Eighty percent of the global workforce is deskless. That's 2.7 billion employees who work in factories, retail stores, hospitals, agricultural fields, on construction sites and in transportation. And because these employees are on the go, providing them the necessary training to perform their job well is challenging.
The need for employees — deskless or not — to be up to date on everything from company policies, new products, menus and critical safety requirements is real. But most have little time to devote to learning new things, Carol Leaman, CEO of Axonify, a microlearning platform company, told HR Dive. "There just aren't opportunities anymore to take your time and digest information and really think about how you're going to apply that," she said.
Employees want more learning programs and more continuous feedback in real-time, Doug Stephen, SVP of the learning division of CGS, an applications, learning and outsourcing company, told HR Dive via email. A recent survey found that more than 25% of deskless workers are not receiving "any performance feedback from their employers, and thereby training to help them improve their skills," he said.
Deskless employees: On the go and under the gun
Today's learner is under more pressure than ever because of the pace of change in business, Leaman said. "They've got multiple inputs coming at them all the time because of technology advances — emails, texts on their phone, various chat bots and mechanisms — and employees are just simply inundated constantly."
With no time or opportunity to sit in a classroom for traditional methods of learning and development, how do employers deliver important information and training and meet the deskless employee's desire for learning and development?
The answer lies in the changing world of learning technology. Instead of hours-long group training, today's training consists of bite-sized chunks of information, tailored to employees' needs and accessible on mobile phones and tablets so they can be accessed anywhere, anytime.
"The focus is largely on this idea of a better learner experience, better engagement, more visual learning," Jeff Carr, CEO of Inkling, a mobile learning enablement platform, told HR Dive. These changes reflect the way organizations now approach training overall, Carr said; "In the past, even in the last 10 years, training tended to be a little bit more of an annual or semiannual or more of a quarterly event."
Employees often have a big burst of training during onboarding and then again at other scheduled formal events. But with the shift away from paper to mobile technologies, employees can easily access information and always have current content, he said.
Making learning accessible, always
In addition to technology, two other drivers have created a revolution in corporate learning, Leaman said. The needs of the modern learner have changed vastly in 15 years, and many must sift through more information in less time.
"And then, interestingly, there have been some really significant advancements in brain science, cognitive science," Leaman said. This research looks at how the brain remembers information. "What we know now is that people do what they remember. If they don't remember they will guess. So how do you get people to remember and not guess or just simply not do?"
This perspective has shifted learning to the form of micro content, focusing on key learning points that are accessible via a mobile device, just when an employee needs it.
Typical use cases include restaurant employees accessing recipe cards, manuals or operational reference material to learn about new promotions, Carr said. Medical device sales representatives can access and learn about new product information, product launches and new drugs. A fitness club employee can look up the day's workout each morning before teaching it to the class, and a field service tech can look up quick tips on a potential problem before going into a customer's home.
In addition to the ability to call up necessary information when needed, the analytical capabilities of learning tech are crucial, Carr said. Microlessons can include mini quizzes and results can be rolled up into dashboards that help employers see where gaps exist, whether geographically, regionally or at a specific store. This helps determine if a lack of knowledge is a result of lack of emphasis on training or lack of time for training. "The precision that you can get out of the analytics is really pretty amazing," Carr said.
It's not just the deskless employees who benefit from advances in learning tech. Now that mobile devices are ingrained in everyday lives — and next-gen technology innovations of augmented reality and virtual reality are reaching wider adoption — training programs can be portable for everyone, Stephen said. Office workers also benefit from mobile-optimized training, collaboration and continuous performance reviews, he added.
With five generations in the workforce, are any at a disadvantage when it comes to relying on technology for training? "Interestingly, [we've] seen very little differences across demographic groups, even job titles," Leaman said. "We have found happily that learning in this way is in fact very appealing to all generations."
The future of learning tech
As much as learning tech has changed in the last five years, there is still much room for growth.
The conversation about microlearning is becoming more prevalent. "There are leading organizations, thankfully, who understand it's a competitive advantage to have high performing people who know what they're doing," Leaman said. Five years ago, companies didn't believe in the efficacy of short lessons or that gamification could assist engagement, but now, they are growing mainstays in the learning tech space thanks to employees who demand microlearning versus a multi-day training, she said. And the power of AI and machine learning, as applied to employee development, has barely been tapped, she added.
"Technology, such as AR, has infiltrated industries from telecommunications to manufacturing," Stephen said, "and it is only going to become more popular, allowing remote workers even greater flexibility in their jobs."