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Alan Hiddleston


Director Corporate Learning,

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Programmatic learning: a transformation of the learning function

Plugging critical skills gaps will rely on continuous agile upskilling in future.

The past year has tested the remote capabilities of many organisations and in most cases, challenged learning and development teams in ways that they never have been before. Indeed, recent events have proven that digital skills are now essential to the world of work. With lockdowns accelerating digital transformation initiatives across many organisations, some business leaders have identified skills gaps among employees. This has been amplified by the fact that new staff have been trained remotely, sometimes with rushed or incomplete onboarding programmes. For others, some learning initiatives simply had to be put on hold.

With the rising tide of automation, the future economy will not only be about developing skills, but ultimately, about changing attitudes, culture and behaviour. 

The Learning & Work Institute’s recent report highlights the extent of the skills gap, and how vital digital skills are to the UK’s economic recovery. It not only revealed a drop in the number of students learning IT/STEM subjects at school, but also a disconnect between the increasing demand for digital skills and availability of workplace training. The report showed that 70% of new employees expect their company to invest in teaching them digital skills on the job, but only half of employers are currently able to provide the necessary training.  

Digital skills require a different approach    

The reskilling challenge in and of itself is nothing new. Even before the crisis hit, new technologies were disrupting the labour market, redefining job roles and the skills required in the workplace. The pandemic has added a new sense of urgency, however, and the rapid pace of change in business calls for continuous skills development.    

To support this shift, the way L&D teams measure learning will need to be granular and indeed, data driven. When assessing the adoption of a new L&D policy across the organisation or addressing a specific skills gap, every individual learner needs to be accounted for – from the stage they are currently at to specific areas for development and improvement requirements. Progress will also need to be measured in more advanced ways, with HR and L&D working in tandem and using the latest technology to assess current skill sets and identify where gaps must be filled.    

Digital skills are difficult to nurture, and even harder to assess. L&D professionals will have to move beyond content and provide more complex, and personalised learning pathways – a ‘one-size fits all’ approach is simply no longer viable. Learning programmes will have to be far more flexible, allowing employees to top up their skills on a regular basis, and ultimately, test their knowledge by putting it into practice.    

What is programmatic learning?    

At its core, programmatic learning is a blended learning intervention that often spans months. Rather than targeting small skills in a one-off session, this framework is specifically designed to target more complex organisational issues at scale, through new skills and knowledge acquisition and application. It is essentially a continuous and action-based programme that actively supports and encourages employees continuous learning. It is ideally suited to deliver complex goals, focusing on established outcomes and objectives, with performance measured in accordance with set metrics and reviewed on a regular basis. This means positive behaviours can effectively be reinforced and encouraged.  

Compared to some traditional corporate training sessions, programmatic learning relies on collaboration and feedback, encouraging social learning. While social distancing and remote work presents a challenge for these types of programmes, some L&D departments may have tools at their disposal to address this challenge. In fact, through gamification, L&D teams can recapture those important interactions typical of face-to-face learning. Whether through online forums or discussion boards, or virtual classroom environments, these modern programmes offer an opportunity for employees to ask questions, test each other’s knowledge and receive instant feedback.  

Removing silos: collaboration is key when designing these programmes

It is vital that HR and L&D work together when designing modern learning programmes, ideally alongside line managers and department leads. Together they can draw upon their experience to ensure the learning objectives address the skill needs of the company. The aim is to develop new knowledge and expertise over time, exposing the learner to a depth and breadth of information, and providing opportunities for real-world application so they can test their knowledge in a scenario relevant to their everyday work.  

The pandemic has reminded business leaders that a skilled workforce can create a more resilient organisation overall. With the rising tide of automation, the future economy will not only be about developing skills, but ultimately, about changing attitudes, culture and behaviour. For employees, reskilling will be a constant feature of their entire working lives, and employers will have to ensure their staff are equipped with the skills of tomorrow. L&D and HR departments need to strike the right balance, providing regular upskilling or retraining opportunities to help ensure businesses are future proofed for virtually any outcome.

Interested in this topic? Read The future of learning: online training in a post-Covid world.

Author Profile Picture
Alan Hiddleston

Director Corporate Learning,

Read more from Alan Hiddleston

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