Continuing education programs help companies engage and retain talent, develop leaders, and meet the challenges of the future. The most successful leaders and organizations take extra steps to ensure their programs are a success — and foster a culture of learning more broadly. Read about the case for why your company needs a robust continuing education program.
Learning opportunities can take many forms, including job shadowing or rotation, new product or service training, technology training, certification programs, educational courses, apprenticeship programs, coaching or leadership development. To help companies adopt successful programs that help both employees and employers thrive, we gathered the following practical tips and actionable advice from workplace learning experts.
Integrate learning into the workday
When it comes to talent development, the obstacles for working adult learners include the time commitment and the difficulty balancing work and education with other commitments. “Employers today inevitably place most of the burden on employees to spend what little time they have away from work to pursue more education, all on their own as self-guided learners,” says Michelle Weise, author of Long Life Learning: Preparing for Jobs that Don’t Even Exist Yet.
Instead, Weise recommends making continuing education programs and learning opportunities part of the regular workday, so workers can continue to earn a living while building new skills. Education programs that are more flexible — for example, combining a blend of live and asynchronous content, or shorter learning sessions — can also help someone integrate learning into their lives.
“We must stop thinking of learning and work as separate activities, as if the workplace and the classroom are two distinct virtual or physical spaces,” Weise says. “The workplace must become the classroom of the future. Cultivating talent must happen on the job — not outside of work and on top of everything else employees have going on in their lives.”
Offer opportunities for everyone — not just the ‘high-potential’ employees
All employees should have the opportunity to continually grow and develop, says Stuart Curtis, senior director of global talent development at Workhuman, the people-management software company.
“Not some or ‘only the high-potential employees’ but all our employees have access to personal, professional and career development,” he says. “If you introduce rules that exclude any employees, you risk creating a culture of alienation and difference, not one of inclusion and engagement.”
Gautam Tambay, co-founder and CEO of online learning company Springboard, believes leaders should show a personal commitment to continuous learning. “Creating a learning culture starts at the top,” he says. “Leaders should act as a model for their team by engaging in their own skills building and growth on a regular basis.”
Focus on skills that are directly applicable to work
Employees should learn skills that are directly and immediately applicable to their daily work. “When workers have context for what they’re learning, they retain it better,” Tambay says, adding that project-based programs, applied to an employee’s day-to-day work, “drive long-lasting behavior change and business impact.”
Darren Shimkus, founder and CEO of Modal, an employee education platform, says the key to developing new skills is applying them in a realistic business context: “You don’t learn to ride a bike by watching someone else do it.” A continuing education program should allow workers to practice solving real-world problems with the actual tools they would use on the job. That way, Shimkus says, you “complement full-time work instead of competing with it.”
Be accessible and dynamic — not boring
Whether it’s in-person or virtual, learning should not be a chore. “Too many learning departments forget to put the learner at the heart of their processes and approach, adding layers of signoffs and approvals, click-throughs and barriers to learning,” Curtis says. Make the process simple and easy for the learner, he says, and make the content as searchable as possible.
“And remember — you are always competing with Netflix, YouTube, TikTok and other platforms for the learner’s attention and engagement,” Curtis says. “If you make accessing learning too difficult, people will not take the journey.”
The same applies to the content itself, says Nitin Gupta, VP of enterprise at MasterClass, which recently debuted MasterClass at Work. “Employees are looking for a consumer-grade learning experience that is as engaging as what they watch on Netflix or HBO, with the personal and professional skills baked in throughout the content,” he says. “Engagement is everything.”
Keep learners on track and accountable…
An effective education program often has an accountability mechanism to keep the learning on track and to prevent people from falling by the wayside.
MasterClass offers Sessions by MasterClass, a structured, 30-day curriculum where employees learn as a group and discuss their training with peers and managers. Similarly, with Modal, learners are given a clear set of weekly activities to complete, as well as live events and coaching one-on-ones to attend. “People notice if you don’t show up or are falling behind and help you catch up,” Shimkus says.
“Structure matters,” he adds. “Set clear expectations and a firm schedule, and you need to commit to the program management to keep everyone on track. Leave no learner behind.”
… and recognize their wins
In a culture of continuous learning, companies should recognize and celebrate employees for their growth, Curtis says.
When an individual employee reaches a milestone in one of the organization’s education programs, peers, friends, colleagues and the wider organization should be invited to celebrate with them on a company recognition platform. Achieving qualifications externally also ought to be acknowledged and celebrated.
Finally, organization-wide continuing education programs provide another benefit: they break down silos and help colleagues bond over a shared sense of mission — and purpose.