A powerful digital learning capability might be the best way to advance enterprise agility in financial services. Here’s why.

In this time of digital disruption and rising competition, enterprise agility is more important to financial services firms than ever. It is also a tremendous challenge to achieve, which is why it’s so rare across the industry. In this context, a workforce that can pick up new skills and knowledge “at the speed of business” is an incredibly powerful asset, because such a workforce deal with the unexpected with much greater efficacy.   

Of course, empowering the workforce to learn like this is a big challenge on its own terms. I’ve written about boosting the workforce’s ability to learn elsewhere. In this post I’m going to take a slightly different approach and focus on how to build a cutting-edge learning capability in particular.  

Let’s start with this: to be effective, any learning system needs to meet its learners where they are—both in terms of where they want to learn and more broadly. A learning system for busy professionals needs to account for their available skills, motivation, and time. in terms of skills, ability, motivation, and time available to dedicate to learning. That is, it’s very important to avoid wishful thinking about the workforce taking classes in the evening or on the weekend.  

We’re all familiar with the idea that people have different “learning styles” or ways of absorbing information. For example, one might be a visual learner, a verbal learner, or a social learner. On top of this variety, a cutting-edge learning capability must account for when and where the workforce prefers to learn. 

For instance, last year’s LinkedIn Learning & Workplace Development Report surveyed 4,000 professionals and found that: 

  • 68 percent of employees prefer to learn at work
  • 58 percent prefer to learn at their own pace 
  • 49 percent prefer to learn at the point of need 

In other words, about a third of employees like to learn on their own time. A little under half like to learn with formal instruction, and roughly half like to learn what they need at the exact moment they need it.  

We also know from learning research that the popular perception that mature workers cannot learn is incorrect. There is no age limit to learning, provided a learner is willing to put in the required effort to see results. But to make learning “stick” for adults, learning needs to be immersive, social, engaging, and practiced.  

Building a single learning system that will deliver learning in this way will also satisfying all of these divergent preferences is impossible. Therefore, any effective learning system needs to be flexible and accessible. Many of the new technologies now in the marketplace provide this.  

Getting over the “digital learning hump”

Most financial services leaders are well aware of this. In fact, talent development research suggests that 90 percent of large companies offer digital learning programs today, but just 27 percent of total learning hours are delivered through online training—about the half portion that’s delivered through traditional instructor-led training. 

This suggests that many large organizations hesitate to go “all in” on digital learning, perhaps because they are wary of learners sleepwalking through online courses and doing very little by way of actual learning. These concerns are understandable to anyone who has ever walked away from a laptop playing a YouTube video and returned to find that the algorithm has auto-played another one. But applying the latest insights from the science of learning can make digital learning just as effective as face-to-face instruction. 

For instance, in a recent study conducted by Accenture with help from MIT, a standard training video was shown to 99 Accenture employees in four groups. One group simply watched the video. Another watched it and had a spontaneous, unstructured discussion afterwards.  

The other two groups were subjected to experiential learning interventions. One group watched it and afterwards had a structured discussion guided by an instructor. The final group was given test questions throughout the video. In follow-up memory tests, the structured discussion group scored 25 percent higher than the first two groups. But the interpolated question group scored 26 percent higher. 

These results, corroborated by other studies, confirm that digital learning can be highly effective, if it is delivered in the right way. There are three major steps to achieving this at a large financial services organization. 

  • The first is to establish a learning culture. This is done partly through the introduction of new tools like the Future Talent Platform and skills diagnostics, and partly through “soft” change programs. At Accenture, we’ve found “nudging” people towards collaboration to be a very effective driver of cultural change, for example by establishing communities of practice. 
  • The second is to drive platform adoption. This can make or break the success of a learning initiative. It’s important to be prepared for the “launch window,” when potential users will be intrigued by the prospect of a new tool. We suggest preparing an extensive internal marketing campaign and securing strong buyin from senior leadership, as well as hosting events such as 30 day challenges and hackathons. 
  • The final step is to make sure that your learning system is supplied with robust content through creation and curationThere’s almost infinite digital content available on almost any subject—the real challenge is curating it. We recommend identifying subject-matter experts within your organization and empowering them to curate learning materials, as well as using a proven cloud-based solution like the Accenture Academy Learning Series. 

If you’d like to continue the conversation about enterprise agility and workforce learning in financial services, I would love to hear from you. I can be reached here.

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