Clear learning strategy instead of feel-good offerings

An interview with Inga Höltmann: Why learning should be a key component of working life

Digitalization People Culture Aug 11, 2020
Woman with pen on a whiteboard


Agile methods, digital transformation and cultural change: The way in which people work together across the world is transforming. Entire occupational profiles are changing – some are disappearing, while many other new ones are emerging. A development that companies and employees can only accompany with success through flexibility and further education. An interview with Inga Höltmann, Expert for New Work and Founder of the Accelerate Academy, on successful learning strategies – and how digital learning formats can support sustainable transformation processes.

Inga, can work and learning still be viewed separately today?

I believe that work and learning can no longer be separated. Until now, one simple concept applied in our society: First we train people − at school, in vocational training and at university. Then they head off into professional life and apply this knowledge. Further training in the workplace only happens very sporadically: a training day here, a workshop there. In the new world of work, this will no longer be successful. Because in the future we will need knowledge, skills and capabilities in companies that we've never even heard of today. We are training students for professions that do not yet exist. How can we provide them with the knowledge for this?

It means that we must link learning and working much more closely than we do today. A learning organization is created when people learn within it. For companies, this is essential – because the more space they create for learning opportunities today, the more innovative and thus more sustainable they will be tomorrow.

Inga Höltmann, Expertin für New Work und Neues Lernen, Gründerin der Accelerate Academy

The more space companies create for learning opportunities today, the more innovative they will be tomorrow.

Is it enough for companies to provide certain learning offerings? Or do they need a "learning strategy"?

I think that companies are most successful when they not only offer budgets or formats, but analyze closely which knowledge is relevant for them and what their employees need − before entering into a dialog with their employees and developing ideas together. This also includes dealing with knowledge within the company. At the moment, knowledge is often managed within individual departments – and may not even be available elsewhere in the organization. This means that it will not only be a question of offering the right formats, but knowledge management and concepts for information transfer will also play a much larger role.

Does learning work better digitally or analog?

There's no either/or. When people come together in the one place, a special energy arises. We will never be able to replace this virtually. I just think we need to be more conscious about it. It’s a way of sharing and learning with each other. But it is not the best format, for example, for initiating long-term and profound change processes. Because it is too selective for that! My experience has shown that most workshops go very well, the participants get along with each other and we really create great things together. However, most of the time, the problem lies in transferring this into the daily work routine.

Digital platforms give people the opportunity to learn at their own pace in their own time and to experiment with different formats. Because not everyone learns in the same way. Some learn especially well with videos, while others can concentrate better on podcasts. I find that I work well with text − this was an important insight for me. Which format is best also depends on the topic in hand. We are already used to this in our private lives: We read books, google information or watch YouTube videos. So it only makes sense to apply this to organizational training.

Quite a challenge for international corporations to deliver this offer ...

Learning does not always have to be moderated. We think far too often in standardized formats such as workshops or seminars – of course, that's where we go and learn. But there are so many other learning opportunities in everyday life. For example, I can go out to dinner with a colleague and we can talk about a topic. Or I may decide to read a text, watch a YouTube video or listen to a podcast every day. Or the team decides to reserve ten minutes of the weekly meeting for small impulse talks in which a colleague shows what he or she has been working on for the last few days. It doesn't always have to be the big workshop − the small learning opportunities are often even more effective.

Colleagues sit around a table and exchange ideas

Small learning opportunities such as topic-related exchanges with colleagues are already beneficial.

When employees do not make use of further training offers, you often hear: "I just can't get around to it on top of my actual work" − what is a company doing wrong in this case?

Learning must not be a feel-good offering. It must be linked to clear goals and be exemplified, especially by direct superiors. Of course, the individual employee must also show commitment. But the company has the responsibility to create the appropriate framework conditions: If employees are expected to learn two hours a week, other tasks must be reduced.

Inga Höltmann, Expertin für New Work und Neues Lernen, Gründerin der Accelerate Academy

Learning must be linked to clear goals and the company has the responsibility to create the appropriate framework conditions

Quite often it is also simply a matter of adaptation. We have to invite and inspire people again and again. Of course, this only works if the content of the platform is good. The dialog with users is therefore important: Can you find what you need? Is the form of presentation right? Can you manage this with your everyday work?

What does the future of digital learning look like?

I am curious to see how virtual and augmented reality will change learning. I'm currently planning a virtual conference where you can slip into an avatar and move through a virtual conference house with different rooms: a lecture hall, small rooms for break-out sessions, a networking forum – everything you can find at an analog conference. We want to test this now. We have to ensure that the steps we take are not too big, or people will be afraid to try things out. Users must first grow into new technologies like these. It's good to include those who want to do it − but you have to make sure you don't lose the others along the way.

Has Corona given a boost to this willingness to try out new things?

Definitely. People and companies have been forced to become much more open to new solutions. There have been so many different offerings in recent months. This will normalize again in the medium term − and rightly so. My impression, however, is that the need to suddenly do things virtually has lowered people's inhibitions – even if things have not always run entirely smoothly. If we take this openness with us into the "new normality", we will already have gained a lot. But it is just as important not to simply carry on, but to evaluate: What have we learned from this time? What has worked well – what has not? If companies do this, it will be a great opportunity to develop themselves further.