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David James


Chief Learning Officer

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Bringing Your Own Digital Habits to Learning


For quite some time now, we’ve been telling employees, managers and leaders (and anyone else who will listen) that the individual should own their development - and so we shouldn’t be surprised that a greater proportion of professional development is now happening outside of traditional L&D channels.

BYOL (Bring Your Own Learning) is a term being used to describe how people choose their own learning sources and (formally or informally) create a learning agenda based upon their needs, ambitions and interests. BYOL was described in a fascinating book of the same name and denotes that ‘what matters is that students learn in the ways that make sense to them and their teachers’. Whether this is in the form of books, courses, videos, mentoring, online learning platforms, or short-form mobile content, there appears to be a growing trend of employees owning more of their professional development.

In a recent webinar, Todd Tauber described one of the catalysts for individuals owning their own development as being the race to remain professionally relevant when human knowledge is doubling every 13 months. Bersin by Deloitte reference a similar statistic with the half-life of many professional skills now being somewhere between just 2.5 and 5 years.

So we did it!

It appears that a great number of employees are owning their development and finding their own channels to grow their knowledge and know-how. So our job is done, right?

Not quite.

If around 70% of people will go to a search-engine as their first port-of-call, 42% seek out a course on their own and only 12% will bother HR, then where’s the context?

If your organisation has (or aspires to have) competencies, capabilities, behaviours or other success criteria then you’ve already recognised that context is essential to professional success - and you’re likely to have incorporated (or at least referenced) these in your development programmes.

So, how do things work in your organisation? How do people get on in your company? What are the appropriate means of influence?

BYOL helps people to develop and grow in ways that they’ve envisioned but how does that compare to what the organisation has envisioned?

The opportunity for L&D is twofold: To identify where context is critical to the organisation’s (and individual’s) success and to recognise the habits, preferences and motivations of employees who are developing themselves and capitalise on these internally. Why? Because through increased employee engagement in your organisation’s learning you can develop your internal capability in the areas that your organisation demands.

This means going beyond BYOL and identifying the digital habits to capitalise on these for the benefit of organisational capability and performance.

In a recent study, Degreed found that 95% of the workforce use at least one personal device at work. If nearly three-quarters of employees will look outside of the organisation with a web-search for answers to help them with their job (and frighteningly that number increases to 81% for new starters), then how can you help to make your organisation’s proprietary knowledge as easy to access?

If we go to our smartphones up 9 times an hour (a little over every 5 minutes) and nearly all smartphone users turn to their devices for ideas while completing a task. And with searches relating to "how to" on YouTube growing by 70% each year, then these are developed habits that we can capitalise on.

When people bring their devices into their workflow, they will use them in a way that will serve them well - and that already serves them well. If we (L&D) can learn what these ways are then our opportunity to engage employees is greater.

But how do we do this, I hear you ask?

The first step is to look at your own habits. What do you do when you need to know something, or when you need to know how-to-do something? Ask your colleagues and friends too - because it’s likely to be strikingly similar.

I’ve been asking most people I speak with this very question. A former-colleague I asked very recently replied ‘Oh, I’m not up with the modern way of doing things, I’d probably just Google it’.

And you?

This post was written by David James, former-Director of Talent, Learning & OD for The Walt Disney Company EMEA and now Learning Strategist with

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David James

Chief Learning Officer

Read more from David James

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