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6 factors for building a learning organization

Digitalisation requires new skills

There is a constant flow of news on the lack of key skills in workplaces. Manpower recently published a report showing that 67% of larger companies have difficulty finding the right expertise. 10 years ago, this number was 31%. Several reports demonstrate how this shortage is increasing.

The explanation for this shortage is the rapid change in skills needed by businesses. AI, Internet of Things, Big Data, Robots, etc. contribute to exponential development of technology and opportunities to operate the business in new ways. The World Economic Forum’s report “Future of Jobs” (2018) indicate that we have to replace more than 40% of the skills needed in our specific jobs over the next 5 years.

It’s not just a challenge for employees who want to remain employable. According to a study from McKinsey, only 17% of companies succeed with their digital transformation. The ability to develop employees’ skills play a major role in the high pace of transformation. To succeed, a company needs to become a learning organization. According to Peter Senge, this is an organization that “acquires new knowledge and innovates fast enough to survive and prosper in a rapidly changing environment”.

New generations with new demands for development

New generation with learning and development demands

The way in which we learn has changed in recent years. We are more impatient, want answers right away, have less time and need to fit learning into to work. 70% rely on search engines and 80% rely on colleagues and networks as their main sources of knowledge.

For new generations such as the millennials, the use of technology is even more pronounced. They also have a higher demand for clarity, feedback as well as career and development opportunities. A lack of clarity and transparency means that many traditional companies have problems recruiting and retaining younger workers.

Challenges for Learning & Development departments

According to CEB, 70% of employees feel that opportunities for learning and development within the company are lacking. It is not enough, not relevant and the learning methods do not fit within todays frame of work.

There is a risk that the L&D department will be marginalized. That they won’t keep up with the rapid changes now taking place. The lack of course content in many important, and more so, new skills means that employees more often fund their own development by taking courses at MOOCs and course libraries such as LinkedIn Learning. Investments originally placed within L&D is also increasingly shifting to the business. According to CEB, 37% of investments in learning are made by the L&D Department, compared to 44% five years ago.

6 critical factors in creating a successful learning organization

How can we address the challenges mentioned above? One factor often spoken about is the digitisation of learning. It can drastically increase the availability, reach and efficiency of learning. Not taking advantage of technology and just leaning on one’s own experiences at work, the knowledge of close colleagues and rare opportunities for training is not enough in today’s rapid pace of change.

At the same time, technology is just an enabler. Without working with such things as the culture and employees’ ability to learn, technology will have a lower impact. We need to work broadly in several areas. I will now discuss the most critical factors as can be seen in the picture below.

6 critical factors for building a learning organization

A culture of learning and development

In order to tackle rapid changes in technology, new business models, customer needs and ways of working, we need to innovate and learn at an ever-increasing pace. The company culture needs to encourage employees in taking risks, experimenting and to learn from mistakes. We need to develop a learning organization.

The organisation needs to be more open and transparent. Instead of silos and a “not-invented here” mentality, individuals need to be able to create and learn together with individuals from both other departments and from outside of their own company.

To support autonomy, experimentation and learning we also need to dare to measure results and take feedback, not only from the manager but from colleagues, customers and our network.

Changing the culture is a considerable task. Here are a few points to consider along the way:

  • A management that communicates a challenging and engaging purpose for the need of a learning culture. Which leads the way by modelling desired behaviours and highlights initiatives that strengthen culture.
  • “Growth Mindset” and “Learnability” as the cornerstones of the company’s growth.
  • Organization and roles designed to provide employees with autonomy and a mandate to design their own work and to experiment.
  • L&D departments leading the way to self-driven continuous learning, embraces new ways of learning and missioning this behaviour.
  • That opportunities exists for the individual to pursue their own learning. (as described below).

The employee’s ability to constantly learn

A learning culture begins with employees who want to, are allowed to and has the ability to learn. Working with the culture described above affects the fact that the employee wants to and are allowed to learn. It is equally important that the employee has the ability to learn. This ability includes planning one’s own development, understanding what skills are required, how they develop, what methods are available to use and where to find knowledge. The ability to learn includes:

  • Learning from the experiences at work.
  • Learning from the flow of information and knowledge.
  • Learn from collaboration and the personal network.
  • Be able to use the technology to achieve more from learning.

I myself do a daily reflection on the way home from work. I try to answer the questions: “What did I want to achieve today”, “How did it go”, “What did I do well/not so well”, “What have I learned”. Other advice include documenting experiences, for example; in twitter or a blog. It is also important to seek feedback on how things are going at work. Ask your manager, colleagues or customers for feedback.

To only learn from existing experiences is not enough. Not when 40% of today’s competencies need to be replaced within 5 years. We need daily learning from the world around us. These includes learning objects from MOOC ́s such as Coursera and LinkedIn Learning, but above all from articles, reports and videos. We need to get into the habit of learning, e.g. when we commute to work, and learn to master the tools.

For many, networking is the most important way to learn. This is how we get help with problem solving, receive advice on how to do things, find new perspectives and not least, find good resources in the flow of knowledge.

We gain greater leverage when we participate in social media such as LinkedIn, Twitter etc. We need to develop the habit of asking questions, sharing knowledge and commenting on others.

The ability to learn is also about using the tools that are available. A common concept is the personal ecosystems for learning. The picture below is an example of tools that can be used for personal learning. Choosing effective tools and using them also requires skills.

Learning ecosystem

Managers who let employees develop

The Manager is one of the keys for continuous learning. It is the manager who conveys the learning culture and who most affects the fact that the employee wants to, has the opportunity to and has the ability to learn. To begin with, the manager needs to be strong in their personal continuous learning and lead the way, secondly, the manager needs to be supportive in helping the employee find opportunities for learning and to develop further.

To develop, we need to make new experiences. It is the managers responsibility to find the challenges that offers new experiences and help us grow, for example, challenging projects or the opportunity to exchange tasks with someone. It is also the manager’s job to coach us before, during and after performing new tasks.

The manager can help us apply what we learn in the workplace and provide feedback on the progress. New generations expect the manager to be clear about expectations and make frequent follow-ups. The manager can also coach us in the habits required to increase our learnability.

The manager is often the most important person in driving transparency and collaboration within the team. The manager influences whether plans, communication, follow-up and discussion take place openly or in closed groups. The manager sets an example by working openly on social platforms such as Teams or Slack, commenting on others and sharing knowledge as well as experiences.

The manager strongly affects employees’ growth mindset. By experimenting, daring to take risks and fail, the manager demonstrates the norm to the employee. One example is to be open with misstakes, but also be open with the lessons learned from these.

Zones for challenging work

Learning needs to be embedded in the flow of work

Learning at work has always been the most effective. I don’t just mean from experience, but as a place where we gain new knowledge. The reasons are many; lack of time for learning, motivation from work tasks to learn, opportunities of applying learning directly and, above all, the low impact of traditional training away from work.

At work we can learn just as we need it, in the context of the task at hand and in small doses fitting within the time we have available. Some forms of learning new knowledge through work are “Performance Support”, micro learning, searching the internet and interacting with experts who help us via chat, Skype, AR or other forms of communication.

Designing work for learning means that we must change our approach; from developing courses to supporting performance. We need to participate in the design of work itself and anticipate where guidance and learning are needed. It does not only include embedding instructions and micro learning where appropriate. We need to understand what data we should collect to better predict where microlearning or instructions are needed.

Instead of methods like ADDIE for course development, Design Thinking become important to understand employees’ experience of work processes and learning as well as create solutions that involve employees.

Design Thinking

We also need to broaden our views on solutions and really find the root of the problem, e.g. by asking “why?” (5 times according to Toyota) and consider the problem in a wider aspect. Solutions can be about motivation, leadership, routines, design of systems, tools, information support, training, etc.

As changes become more rapid the link between new ways of working and established skills need to become shorter. Today, there is usually a weak link between departments that define new ways of working and those that deliver training. The business needs a clear responsibility to ensure capabilities when developing new products, systems or ways of working. It is the business itself that should create the solutions we are talking about above..

Digitalization leverages learning

Digitalization of learning is a prerequisite to be able to keep up with the rapid changes that are now taking place. We can make learning accessible where the employee is (on the bus, at work…), when needed (at work), with greater impact (distributed over time, embedded in work) and with greater reach for collaboration and sharing of knowledge.

Below I present an overview of some new learning technologies and how they strengthen learning.

Increase access to content

With over 40% new and changing skills, there is a great need to find knowledge and training outside of the corporate course catalogues. This has created a whole new market of MOOC ́s and online course libraries such as Coursera, LinkedIn Learning, Udacity, OpenSesame, Pluralsight and more. They form a new economy where professional teachers at universities as well as experts in companies publish their knowledge. It is also a market where many employees fund their development with their own money.

Today, most learning management systems can be integrated with the large course libraries to drastically increase offerings of content that better meets employees’ needs, especially with future skills. Employees need to change their behaviour from only attending mandatory courses a few times a year to actively search for learning that help develop new skills. According to the World Economic Forum, one third of employees have reskilling needs that span more than 150 hours per year over the next 5 years.

LinkedIn Learning

Learning Experience Platforms

With all the content in MOOC ́s, online course libraries, YouTube, TED talks, blogs etc. there are endless amounts of content that can support our development. The challenge is to navigate the flow of knowledge and to find the right content and quality.

Learning Experience Platform (LXP) helps find the content that is relevant. The user defines wanted skills and keywords, follows others, recommend learning and is recommended learning from others. The system learns what the user reads and likes and suggests content. Experts create pathways and recommend content in their field. All this together creates a flow of content that is relevant to the individual. Examples of LXP are Degreed, Edcast and Fuse Universal.


Deliver at work – Microlearning, Performance Support and AR

Microlearning refers to small learning modules, usually focused on a specific learning goal, which the employee completes at work or, for example, via their mobile phone on their way to work. It can be a video, a short eLearning, simulation or test question. Microlearning systems such as Axonify and Junglemap can also use data on our preferences and past results to push the right learning module at the right time or support learning by distributing activities over time.


Performance Support is usually instructions that can be found on top of the program/page and step by step guide you how to complete the tasks. Videos and short eLearning can also be linked to the page to show background concepts or how decisions are made.


Systems like WalkMe or GuideMe save data based on how we use systems and apps and can intelligently recommend appropriate instructions or short training. Here’s an example from a sales system where an American user add a customer from Europe and gets advice via a video of on cultural differences on negotiation.

Embedded learning

The same kind of support and learning offered in laptops or mobiles can also be offered through Augmented Reality in e.g. Microsoft Hololens or Google Glasses.

Microsoft Hololens

Leverage the organization’s social knowledge

When using social platforms, we can directly reach anyone who knows anything about a topic within the company. Together we can solve problems. Experience and knowledge that we gain are not limited to ourselves. They become available throughout the organization. It becomes easier to share knowledge, whether it’s text, image, document, or video. Smart features make it possible to search and categorize. The leverage will be huge if you compare it to the limited reach of collaborative learning that existed in the past.

Most LMS has built-in social functions as described above (e.g. SABA, Cornerstone OnDemand). The trend is that collaborative tools such as Microsoft Teams or Slack become the workplace itself. More and more learning is available directly in tools like Teams.

Courses available directly in Microsoft Teams

Learning ecosystem

10 years ago, basically 3 technologies existed in learning. LMS, authoring tools and virtual classrooms. Today there are many tools. We have examples above of MOOC, LXP, social platforms, video platforms, etc.

On top of that we can add a large amount of adjacent HR technologies, such as for rewards “Rideu”, apps for wellbeing such as “Whil”, change management like “Adopt”, which now also have built in learning. Modern platforms for work and collaboration such as Slack and Microsoft Teams in turn offer an opportunity to integrate learning directly into work.

There are thus many new opportunities at the same time as customers are becoming less and less satisfied with their company LMS. The criticism states a lack of user experience and features in “new” areas that do not measure up, for instance in the field of curation or microlearning. Privately, we are happy to use several different systems and apps for learning. The same trend is now introduced within companies. We establish learning ecosystems consisting of several different systems and apps that interact.

A common need is to create a layer above the company’s LMS to create a more engaging and social user experience and to better support informal learning. For example, by using an LXP as Degreed. Several standards like xAPI and LTI now also make it easy to integrate the apps that best meet our needs.

Digital Ecosystem for Learning

The new role of L&D

The need for L&D´s traditional services such as development and delivery of courses, is today greatly reduced. Content is increasingly introduced from external sources or from employees and experts. The majority of the employee and the organization learning; what is learnt at work or in cooperation with others is driven by the employee, manager or business functions rather than by L&D.

The task for those working in L&D will instead be to enable employees’ in self-driven and continuous learning and to develop a learning organization. Examples of new tasks are:

  1. Support the change towards a learning culture.
  2. Enable and develop the employee’s ability for self-driven learning.
  3. Support managers in developing continuous learning for employees.
  4. Support the business to embed learning into work.
  5. Establish and introduce an engaging digital environment for learning with new systems, apps, and course libraries.
  6. Coordinate learning efforts and act as expert support.

It is not obvious that the above tasks should be run by a traditional training department within HR. I believe that most of the responsibility needs to be owned by the business. The central function then drives infrastructure, coordination and expertise. Traditional roles such as course developers, instructors and course administrators are already being replaced at a rapid pace. Some examples of new roles are:

  • Curators – selects and validates relevant content from many sources such as MOOC’s, external course libraries, TED talks, YouTube, blogs, and more.
  • Technology architects – integrates systems and apps into a unified learning experience.
  • Experience Designer – Focus on, among other things, Design Thinking to anticipate learning needs, embed learning into work and create engaging learning journeys.
  • Performance designers –understands performance in depth and creates broad solutions to improve employee performance and capabilities.
  • Data analyst – embeds, retrieves, analyses and presents data from work and learning.
  • Change manager – facilitate change needed to create a learning organization.
  • Coaches – supports managers and employees to build the new capabilities required for continuous learning.

In addition, leaders in L&D and those who are going to support the change, require more of business acumen, strategic thinking, consultative behaviour, technical know-how and communication skills.

What does this mean?

The challenges and changes for you in L&D are large. Those who engage in the development and follow the steps above will be able to gain a much more central role in the company’s growth. It is a long journey that begins by building your own awareness of the opportunities and knowledge of how to implement the change.

In future articles I intend to describe each area above in detail and offer more examples. Finally, I will describe how you who are working within learning will achieve the changes mentioned above.