HR Management & Compliance

Lifelong Learning: It’s Part of Your Job Description

By Rubens Pessanha Filho, PMP, GPHR, HRMP

By adopting a learning mindset and cultivating a passion for knowledge, HR professionals can turn learning into play on the path to continued development, according to Rubens Pessanha Filho, PMP, GPHR, HRMP. In this guest post reprinted with permission of the HR Certification Institute, Filho discusses continued development for HR professionals.

chalkboard lifelong learning

Every 30 minutes, more than 1 billion active Facebook users upload 6 million photos, create 160 million newsfeed stories and send 5 billion real-time messages (Fiore & Bakshy, 2012). This is an incredible volume of self-generated content made possible by the evolution of technology. Technological advances combined with other trends, such as globalization and the accelerated pace of change, require professionals to master the art of agile learning. Staying current is a key to success to avoid becoming obsolete in such a competitive marketplace. One way to keep yourself up-to-date is through continuing online education. These days, quality online education is abundant and available for free.

No matter what function you are in, lifelong learning is an implicit part of your job description. Whatever your learning style or preferred learning mode, some form of continuing education must be integrated into your career. You might ask how a busy professional can find time to learn while balancing work and life. After all, no matter where you are in the world, there are only 24 hours in a day, the week has 7 days and most everyone is extremely busy. In the workplaces of the 21st century, work-life balance might seem like another corporate myth. In fact, several HR practitioners candidly suggest using other terms instead of balance. For example, Holly Kortright, senior HR professional and Strategic HR + Innovation presenter, talks about “worklife fit.” Because work-life balance means something different to everyone, fitting, a more dynamic term, might be a better way to position the personal dilemma of finding your unique balances, among which education must be figured.

The bottom line is that professionals need to find time to pursue learning on a continual basis. Ideally, HR practitioners should aim to become agile learners. An agile learner is someone who learns on the fly and has mastered the art of how to learn fast. Agile learners are passionate about learning and continual education, pragmatic about connecting learning to practice (that is, connecting learning to business needs), open-minded, curious and bold. They aim for continuous development throughout their lifetime.

Even if your company’s professional development resources are limited, learning, informally and through action, should start at the workplace. However, approaching learning from only this perspective might not be sufficient. According to Josh Bersin, principal and founder of Bersin by Deloitte, a company that specializes in research-based people strategies, capability development and continuous learning will move to the mainstream in 2013, replacing the focus on informal learning (Bersin, 2013). Changes in the business environment related to globalization require more integrated and agile learning ecosystems. Bersin said, “Companies should focus on building a learning architecture, integrating their technologies, driving a deeper focus on content and the learning experience and driving a learning culture.”

Fortunately, the evolution of technology helps make learning more productive. Today the educational landscape is filled with a multitude of opportunities to access content, knowledge and information. The learner is in control of the learning process, interacting with accumulated knowledge and peers from around the world. Innovative new programs, including online and virtual learning, make access to high-caliber education available (Towers Watson, 2012). Free and quality content is increasingly available on the Internet for independent learners willing to take the time to commit to self-development. Technology and a new mindset — education can be free and for the masses — have democratized education in a novel and unpredictable way. In the past, there was implicit understanding that the best education was reserved for a privileged few and that it would be expensive. Now quality education is available for all who have inquiring minds; knowledge is in the hands of the learner.

After professionals decide what works best (fits), they can decide what to learn, when to learn and how to learn through many more channels than they could in the past. Informal or formal, self-directed or social, face-to-face or online, full-time or part-time learning, the learner is now in the driver’s seat.

In 2012, massive open online courses (MOOCs) were one of the most talked about and important trends in education technology (Watters, 2012). MOOCs are open e-learning programs for higher education. The pioneer, MIT OpenCourseWare, marked its 10th anniversary in 2012 and has influenced the educational ecosystem globally. Open
education is expected to continue to grow throughout 2013. For example, such companies as Khan Academy, Coursera, edX, Udacity and Udemy have expressed interest in increasing their MOOC offerings (Anderson, 2013; Khan, 2011; Koller, 2012).

The legitimacy of online learning and the global reach of MOOCs are growing. Trends in this area include offering full transfer of credits to universities, offering programs in multiple languages and forming new partnerships between online platforms and, for example, physical testing centers such as Pearson’s (Dunn, 2012).

Although MOOCs may enable free quality education on an enormous scale — 50,000 students are enrolled in a typical MOOC, and 180,000 students is cited as the largest MOOC enrollment to date — one of the biggest criticisms is that a very small proportion of enrollees, estimated at less than 10 percent, actually complete the courses. Other limitations of MOOCs, such as the need to have a computer with Internet connection to participate and the lack of personal attention to learners, erode the potential pool of learners. Despite these small retention rates and obstacles to enrollment the number of learners is impressive.

MOOCs offer some interesting resources for the global HR community. Most likely, the number of online courses in human resources will increase in the future. HR professionals can keep abreast of educational developments in their field by checking back frequently with online course providers, especially as this field of education starts to mature.

Continual learning is a mindset, an attitude toward life and work, a hobby, a passion and part of a professional’s identity. A learning mindset keeps you humble and aware of how ignorant you are despite all that has been learned thus far. Learning makes you a better leader and keeps your mind young. Henry Ford once said: “Anyone who stops learning is old, whether at 20 or 80. Anyone who keeps learning stays young. The greatest thing in life is to keep your mind young.”

Those who share a passion for learning live in an opportune moment in history. Learning, although sometimes painful, can engender the same sense of joy as play. For passionate learners, learning is not work, it is fun: Learning becomes play. Passionate learners play to find new ways to learn and to learn new information from
everyday experience.

By becoming certified you have already shown that you value keeping your knowledge current. If learning is not your passion, learn to be passionate about new information. Increase your curiosity. It is never too late to find a passion for
learning. Good learning to you, have fun and stay young.