From passive consumption to active learning: Why the ‘Netflix of learning’ fails to empower modern professionals

3rd July by Karen Smart

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Just released, the CIPD’s Learning at Work 2023 report has thrown a spotlight on how the ‘Netflix of learning’ approach does not align with the needs of employees in today’s workplace.

The CIPD’s regular survey has again been exploring how learning professionals are responding to the changing world of work and here we take a look at some of its key findings.

Why the ‘Netflix of learning’ is inadequate for modern workplace training

The term ‘Netflix of learning’ is used to describe learning platforms which provide a wide range of educational resources. These aim to make learning accessible, easy and convenient for self-learners and offer a diverse choice of subject material.

While offering a wide array of content which is available anytime, anywhere, it does not always mean that the learning will be sticky, has significant depth or rigour, can provide additional tailored support if required, or is credentialed to a professional standard.

In addition, the CIPD says that ‘it is important not to overload individuals with choice. Those familiar with learning theory understand that minimising the cognitive load of individuals, ensuring relevance to the task in hand, and creating opportunity for practice is essential for learning.’

In the report, the CIPD advises that employers ‘should prioritise building skill over content to play a proactive role in talent retention. The methods and media currently in use are focused on content and programme creation instead of being harnessed to address the evidence-informed principles of reflection, learning transfer, application learning and facilitating an environment to support continual growth and learning. Sometimes this will mean saying ‘no’ to traditional methods and embracing informal and collaborative learning and development, such as coaching and mentoring. Always it will mean working smarter with others.’

Effective learning transfer has to be a strategic priority for employers

From the report we learn that ‘addressing the skills gap is the number one priority for 29% of L&D professionals, but they are prioritising inputs (for example, increasing self-directed learning) over outputs (for example, speeding up the transfer of learning).’

It goes onto reveal that ‘given the wider organisational focus on both staff retention and the skills agenda, it is surprising that only 8% are prioritising speeding up the transfer of learning back into the workplace or creating a more inclusive learning offering for all. Perhaps giving more of an emphasis to the application of learning science to our work would influence what we prioritise and what we don’t.’

Where helping employees to confidently perform in their jobs, this is imperative to consider when designing learning pathways and content. It is also important to note that adult learning theory and particularly, allowing time for reflection is often a neglected aspect and one for which there is often no space on computer-based learning. As the CIPD suggests, ‘strategies for ensuring effective learning transfer are becoming increasingly important.’

Learning and development practitioners need to be adopting ways of being able to build skill and shift the behaviours of everyone going through their training programmes. On top of that, learners need to be given an environment where ‘they feel comfortable to practise, learn and fail.’ Learning opportunities should also support employees with ‘career progression and job transition as current skills become obsolete and new roles emerge.’

The power of coach skills training – unlocking lasting skills development

From the work we do with our own client base we see time and again how coaching skills, coaching and action set learning are transforming the performance of employees. Working with future leaders, middle managers and team leaders, the investment in developing coaching skills and coaching is yielding improvement in a myriad of areas including retention, engagement, productivity, wellbeing, people management capabilities and agility.

Supplementing and complementing mentoring, on-the-job learning, stretch assignments and traditional classroom or virtual training, coach skills training creates lasting learning experiences and helps master skills for life. The advantage of coach skills training is that it supports learning transfer, encourages reflection and its impact can be assessed as these skills can be directly and immediately applied in the workplace. The return on learning investment is also tangible and is not what the CIPD calls ‘a mad rush at the end of the programme – it becomes the result of working together with stakeholders to co-create value.’