Up until a few years ago, there was a simple pathway from school to work. You graduated, found a job, and never really needed to look back. For better or worse, life is no longer that simple.

The “future of work” is already here. Front-loading your education is not enough to launch a career. And it definitely won’t sustain it over decades. We’ve entered an era of continuous change that requires continuous learning. It’s a new way of working that requires everyone to rethink how we view our jobs, our skills, and ourselves.

The World Economic Forum says more than half the global workforce will need new skills in the next five years. Seventy-four percent of organizations say reskilling workers is important for their success. But only 10% say they’re ready to address this trend.

The way forward? With continuous learning. This way, employees gain the skills they need today and tomorrow, all within the flow of work.

Old-school L&D vs. continuous learning 

We’ve seen the old-school approach to L&D. Employees took time away to attend in-person workshops. And there was often little to no follow-up after these sessions ended.

Today, learning looks completely different. A McKinsey article describes the shift from stand-alone programs to learning journeys. These include things like digital and social learning and mentorship.

The continuous learning approach has two major benefits. It doesn’t disrupt people’s daily routines. And it provides many opportunities to reinforce what they’ve learned.

Plus, continuous learning is open to everyone — not just a select few.

Research by Degreed and Harvard Business Publishing confirms this. Employees who gave their company a low net promoter score were termed “detractors.” Two-thirds of detractors don’t like their employer’s approach to L&D. Their top criticisms? Inconsistent and limited opportunities.

People who liked their organization’s approach said L&D was “empowering and inclusive.”

The business case for continuous learning

The trend is clear — continuous learning is the future of workplace learning. A recent survey by Deloitte confirms this. Eighty-four percent of respondents agreed that lifelong learning is important to their development strategies.

According to research by McKinsey, 75% of executives believed reskilling would fill at least half of their future talent needs.

There are several reasons why it makes sense to take a continuous learning approach.

First, continuous learning helps boost retention. Deloitte finds learning through experience is more effective than classroom learning.

Continuous learning also promotes adaptability and self-reliance. Employees no longer rely on L&D teams to create and provide learning opportunities.

Instead, they seek information when and where they need it. McKinsey finds a connection between adaptability and lifelong employability. Adaptable employees are ready for the unexpected.

Outcomes of adopting continuous learning

What happens when companies adopt continuous learning? Here are a few of the outcomes you can expect:

Some employers are already beginning to see the positive impact of promoting learning. In the Harvard Business Review, Ann Schulte, Chief Learning Officer at Procter & Gamble, talks about the role of learning. “At P&G, we believe that the ‘fastest learner wins’ because we see in uncertain and changing markets that experimentation, rapid-cycle feedback, and the ability to adapt are competitive imperatives — and all require learning.”

Remember that it’s not all about picking up the latest technology or certification. Your organization also benefits when you promote soft skills acquisition.

Deloitte says, “Today, success increasingly depends on innovation, entrepreneurship, and other forms of creativity that rely not just on skills, but also on less quantifiable capabilities such as critical thinking, emotional intelligence, and collaboration.”

Foundations for building a learning culture

So far, we’ve looked at why continuous learning matters today. We considered how you can build a business case for learning. And we explored some of the benefits you can expect to gain from this approach.

Next, imagine what this might look like at your organization.

Imagine a world where employees can learn exactly what they need in the moment they need it. They know how to find and share information with their peers.

They have the opportunity to thrive and grow, so they stay at your organization longer. You spend more time and resources on training. You no longer worry about costly tasks like hiring and onboarding new employees.

A workplace of continuous learning is a place where learning is part of company culture. It’s just another part of the value an organization offers to employees.

Next steps: Evaluate your current learning culture

Wondering what this means for you and your organization? We’ve put together the Learning Culture Evaluation Workbook to help you evaluate your existing learning culture.

This is the first step to create an organization that’s committed to continuous learning. It includes a quiz to help you assess where you are today. You’ll also find actionable steps to take your company where you want it to go tomorrow.