How leading L&D teams use continuous learning to boost agility
The pandemic taught us that adaptability is key to survival – and this has never been more true for learning and development in 2023.
Covid-19 made employees reevaluate their careers, triggering what many were calling “The Great Reshuffle". Now, in 2023 we’re faced with another paradigm shift as enterprise level companies make huge layoffs, flooding a volatile market with high value talent.
Among these talented candidates are swaths of tech-savvy, ambitious Generation Zers – 70% of which consider learning opportunities a priority when looking for new roles.
In light of all this adaptation, agile learning is no longer a buzzword: it is a mandate for learning and development leaders tasked with delivering business impact.
In this guide we'll deep dive into how we're seeing learning teams build agility, what the pros and cons of agile learning are, and why it cannot be ignored in 2023.
What is agile learning?
Agile learning can be described as a method of continuous learning through speed, collaboration, and feedback. The agile learning meaning derives from the software development industry, in which teams have to frequently release iterations while being open to feedback and testing.
It’s based on the Scrum framework, which breaks down bigger projects into smaller, more manageable steps. These steps are commonly actioned in “sprints”, which are short bursts of productive work.
The benefits of agile learning
Historically, corporate learning has relied on high-production value in-person or virtual instructor-led training (VILT).
Today, these methods can't adapt quickly enough, and smart L&D leaders are moving to an agile learning model that can provide the following benefits.
1. Employee engagement
According to Gallup’s State of the Global Workplace report, only 33% of US employees say they’re engaged in the workplace.
What happens when employees aren’t engaged? They view the workplace negatively, struggle with productivity, and—worst case scenario—leave their job.
Agile learning focuses on continuous communication and feedback that is in-the-moment, contextual, and delivers the learning to employees where they are (WhatsApp, Microsoft Teams, Slack, etc).
This provides a higher level of support and engagement, leading to happier, more productive employees who try harder to meet company goals.
2. Bite-sized learning
When a person is subjected to more information than the brain can process at one time, they experience information overload. This can cause confusion, stress, and poor working memory.
In the working environment, information overload can cause problems when you’re counting on employees to be able to do their job more effectively after training sessions.
An OpenText report recently found that 80% of global workers experience information overload. Dividing trainings into bite-sized chunks through agile learning can alleviate this. Instead of spending hours on the same topic, 5 to 10 minutes of focus means that employees can access information quickly and easily.
The employee will also be able to apply the information they have learned more iteratively, rather than spending hours on a siloed LMS, only to return to their work activities.
3. Peer feedback
In the Information Age when every topic can be Googled or found via voice search in a matter of minutes, the traditional student-teacher hierarchy is changing. Millennials and Gen Z, especially, have accepted that anybody can be an expert on any topic and we can all learn from each other.
As this Salesforce report shows, employees who feel their voice is heard are 4.6 more likely to feel empowered to perform their best work.
Agile learning puts an emphasis on collaboration. It allows recognition and feedback, but—more importantly—it permits individuals at all levels of the business to request, evaluate and adapt learning courses. Essentially, they share knowledge, teach, and pick up things from each other. This helps to build a creative and inclusive company culture where employees are more connected and invested in their work.
In the case of agile in a learning context, feedback is a two way street aiming to gain more feedback for learning teams as well as learners.
Agile learning not only promotes a mindset of flexibility and willingness to evolve, but it provides the ability to adapt to change. It teaches resilience, risk-taking, and open-mindedness.
Agile learning also helps employees learn faster. It reduces the time they have to wait between training sessions and encourages “on the job” learning, so they can put the theory into practice sooner.
Not to mention, through all the collaboration, feedback, and testing, agile learning boosts communication between stakeholders, decision-making and analytical skills, and team morale.
How to create an agile learning culture
Once you’re aware of the huge potential of agile learning, you’re naturally going to want to make it work for your company. Here’s a few pointers:
1. Adopt continuous learning
Throw out your old rulebook on how employees should be trained. Instead, realize that employee training shouldn’t have a one-off expiration date. Create a learning culture where performance enhancement is continuous, adaptable, and built to lower friction over time.
This doesn’t mean that all your previous training content gets destroyed; rather, by examining your content form factor and utilizing work-based triggers for learning, you can push learning moments that are immediately applicable and suitable to the amount of time learners have. This will help your employees to strengthen their knowledge, instantly act on what they’ve learnt, and continually evolve.
2. Create micro-courses
Microlearning is a form of e-learning that is delivered in short bursts to avoid information overload.
These short bursts can be anything from three to six minutes in length. They align with the modern learner with a shrinking attention span of eight seconds, increasing engagement by 50%.
By inserting microlearning moments into apps we already use -- providing suitable "just-in-time" learning -- friction is removed in learning and providing feedback to L&D teams.
The National Cybersecurity Center (NCC) reached out to Arist to help them educate state legislators on cyber security safety. The challenge was their learners often weren’t required to take trainings and had extremely busy schedules.
The solution was to convert hour-long live trainings into a 5-day text message course so they could learn in the flow of work and fit in the trainings around other commitments. Each lesson centered around an action that the participant needed to complete, read information about, and report back on.
Through course feedback, NCC gained valuable insights into what worked and what didn’t, amending the content accordingly. Now they have a completion rate of 95% with new learners signing up daily.
3. Figure out how to gain feedback
Remember, agile learning focuses on continuous communication and collaboration. In the case of NCC, they encouraged feedback through text message for individuals based out of the workplace.
For on-site employees, you can work out ways to gain feedback more collaboratively through daily in-person scrums, video meetings, or a designated Slack channel. This doesn’t have to be anything long or drawn out. Instead, it could be a matter of individuals saying or typing a one-liner on new knowledge they're applying and if they’re experiencing any roadblocks.
The use of messaging tools as vehicles for learning can help L&D teams to level up the amount of feedback they gain. In the case of GLISI, they found that the form factor of text message-based learning helped their learners to tackle tough DEI topics with more regularity, honestly, and greater follow through. As many researchers are well aware, form factor and ease of use for participants is key to ensuring quality and quantity in feedback.
4. Go where your people are
Agile learning is all about delivering content in a way that’s convenient for your employees. The average American spends 5.4 hours on their phone daily, so it’s no surprise that most people prefer to consume content on mobile.
Mobile learning allows employees to learn anytime and anywhere, which is especially handy for those training remotely. We’ve already discussed text message courses, but this case study outlines why messaging apps in-particular lower learner friction in mobile learning.
SAP is a world leader in enterprise resource planning software that wanted to make learning scalable by reaching people precisely where they were. In partnership with global consulting firm EY, they decided to deliver an 8-day course that could be completed in 5 to 10 minutes a day within an app that learners already had: WhatsApp.
Through their efforts, SAP managed to reach over 6,000 students who wouldn’t have been able to access SAP programming otherwise. The course was also given an average 8 out of 10 rating by learners.
In other words, consider implementing mobile learning or injecting learning where you learners already spend their time within your company. This way, you can also take advantage of social media feedback and cloud computing to maximize the value of each course.
5. Allow peer learning
Peer learning enables team members to educate each other so they can lean into various fields of expertise. It can be a very effective method of learning. After all, are you more likely to listen to a peer or an authority figure?
One way you can incorporate this into your company is by enabling specialist subject matter experts with easy to use course authoring tools. While learning teams should own the final presentation, ease of course creation supports both the creation of more, and more valuable, content. Using messaging tools for learning reduces course creation time costs by 82%. Calculate the change to your learning output with our microlearning ROI calculator.
6. Allow experts to author courses
Going hand-in-hand with peer learning is enabling guest authors for training courses. This eliminates the risk of untapped potential as the experts in your company will be given their chance to educate others. It will also make employees feel more included, heard, and recognized.
Talk to individuals about what they’re often asked about their unique subject area. Give them access to course authoring tools where they can create content with the answers and check on their progress regularly. You could even set up an Experts Area Slack channel or Google Hangout where employees can ask the expert further questions on their course content and everybody can see the answers.
Either way, allowing guest educators creates an agile culture where employees feel comfortable reaching out to each other when needed and can work together more effectively.
Agile learning key takeaways
Agile learning is all about continuous education, which has several benefits in an ever-changing world. In short, it allows employees to stay up to date with the latest knowledge and teaches them how to adapt, communicate, and collaborate, among other valuable skills. On the flip side, successfully implemented agile learning enables learning teams to gather multiples greater feedback on what content, learning triggers, and learning form factors actually drive outcomes.
An agile team is engaged and ready for whatever the working day throws at them, can solve problems quickly, and trust each other to get the job done. Through constant feedback and flexibility, employees can achieve “evolution at pace” for both themselves and the business as a whole