The world of work is undergoing a massive shift. Entire occupations and industries are expanding and contracting at an alarming pace, and the skills needed to keep up in almost any job are churning at a faster rate. Average human knowledge is doubling every 13 months, and IBM predicts that in the next couple of years, the volume of information will double every 11 hours.
There are two simultaneous forces unsettling workers who are wondering if there will be enough jobs in the future to gainfully employ them. First, automation and artificial intelligence threaten to displace not only blue-collar workers performing routine jobs, but white-collar employees in knowledge industries. Second, the emergence of the gig economy is reshaping the traditional employer-employee relationship as more contractors fill roles once reserved for full-time workers.
No matter the industry, people are worried about keeping their jobs and the future of their careers. A survey last year by the Pew Research Center found that 87% of workers believe it will be essential for them to get training and develop new skills throughout their work life in order to keep up with changes in the workplace.
Despite this demand for renewable learning (that’s ongoing, self-driven or in-the-moment), college degrees continue to dominate the hiring process, while formal learning on-the-job or in the classroom often demands more time than learners have at critical moments in their lives and careers.
Against this backdrop, we’re witnessing the emergence of a new learning ecosystem that offers individuals at any stage of life more accessible, less expensive pathways to skills acquisition and higher wages. Rather than a higher education system that requires prospective students enroll in full-time programs to earn a degree, workers are demanding “plug and play” platforms that enable access to smaller bites of just-in-time education throughout their careers. Much like we might jump on YouTube to learn how to cook a new recipe for dinner, we learn best in the moment when we need it.
The shift toward renewable learning reflects growing demand for—and familiarity with—new learning modalities, from online talks to curated content to face-to-face meet-ups to virtual group discussions offered by a constellation of new providers. But, an increasingly fragmented array of educational experiences is also fueling demand for data to help would-be learners make better decisions about what to learn based on identified skills gaps, employer demand in specific markets, and an understanding of the impact that educational experiences have had for people with similar backgrounds.
No matter who supplies the renewable learning experiences, workers also need better guidance about various learning pathways. And as more workers become detached from traditional employers and make the move into the gig economy, they will have even more pressure to self-direct their own learning and decide what knowledge they’re missing, where to acquire it, and how to fit learning into daily routines. Not just personalized learning, but personalized career pathing will fast become the new normal.
This type of self-directed learning is a skill few of us have absorbed in a lifetime of schooling where teachers, parents, and professors have laid out what to learn and when. But much like the invisible algorithms that recommend music on Spotify or movies on Netflix, recommendation engines are beginning to help workers navigate their careers and learning by exposing them to information on the pathways that people in similar roles travel to get to their current jobs as well as those they should be pursuing to get to the next level.
The willingness of not just workers, but employers, to embrace the shift toward renewable learning will impact our ability to address the most pressing challenges facing the workforce today – from skills gaps to employee diversity to talent retention. Renewable learning is no longer a nice to have, but a need to have for employees and employers to succeed in today’s rapidly evolving world of work.