An Engaged Workforce Starts With Engaged Learners

» Posted by Jeanne Meister  » Posted on 12.03.07

Published November 2005

Can enterprise learning help create more engaged workers? Many companies hope so, because the news lately has not been encouraging. In the most recent Gallup Q12 survey, for example, 73 percent of workers described themselves as disengaged or actively disengaged from their work.

It’s a finding with profound economic consequences. Gallup estimates that actively disengaged employees cost the American economy up to $350 billion per year in lost productivity. On the positive side, Accenture’s research has found that the more engaged the workforce, the more innovative, productive and profitable the company.

Engaged employees are also engaged learners. Learning is personalized and embedded into the context of their lives. Engaged learners are motivated to learn because the learning is job-relevant: There is a close connection between achieving learning goals and meeting performance management goals.

Enterprise learning has a big role to play in increasing employee engagement, performance and retention. Defense Acquisition University (DAU) has made creating engaged learners a central part of its 2006 strategic plan. “Creating engaged learners is the future of learning at DAU,” DAU President Frank Anderson said. Why? Because engaged learners are more motivated, and they have more passion for their work. They also are able to transfer knowledge to solve problems creatively.

Here are three things CLOs should be doing now to help create a more engaged workforce through learning:

  1. Create flexible, 24×7 learning assets: Learning should morph to fit the needs of the learner, not vice versa. Consider how a company has tailored its customer channel design to fit different ways of interacting. Some customers want to speak face to face with a live service representative; others need to use a phone; others prefer an online experience. Companies must offer the same flexibility to their learners. DAU, for example, has created a flexible infrastructure known as the DAU Continuous Learning Center, where more than 260,000 registered users can participate in as many as 93 online learning modules. For the DAU learner, learning is becoming as convenient as shopping or banking online.
  2. Use highly engaging design to make learning interactive: One of the well-known pitfalls of classroom learning is that, improperly implemented, it can result in a passive, usually unengaging experience. Learning design based on performance simulation, on the other hand, is inherently interactive. It measures its success based on how effectively it changes the behaviors of the targeted learning group. Today, thanks to maturing technologies, performance simulations are being developed faster, at lower costs and with better accessibility and granularity than ever thought possible. Learners can access a quick simulation as a refresher. For example, a BT call center operator in need of a quick update on a new product or service can use a 15-minute period of downtime to engage in a quick simulation that results in a performance improvement and business payback as soon as the next customer call comes through.
  3. Leverage the latest mobile technologies: It seems like ages ago that we could listen to music only in our homes and cars. Portable music devices changed all that, and today, MP3 players and the like are changing the face of learning. Odd words like podcasting and vodcasting are increasingly being spoken by learning executives. The benchmarks for mobile learning can often be found at today’s four-year universities. Consider Duke University, often credited with being the first university to hand out MP3 players to incoming freshman. Now, other universities are following suit and offering entire course lectures as podcasts—downloadable audio broadcasts. In September 2005, Purdue University announced that up-to-date lectures would be available as podcasts on a Web site. Visit and see for yourself where the future of learning is for the “iPod generation.” They will be working for your company any day now. Are you ready?

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