Trends in Professional Development – Self-Serve Learning

by Jennifer Miller on February 7, 2017

in Training Delivery, Workplace Issues

self serve at restaurant

Humans are naturally curious creatures. When my kids were little it was such fun to watch them learn about their world. Give them a cardboard box, plastic spoons and nesting measuring cups and they would experiment endlessly. Somewhere along the line, many of us got our curiosity drilled out of us – probably due to out-dated teaching methodologies in school and later, dreadful training tactics in the workplace.

25 years ago technology was touted as the knight in shining armor that would sweep into our classrooms and corporate training rooms and banish all boring training. (Remember “just-in-time” training?) Well, some e-learning solutions were better than others, but over the years, we professionals in the learning and development space figured it out and have (more or less) successfully integrated technology into a blended learning format that pairs the best of “live” learning with well-designed e-learning.

There’s a term that’s making the rounds in professional development circles: self-service learning. The basic notion is that employees help themselves to the learning they need when they are best in a position to learn. The term gained wide-term use in 2011 when Pat McLagan published the ATD article,  “The Amazing Era of Self-Service Learning.” E-learning solutions provider Mindflash offers up this definition of “self-serve” learning via their blog: “Self-service learning is using the resources available to you to learn about almost any desired subject matter on your own initiative, without guidance or prompts, undertaking research and learning from self-found materials.”

Many would argue that we humans have been doing DIY learning forever, and in a broad sense, I would agree. What makes the concept of “self serve” relevant today is that now, more than ever, people want to drive their own employee experience. From “Bring Your Own Device to Work” plans, to choosing a la-carte employee benefits, today’s employees demand to participate more fully in their work experience.

Many companies recognize this need for employees to opt-in to learning at a time and place that suits them. And the most successful companies devote dollars to the professional development of all their employees – both in traditional face-to-face learning and self-serve style development options. The Great Place to Work® organization (“GPTW”) tracks the business practices of companies across the globe that are ranked as “best” in their respective fields. A key differentiator between top companies and those that didn’t make the cut was the approach to professional development. “At the best companies, training and development is a huge area of investment,” says Jessica Rohman, Director of Content for GPTW.  Furthermore, she notes, professional development isn’t limited to just high-potential employees or those on the leadership track. “It’s important [to the “Best Place to Work” employers] that all employees have the opportunity to grow and develop their human potential.”

As technology continues to allow employees more access to learning when they need it and in a format that matches their unique learning style, employers will have more opportunity than ever to develop their workforce talent. And let’s hope that soon all employers — not just those voted “best” in their industry — will see the need to offer self-serve style learning to all their employees, not just the chosen few.


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