Learning in the flow of work within the Fourth Industrial Revolution


The future of learning in the Fourth Industrial Revolution requires employers to make intangible learning concepts a reality. Drawing on insights from The World Economic Forum, The Department for Education’s Employer Skills Survey, and Professor Stephen Wyatt’s longlisted CMI Management Book of the Year 2021: Management and Leadership in the 4th Industrial Revolution, our CEO – Adrian Harvey – offers a compelling look at why the future of employee capability is dependent on solutions that put employees at the centre of change within the flow of their work.


The World Economic Forum (WEF) captured the essence of the changes in which we will now live, work, and relate to one another within the era of the Fourth Industrial Revolution. This revolution represents a ‘new chapter in human development, enabled by extraordinary technology advances that forces organisations to rethink how they create value and what it means to be human’. [1]

The WEF’s Future of Jobs Report 2020 [2] provided organisations with a clear insight into the expected outlook for technology adoption, jobs and skills required within the next five years within this new era. The key findings from the report – which aggregated views and feedback from business leaders on the frontline of decision making regarding human capital – included:

AI adoption is on the rise… 

The pace of technology adoption is expected to remain unchanged and looks set to accelerate in the next five years; especially in areas pertaining to Artificial Intelligence (AI).


Of business leaders expect employees to pick up new skills on the job

Learning on the job…

Skills gaps continue to be high. Skills in critical thinking, analysis, problem-solving, self-management and active learning are seen as specific skills rising in prominence in the lead up to 2025. On average, companies estimate that around 40% of workers will require reskilling of six months or less and 94% of business leaders expect employees to pick up new skills on the job, a sharp uptake from 65% in 2018.


Of employers are set to rapidly digitise working processes

The future is now…

The future of work is already here. 84% of employers are set to rapidly digitise working processes, with a significant expansion to remote work. To address the concerns around remote working, around one-third of all employers are set to take steps to collaborate with their employees using digital tools.


Of employees are placing emphasis on personal development

Employees seek opportunities to learn…

Online learning and training are on the rise for those in employment and unemployment. The report noted a four-fold increase in the numbers of individuals seeking out new opportunities for learning though their own initiative. Those in employment are placing larger emphasis on personal development courses, which have seen 88% growth among that population.


Of employers expect to get a return on investment in upskilling and reskilling within one year

Training ROI is aligned with productivity

An average of 66% of employers surveyed expect to get a return on investment in upskilling and reskilling within one year. Yet 17% say they remain uncertain on having any return on their training investment. On average, the report found that employers expected to offer reskilling and upskilling to just over 70% of their employees by 2025. Yet, employee engagement in these courses is lagging, with with under half (42%) of employees taking up employer-supported opportunities.

The WEF report illustrates the speed and scale of workplace change in relation to employee skills and highlights why employers must deliver employee learning initiatives that can support sustainable learning for the future.

If, as the report finds, 70% of employers are expected to offer reskilling or upskilling initiatives to their employees by 2025, there must be a clear emphasis on definite return on investment – which 66% of employers expect. What’s more, if 94% of employers expect their employees to learn new skills on the job, then the associated training initiatives developed – and any supporting technology – must enable learning concepts to be continually assimilated, retained, and applied.

Elephants Don’t Forget have been at the forefront of supporting some of world’s leading brands over the last eight years to deliver – at scale – ongoing training initiatives within the flow of work to improve individual competency levels; helping these brands to make the difficult concept of being true learning organisations a tangible reality.

learning in the Fourth Industrial Revolution

My attention was also drawn to a recent piece published in the HR Director from Stephen Wyatt, Professor of Strategy and Leadership at the University of Bath. [3] The piece discussed some of the concepts which informs his longlisted CMI Management Book of the Year 2021: Management and Leadership in the 4th Industrial Revolution.

The article put forward some of the learning principles behind what we have advocated since our inception, and the book seems primed to be a highly influential read for business leaders who are searching for ways to overcome the barriers to achieving productivity in relation to their human capital within the 4th Industrial Revolution.

The primary concept is simple: focus on building key employee capabilities as part of a long-term strategy to achieve superior performance. However, as the WEF report shows, this concept seems to remain a difficult proposition for many organisations.

Like Wyatt, we – along with the world-leading brands our AI, Clever Nelly, supports – understand that nothing can fundamentally change unless learning solutions consider a more holistic approach to developing individual capabilities within the flow of everyday work.

As Wyatt notes in the piece, personal motivation to learn is often impeded by underdeveloped and mandated corporate learning programs. Successful knowledge acquisition, retention and application is inherently influenced by behavioural science and the ways in which we learn; and it seems that more employers must recognise this fact to effect any real behavioural change to influence and harness greater productivity from their employees.

In most cases, employees have different and multiple learning concepts to acquire at several points in their careers. So, the idea that you can perform single point-in-time generic training or expect employees to self-manage their skill development may illustrate why engagement with existing learning opportunities provided by employers is lagging.

Transient factors play a significant role in the way we assimilate, retain, and apply our knowledge too. The Department for Education’s 2019 Employer Skills Survey (ESS) [5] – which had over 81,000 employers participating – found that 79% of skills gaps were most often caused by transient factors including individuals being new to their role (67%) and their training only being partially completed (61%).

The ESS survey also highlighted that the prevalence of transient factors had increased since 2017 (up 3 percentage points) and a fifth of all skills gaps were entirely attributed to these factors. Other common causes of skills gaps included staff lacking motivation (38%) and training-related causes, including staff having been trained but not sufficiently improving (33%) and staff not having received appropriate training (28%).

The Forgetting Curve 

German psychologist Hermann Ebbinghaus (1850 – 1909) hypothesised that training material is exponentially forgotten from the moment a learner consumes it unless efforts are made to preserve it. His study – now famously characterised by the ‘Forgetting Curve’ – demonstrated the decline of retention over time, concluding that we forget as much as 80% of what we taught within the first 30 days when there is no attempt to retain it.

The Forgetting Curve supports the notion of one of seven kind of memory failures: transience; the process of forgetting occurring with the passage of time. And, whilst the overall rate of forgetting differs little between individuals, the speed in which individuals forget can be impacted by the difficulty of the material, how meaningful it is, and how the material is provided for assimilation to the learner.

Spaced learning, repetition and self-testing have since been cited by psychologists and learning professionals as highly effective learning techniques to increase memory recall. For those who are unaware of our Artificial Intelligence (AI) platform – Clever Nelly – these are the fundamental principles behind it.

And these principles have long been cited as invaluable to organisations including Microsoft, Aviva, Allianz, RSA, Volvo, Experian, Capita, Faurecia and PNB Paribas to help ensure their employees are knowledgeable and competent in critical subject material that relate to compliance, process, policy, and product. All of which can be difficult for employees to assimilate during the process of onboarding and throughout their careers.

Behavioural change of existing and new learning concepts requires a process of continual learning; a process that works based on refining, repeating, and testing knowledge to encourage individual competency to grow and be applied with confidence on a daily basis.

Learning within the flow of work using Clever Nelly enables organisations to consistently reinforce and test employee knowledge of key learning concepts relating to multiple learner programs associated with product, compliance, process, and policy – with no disruption to BAU.

Whilst is undeniably clear that a continual approach to individual learning requires organisations to invest in plugging the transient skill gaps to drive productivity from their human capital, how they realistically expect to do this at scale without the support of cost-effective technology remains debatable.

And, as a brief sidenote, if you have ever wondered how competent your employees are, we commissioned a three-year study to assess the baseline competency of employees across several business sectors, analysing the responses to over 72 million competency interactions between 2017-19. Our analysis found that the average level of tenured employee competency stood at just 52% pre-pandemic. [6]

I will give the last word to Professor Stephen Wyatt at this juncture.


The average level of employee competency pre-pandemic

“The importance, rate and scale of reskilling required by [Fourth Industrial Revolution] 4IR compels many companies to rethink their approaches to and investments in talent development. Learner-centric approaches are required whereby individuals engage in the ways that are most impactful for them with a suite of formats and media options, at a rate that suits them.

To achieve the performance impact desired it is essential to address the four domains of behaviour change (1) Motivation, (2) Knowledge Acquisition, (3) Application on-the-job, (4) Support and Empowerment.

AI will increasingly help the individual learners to define the most suitable pathways for them through the content and how to build strength in the four domains.

In the 4IR talent development is a strategic activity for the corporation. As such, the Chief People Officer will be increasingly supported by AI to inform ongoing talent development investments and content design as well as increasingly drawing on external expertise for diverse frontier subject knowledge and the design and curation of learning pathways. The increasing adoption of just-in-time learning combined with more fluid resource deployment will further merge the functions of role (job or project) assignment and individual learning; creating a more integrated approach to talent development.”

– Professor Stephen Wyatt

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[1] World Economic Forum, ‘Fourth Industrial Revolution’, available here: https://www.weforum.org/focus/fourth-industrial-revolution

[2] World Economic Forum, ‘The Future of Jobs Report 2020’, available here: https://www.weforum.org/reports/the-future-of-jobs-report-2020/digest

[3] The HR Director, How to win the race to develop 4th Industrial Revolution talent’, available here: https://www.thehrdirector.com/features/learning-development/how-to-win-the-race-to-develop-4ir-talent/

[4] GOV.UK, Department for Education, ‘Employer skills survey 2019 Research Report’, available here: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/employer-skills-survey-2019-uk-excluding-scotland-findings

[5] Elephants Don’t Forget, ‘Three-year competency assessment study’, 2017-19

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