—that learning is a lifelong process, that programs should coincide with personal interest or motivations, and that programs should be adapted to fit each individual’s skill sets and progress—are relatively straightforward, but there are a variety of ways that they can be implemented within a company.  Corporations can, for example, develop mobile learning applications that employees can go through during long commutes or while traveling on business, offer to subsidize a variety of training seminars and modules that employees can pick and choose from, or encourage informal peer-to-peer learning. 

How does Self-Directed Learning Contribute to the Company?

Self-directed learning programs offer a myriad of benefits.  First, it provides an avenue for employees to learn new skills that will allow them to keep up with the latest industry trends, expand their knowledge base, and perform their work more efficiently and effectively.  Second, it can help keep employees engaged in the company, particularly since it allows them to pursue courses that are of personal or professional interest, not just corporate interest.  This is personally fulfilling, and can lead to higher levels of job satisfaction and employee retention as a result.  Third, it appeals to Millennial employees, who grew up in the “information age” and are accustomed to watching YouTube videos and attending free classes through websites like Coursera in order to educate themselves on new topics.  Finally, it contributes to the development of a company culture that values innovation, initiative, and knowledge.

How do you Implement a Self-Directed Learning Program?

Unfortunately, implementing a strong self-directed learning program can take quite a while, particularly as employees adjust to the idea and become more comfortable taking advantage of the resources being offered.  Perhaps the easiest method is to start small by letting employees know that the company is offering to subsidize a sampling of training courses that cover a variety of topics and skill sets.  From there, employers can offer to let employees find their own courses or training seminars they would like to attend, and cover the costs if the employee can demonstrate why it would be of value.  Consider holding monthly “brown bag” lunches that employees can choose to attend, which feature speakers with expertise in various industry-related subjects.  Definitely leave plenty of room for employee suggestions, since, of course, the whole point of self-directed learning is that it is self-directed. 

How do you Convince Employees to Participate?

Getting people to participate in the program is, again, a bit more challenging.  With the Millennial workforce it is a bit easier because, as mentioned above, Millennial workers are already more accustomed to the process of self-directed learning and are comfortable using all available resources to learn a new skill or find the solution to a problem.  Encouraging a culture of continuous learning and self-improvement is important to getting people to participate, as is praising employees who take initiative and demonstrate self-reliance and innovation.  You cannot force employees to participate—that brings you back to the headache of “mandatory training”—but you can foster a culture where employees are eager to learn new skills and contribute to the company in new ways.

If you still have questions on how to implement a self-directed learning program, or would like to learn more about how it can contribute to employee retention and talent management, feel free to contact Potomac Recruiting today!

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