Online courses, podcasts and new tech tools give employees more ownership over their professional development than ever before.

So what role should human resources (HR) play in learning and development (L&D)? Even if HR does not directly administer employee education, the department can still play an important facilitator role. 

Adaptive Learning

As is often the case, there's no one size fits all solution to L&D. Employees today need and want more individualized learning plans. 

Psychological studies indicate that how people learn depends in great part on their personality. By adapting learning programs to suit “strategic learners,” “deep learners,” “surface learners” and others, organizations increase the likelihood of employees acquiring new skills. 

The challenge lies in creating L&D programs that can adapt to individual employee's learning needs.

HR as Architect, Not Implementer

Forward-thinking HR organizations use design thinking as a method to meet modern employees’ demands. In keeping with the trend, Deloitte and Columbia University offer a Global Human Capital Trends course that advocates HR professionals to transform their approach through design thinking, stating that 79 percent of senior professionals now rank it as a high priority when meeting talent challenges. 

What does design thinking mean in this context?

Design thinking encourages practitioners to create new processes from a designer's perspective: focusing on improving the experience of the user, rather than past methods. Utilizing design thinking in HR encourages professionals to create new processes based on the needs of employees. 

Tips for Employee-Centric Learning

HR can do four things to redesign their L&D programs to focus more on the employee experience:

1. Become a Content Curator

HR is in the best position to design and tailor L&D programs that reflect their organization’s objectives. Jason Wingard, dean of Columbia University School of Professional Studies, suggests HR take on a content curator role, crafting L&D programs that guide and incentivize employees to learn more of the skills specific to the company’s needs while maintaining employee ownership of learning. 

By curating content and tools to help employees learn the skills needed to reach their business objectives, HR acts as a gatekeeper, saving employees from the bombardment of information, notifications and video clips they've grown accustomed to. 

Keep in mind the needs of the modern learner. Most won’t watch a video longer than four minutes and with two thirds of knowledge workers claiming they don't have time to do their jobs, be sure to select content that will speaks to your employees’ learning needs and address their key concerns in the workplace.

2. Turn Managers into Mentors

Managers face the dual expectations of meeting KPIs and bottom line priorities set for their team at the executive level, while at the same time coaching their employees. 

Having a team with a high learning agility greatly increases managers’ ability to reach key objectives, but they won’t spend time on it if their performance is being assessed solely on financial indicators. Make it easier for your managers to become great mentors by redesigning the process to address their needs and concerns.

Signal the importance your company places on L&D by taking coaching into consideration when conducting performance reviews. Instead of simply asking “How much revenue did their team bring in this year?” ask “How many new skills did their team learn?” 

Learning Opportunities

If your company conducts manager reviews, ask employees if they feel they’re getting enough coaching from their manager. This will allow managers more flexibility in the way they balance their employees’ coaching needs with meeting bottom line objectives.

3. Facilitate Peer to Peer Learning

It may seem obvious, but one of the most effective learning strategies today is peer-driven learning. Fifty-five percent of Google’s L&D is administered through an ecosystem of over 2000 peer learners. The Googler to Googler program effectively puts employees into HR’s role of planning and training peers on a variety of different skills. In 2013, roughly 2,000 employees volunteered to teach a class.

Following Google’s lead isn't possible for many businesses. In spite of an eagerness to learn and develop new skills, Deloitte found that employees only have 1 percent of their work week available to spend on learning. Getting peers to spend the extra time devising training courses may not be feasible, but promoting peer coaching is through peer to peer performance appraisals.

Encouraging peers to give each other regular performance feedback — whether through official reviews or informally — creates an environment in which people are more open and attuned to helping their teammates develop.

Deloitte estimates that 80 percent of learning occurs on the job through interactions with others. As teams work more frequently in a cross-functional manner this approach to learning will become more important as it is less time intensive and more cost effective than setting up formal HR administered training courses. 

Allow your employees to explore new options within the company by making cross-departmental learning available. Sourcing talent for open positions within your own company limits the task of onboarding and provides you with a diverse, multi-skilled workforce. 

Provide your workforce with the right tools to connect with each other facilitates knowledge sharing and breaks down departmental barriers.

4. Adopting Tech Friendly L&D for a Tech Savvy Workforce

Most employees want to learn more on the job, but supporting this doesn't have to break the bank. Rather than having HR spend time and money on devising expensive formal classes, companies are now investing in new HR tools that bring real-time learning to employees' smartphones. 

Providing digital learning tools such as podcasts, online courses, webinars, blogs and tools that foster daily workplace collaboration will give your employees more options to accelerate their professional learning plan. 

Title image by Tran Mau Tri Tam

fa-solid fa-hand-paper Learn how you can join our contributor community.