Employers have long searched for employee benefits that improve morale and retention, while offering productivity benefits for the company. Few hit all these marks as well as continuing education opportunities sponsored by employers. Employees consistently cite these opportunities as attractive benefits in the workplace, and employers directly benefit from helping their workers expand their skill sets. Offering employee education programs is a win-win.
While employee continuing education benefits are nothing new, they are changing, and that evolution is largely driven by technological development.
Technology and employee education
Developing technologies are playing a promising role in pushing employee education into the future. By enabling new ways to learn, these technologies can enhance employee learning capabilities and make the experience more engaging.
For example, augmented reality (AR) offers an immersive, guided training platform in a quasi-digital environment. AR, which involves overlaying digital and interactive objects on a user's physical environment, can help employee's follow along with a step-by-step tutorial that guides them through the intricacies of a new process. For example, an employee that is learning how to fix a machine for the first time can use AR to see the process directly on the machinery. Plus, that employee can simultaneously connect with a remote colleague who has the experience to help advise them. The same could be true for learning to navigate new software.
"[Augmented reality] brings lessons and learnings to life with videos, photos and audio, giving employees a new way to learn and visualize ideas while fostering collaboration," said Liv Allen, an account supervisor at Codeword.
Allen pointed to examples in medical education and software training for employees in the banking industry as successful use cases for AR.
Machine learning is another valuable tool for employee education. Virtual assistants that can adapt to employee interactions in real-time could be used to offer individual, personalized training. Henrik J. Mondrup, a specialist in developing corporate education and training, said he expects machine learning to combine with virtual reality to create a comprehensive training experience.
"Imagine a virtual training exercise where the person you are talking to is reacting to — and adapting to — what you say, in real time," Mondrup said. "This will make the training session far more realistic, and thus effective, instead of being asked questions by the computer-generated voice, and having only three different options to choose from as a reply."
It's not just developing technologies that have contributed to employee education. Simply having regular internet access on both desktop and mobile devices means employees can engage in "micro-learning" anytime, anywhere. This increases the likelihood that employees will begin developing skills and then bringing them back to work on a regular basis, especially if learning is internally tied to rewards or a gamification program.
Mondrup said the increased accessibility for employees in terms of types of training and geography, as well as the availability of low-cost and free educational courses have contributed to increased usage of training platforms in employee free time. This, he added, has translated to increased effectiveness in the workplace.
"It brings education into the company and allows on-the-job training, so employees can use their new info, knowledge and skills and apply them immediately to their work," Mondrup said.
Making the most of employee education programs
Employee education programs benefit more than just the employee; employers also reap the rewards of maintaining usable and engaging continuing education opportunities. When employees meaningfully engage with these learning programs, employers can expect to see boosted morale, recruitment, retention and increased productivity. Continuing education programs can also spur innovation, as employees begin thinking about things from new perspectives and with new skill sets.
The major question surrounding employee education programs remains how to integrate the lessons learned into regular behaviors. Maximizing the potential of these programs remains difficult, but with the help of good management the payoff could be huge.
"We now have all these learning tools at our fingertips," said Rebecca Covington, organization development consultant for Envato. "People are accessing information and learning quickly from all over the web faster than ever before, but what's tougher is getting that accumulation of information and doing something with it."
Covington said to make the most of employee education programs, employers need to ask themselves a series of critical questions.
"How do we go about embedding [education] in daily routines, changing habits and putting them into practice more regularly?" she said. "Just watching a video isn't helpful, so how do we as a company put in place the support structures to ensure that our employees are then activating this learning?"
Cultivating good leadership and a proactive company culture can go a long way to ensuring your business makes the most out of its investment in your employee's continuing education.
According to Mondrup, statistics show employees prefer to engage in individualized training and education sessions:
- 68 percent of employees prefer to learn at work.
- 58 percent prefer to learn at their own pace.
- 49 percent prefer to learn at the point of need.
Understanding these motivators is essential for employers to craft an effective education policy. Offering employees time during the work day to pursue educational opportunities, for example, could greatly increase the number of people who take advantage.
Working alongside employees to determine their specific needs and wants will help employers to create educational programs that their employees really want to utilize. Creating a space at work, where they are most likely to use their new skills, for employees to learn is a big step toward boosting the effectiveness of learning programs.