A recent survey shows that time is the #1 barrier to learning. Industry experts offer actionable insights for addressing this issue, highlighting why learning is an investment we should bank on.
A lack of time is cited as the #1 barrier for learning by 60 per cent of Westpac’s L&D professionals.1 Employees are constantly subject to competing priorities emerging from rapid change, technological advancement, and evolving customer desires. With growing pressures, learning often takes a back seat.
But here’s the irony: the things that take up our time are also the very reason why we need to keep learning. The World Economic Forum (2023) predicts that emerging technology and economic uncertainty will disrupt 44 per cent of workers’ core skills by 2027.2 Learning is vital to keep pace with this future.
Even though we know learning is important, finding the time for it remains difficult. Our initial thought may be to reduce the time it takes to learn to create capacity in people’s schedules.
While this approach is beneficial, it’s equally important to acknowledge that people will make time for the things they truly value. Often, it’s also about ensuring that learning is recognised and valued across the organisation.
Here we present strategies to achieve both ends, grounded in our own learning journey and the industry leaders we’ve partnered with along the way.
Strategies to reduce learning time
“A lack of time is the biggest challenge that Australian workers have towards learning skills,” says Melanie Botha, Head of Training & Certification at Amazon Web Services.
“In my view, the biggest requirement in the learning industry is ‘just-in-time’ and ‘experience-based’ skills.”
In the pursuit of time-efficient learning, organisations must rethink traditional approaches. Strategies that simplify learning and strengthen the connection to real-world application not only reduce the time to learn, but make for a better overall experience.
Here are some actionable steps to consider:
- Recognise prior learning: For courses that require regular recertifications, incorporate recognition of prior learning such that individuals who pass a short pre-assessment can skip the full completion of a module. Within our Health, Safety, and Wellbeing Learning, the introduction of a recognition of prior learning pre-assessment reduced time to complete by ~10 minutes per learner, resulting in up to ~$323,925 time cost savings across the organisation.
- Simplify to create capacity: In large organisations, learning typically gets created by multiple teams resulting in a proliferation of content. Conduct regular reviews to reduce duplication. In 2021, a review of all mandatory learning at Westpac resulted in a 37.5 per cent reduction in content.
- Help people prioritise what they need to learn: Implement a capability framework to help individuals identify required skills and competencies for their roles, providing direction and structure to their learning plan. Adopting a single, uniform framework across the bank has been useful for providing transparency over desired skills and common language for professional development.
- Make it accessible: Utilise short, sharp, self-paced learning, enabling busy employees to access knowledge at their convenience.
An example of this is our data and digital program for 5000 employees each year. Participants can access videos, podcasts, and how-to guides whenever they have time to engage with the content.
“Learning is a critical business process and an essential human need that attracts, retains, and motivates individuals and teams to perform at their best.” – Andy Young, Managing Director and Financial Services Talent & Organisation Lead, Accenture.
Strategies to demonstrate the value of learning
“Learning is a critical business process and an essential human need that attracts, retains, and motivates individuals and teams to perform at their best,” says Andy Young, Managing Director and Financial Services Talent & Organisation Lead from Accenture.
Bringing the benefits of learning to the fore encourages people to invest their time in it.
“This starts with communicating the value of learning and setting a clear expectation. The business then needs to make it easy for people to find relevant experiences and create time and space for social learning, deep learning and learning through work,” says Young.
Building on this idea, organisations can:
- Create curiosity to engage: Embrace modern mediums such as virtual reality, augmented reality, and gamification to make learning appealing and enjoyable.
For example, at Westpac, it’s important to provide a safe environment for our customers and our people and one way we help to achieve this is to train our branch staff utilising virtual reality that simulates dealing with threatening situations but in a safe and engaging way.
- Garner executive advocacy: Foster support and recognition of learning from senior leaders, reinforcing its value across the organisation.
We’ve found it useful to host quarterly business learning forums comprised of senior leaders responsible for championing learning.
When Accenture’s CEO Julie Sweet started in her role, “one of the first things she did was share her personal learning board. She immediately set the tone for her leadership and the wider organisation,” Young says.
- Create a social movement: Promote learning as a collective effort by crowd-sourcing content from experts within the organisation.
Our data and digital program was designed with over 100+ internal experts, resulting in a 9.2 out of 10 rating on the sessions.
As we juggle competing priorities, the very demands on our time are the reasons why continuous learning is indispensable.
Through sustained effort and actionable strategies, we can simplify learning, ignite curiosity and strengthen its value. These endeavours ensure our people are equipped with the skills they need to keep pace with an ever-changing landscape.
Dr Andrea Titus is the Executive Manager, Learning Strategy & Governance at Westpac Group.
Sandra Casinader is the Group Head of Enterprise Learning & Capability at Westpac Group.
1Westpac (2023). Learning & Capability Community of Practice June Survey
2World Economic Forum (2023). The Future of Jobs Report
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