Why self-paced learning is critical to your L&D strategy
As working patterns become more flexible, so too should our approach to L&D. Offering employees the opportunity to go at their own pace can reap substantial rewards.
In the past year we've seen a huge shift in the way we work, as more of us than ever before are forced to work remotely. Even before 2020, however, modern day workplace environments had changed, largely due to the needs and desires of recent graduates entering the workforce and shifting the paradigms of what matters for staff engagement and retention.
As a result, finding a training schedule that can fit into the modern working day is nearly impossible for some job types. In addition, this type of schedule quickly becomes an imposition on the other aspects of the employees work and, importantly, their mental wellbeing.
Why should we care about L&D at all?
It is well known among business leaders that encouraging participation in L&D programmes is one of the most effective ways of promoting a strong company culture of curiosity and professional development, as well as increasing retention.
This is especially relevant now, when those entering the workforce are looking to grow and diversify their skillsets, and are much more willing to move on to greener pastures when their professional development needs are not being satisfied. It’s crucial that employers find ways to provide continuous opportunities for learning and professional growth. This is where self-paced learning comes into play.
Why does learning need to be self-paced?
The challenge we face as managers is helping our teams find the balance between their main responsibilities and their professional development goals. L&D strategies only work when employees feel empowered, not defeated by them. Recent graduates entering the market overwhelmingly value opportunities for development, alongside a desire for a greater work/life balance.
In addition to their primary training outcome, staff will learn how to best manage their time and working pace to meet their deliverables while completing the training programme.
These two desires (training and flextime) are incompatible if the training relies on rigid time timetables or fixed training locations. This means that even after lockdown has been lifted, the days of booking a conference room for a language teacher or management coach to give a small group session at regular intervals, are probably long gone – they're no no longer realistic solutions. It becomes one more task that needs to be done in the office, one more meeting to schedule work around, and one more interruption to what might otherwise feel like a highly productive afternoon.
If there’s no fixed schedule, how do we monitor for completion?
The challenge faced by many L&D experts looking to implement self-paced learning is knowing whether or not staff are using the training programmes paid for by the company on their behalf. Without trackable metrics like attendance or progress reports from trainers, engagement and completion become harder to manage. Ultimately, most self-paced training programmes exist in delivery methods that combine with management platforms, or provide individual progress reporting to the learner directly.
It has been demonstrated that when the learner has clear objectives in mind, their learning is much more efficient and effective because they are able to choose their own path through the materials.
By agreeing to SMART goals, the burden of accountability and monitoring is lessened, and employees are empowered to manage the progress and scheduling of projects themselves. This type of autonomy is not only known to drive productivity and motivation but is in itself a form of professional training.
It means that in addition to their primary training outcome, staff will learn how to best manage their time and working pace to meet their deliverables while completing the training programme. Combined with achievable and realistic goals, this can be a deeply satisfying training outcome.
Does self-paced always also mean self-guided learning?
Self-paced training programmes don’t need to be self-guided. In fact, most online courses or training platforms are based on some sort of suggested linear curriculum. Some of these are even gated in such a way as to ensure linear progress through the training content.
Be sure to include staff in goal setting stages and devise a system that allows them to take ownership of their own learning.
When the training material is not inherently linear, however, or the employee has prior knowledge of the topic, it can be helpful to have the flexibility to jump around in the course materials and choose topics that are most relevant to achieving the individual needs of the employee. This is another strong incentive for L&D strategies to shift to individually adaptive and self-regulated models.
It has been demonstrated that when the learner has clear objectives in mind, their learning is much more efficient and effective because they are able to choose their own path through the materials, and focus primarily on their perceived areas of weakness.
Where do we start?
If you’re migrating from a fully on-site and scheduled system, you might want to start with a pilot group of staff members and migrate their training onto a self-paced model. This will highlight the pain points for your particular organisation in making the switch prior to a full-scale rollout. Change, even change for the better, is rarely easy. Either way, be sure to include staff in goal setting stages and devise a system that allows them to take ownership of their own learning.
Schedule regular check-ins to follow up on progress towards goals, and trust your team to manage their training goals in the agreed timeframe. Lastly, don’t expect everything to be perfect. There will be issues and failures along the way, but these can serve as valuable learning opportunities that inform the training format, as well as the employees’ own time and task management skills. Be sure to find lessons in these moments, and apply them to future iterations on your new self-paced training programme.
Interested in this topic? Read Learning culture: the benefits of continuous learning at work.
Federico Espinosa is a Lead Education Expert at Busuu, overseeing the content and future direction of the English and German course content as well as advising on the overall learning experience of the platform.
Before joining Busuu, he was the Education Lead for Mrs Wordsmith, an...