Interview with Jane Hart

Jane Hart

Jane, you are in charge of the 3-day English-speaking track at Learntec on the theme of Modern Workplace Learning. I thought this has already been established quite a while ago?

For most companies and their people, workplace learning means training, by that I mean they don’t take account of the fact that learning happens in many other ways and mostly while people do their jobs. However, some are now beginning to understand that there is more to it than e-learning and classroom training, although even Learning and Development departments do not know how to deal with this. Modern Workplace Learning is therefore a new approach for L&D to support all the different ways of learning that take place both inside and outside the company.

How would you define Modern Workplace Learning?

MWL involves three key streams of L&D activity: promoting continuous planned learning, supporting continuous improvement at work, and creating modern content, events and experiences.

What would the perfect learning scenario look like?

This would be one were everybody takes responsibility for their own continuous improvement and development to meet their own professional needs and interests. One where managers understand that learning happens continuously at work rather than just from time to time in the training room, and one where learning is seen as an ongoing process of acquiring new ideas and thinking.

How and where can employees find knowledge for their job if not in business training?

They can gain it by reading, watching videos, talking to people and in many other online places, networks and communities. It’s up to every individual to find the right places and people that bring the most value for them. Some people haven’t yet understood the importance of learning for themselves, but nowadays people cannot rely on their company to provide them with everything they need to know throughout their career. But when companies do support their people to do this for themselves, it will help them to retain their staff.

How does corporate learning have to change in times of robotics, Artificial Intelligence and machine or deep learning?

Research shows that AI won’t necessarily replace jobs, but it will change them. Everybody will need to be agile and willing to evolve with their jobs. It will be imperative for everyone to continuously acquire new knowledge and skills. Companies can prepare employees for the new work with robots and cobots, but those who leave it totally up to the management to do so will likely be the first to go.

But how can employees learn for themselves how to work with AI?

Robots will have a place in the workplace, but knowledge workers won’t necessarily need to know the technology behind them, but rather how to work with them – for instance how to work with AI to make decisions. But I believe it is much more important to work effectively with colleagues and share knowledge with them. I think that companies need to support collaborative learning in the workplace by ensuring they have a strong knowledge sharing culture.

Will humans and humanoids one day sit in the same classroom?

Who knows… but probably they will sit in the same workplace. The majority of robots will not be humanoid, but intelligent software.

Compared to today, which type of knowledge will be vital to have in the future?

I would rather speak of vital skills rather than vital knowledge. In the future people won’t necessarily need to remember lots of facts, just know where they can find the answer to their problems, as well as how to validate what they find, as well as see patterns and trends in what they find. I call this Modern Professional Learning – and it requires a set of new skills how to learn in the modern world.

Can you give an example what daily learning should look like?

I can give you a very personal example: I have been on Twitter since 2008 and every day I read or hear something in my network that takes my understanding of L&D industry a step further forward. For the last decade, it has been a matter of me learning, unlearning and relearning – although I have not really been aware of it taking place. I just know that by doing this daily for over 10 years, it has resulted in a huge mass of knowledge that I couldn’t have acquired in any other way. There are many people like me who do this. It’s just about taking some time to expose yourself to new ideas and resources in your area of interest. Just 20 minutes a day learning something new can reap huge rewards.

Are companies prepared for this new era?

The majority still operate in a traditional era where they focus on training and re-training their staff rather than supporting their continuous learning. Most have a command and control culture and mindset, where management wants to be in charge of everything. But instead of tracking people’s training activity they should support them in their continuous improvement, learning and development. Success should not be measured in terms of what they learn, but in performance. But, unfortunately, most companies still prefer to track the activity of their employees on the learning platform.

How do companies manage the shift from learning to performance?

First, it requires a bottom up rather than a top-down approach. My suggestion is to start with an awareness campaign to help people understand what a modern approach to learning means for them. L&D can then signpost the way, but at the end of the day people want the autonomy and flexibility to do what’s best for them.

Studies show that the half-life of knowledge is decreasing dramatically. So how should companies decide which knowledge their employees should acquire at all?

Knowledge is going out of date fast. A century ago, it took around 35 years for half of what an engineer learned at college to be disproved or replaced. By the 1960s, that time span shrank to a decade. Modern estimates place the half-life of an engineering degree at between 2.5 and 5 years. The fundamentals remain, but other things move on. But if you are behind the times, you soon will be out of the job.

Will workplace support replace learning?

There is a shift from courses to resources, which supports learning on demand. To watch a video, if and when they need it to solve a problem, is a far more flexible and cost-effective approach than training hundreds of people in the classroom.

In your book “Modern Workplace Learning 2019” you mention a multistage life. What do you mean by that and what does it have to do with learning?

For a long time now, a career has followed a three-stage model: education, work, retirement. In the future, we will have a multistage life, so that we will move in and out of education as well as work in full time and freelance roles, and even having a number of different careers in our working life. When it comes to companies it is often cheaper to hire people for specific jobs or projects rather than train their own people.

What do modern professionals themselves say about their learning preferences?

Since 2011 I have been conducting a workplace learning survey every year asking exactly that question. In 2018’s survey 94 % of the respondents think that learning from daily work experiences is very important or essential, followed by knowledge sharing with the team and web search. Only 29 % find classroom training very important or essential.

But anyhow it’s almost one third of the respondents.

Yes, but classroom training ranks last of all options. I was surprised to see how low it is rated. In fact, most L&D people don’t value classroom training or e-learning very highly themselves – yet that is their job to provide it. My colleague often says that a lot of training is only done in order to keep the CEO out of jail!

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