Learning that’s Connected, Continuous and Collaboration-Driven

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Learning by employees is happening at a much faster pace.  So much so, it’s forcing learning professionals to step-up their game and be more agile.  That means looking for any and every strategy and technology that gives them an advantage.

What’s impressive is much of this is happening at the urging of employees, themselves.

Consider this:  a survey conducted by PwC found 35% of Millennials believe excellent training/development programs are one of the characteristics that make companies compelling to work for.  Additionally, employees who feel like they can’t develop or grow at a company are 12 times more likely to leave it for one where they do have those opportunities according to IBM.

Learning Challenges

Southwest Airlines University is answering the challenge by making sure learning is connected, continuous and collaboration-driven.  In fact, they take learning to the employee and enable them to “own” their development.

Click here to learn more about who owns development.

Elizabeth Bryant is the Vice President of Southwest Airlines University and a speaker at IQPC’s CLO Exchange in Austin, Texas.  For those unfamiliar with the organization, Southwest Airlines University is a corporate university that serves the more than 60,000 Southwest Airlines employees.

Bryant says SWA U starts by driving employee engagement through meaningful learning.  Employees have access to hundreds of training resources. SWA U, which is a state-of-the-art training facility, provides a centralized location for employees to learn in realistic environments and practice on-the-job skills, with everything from a cabin simulator for Flight Attendants to Leadership training for Managers. And SWA U also offers many personal and professional education programs via their internal website.

“We have moved our philosophy over the last few years from a decentralized model where we would service each customer to more of a unified, comprehensive approach to engaging all 60,000 Southwest employees through content that is high impact,” Bryant said.  “It is ‘just-in-time.’  It meets the learner where they are when they need it at the time they need it and in the way that they need it.”

Bryant continued, “It’s not a one-way any longer.  It’s not that we train and they learn.  Together, we create the best learning solution to create the results that we’re looking for.”

A large part of that strategy is employee feedback.  In fact, Bryant says SWA U is in constant contact with learners asking for feedback about the process looking at metrics such as course satisfaction and commitment to the curriculum.  They also keep a watchful eye on the business goals of each function of the company and the overall organization focusing on how learning fits into the strategy. 

A myriad approach

As one might expect, Southwest Airlines employees are all over the world.

Bryant says SWA U takes a multifaceted approach to providing learning for these individuals.

“We have 160 or so classrooms across our system.  We have 340 instructors that are here [Dallas] and across our system, so they are boots on the ground for our customers to understand what do they need?  Is it [learning] hitting the mark?  Do we need to make adjustments,” Bryant said.

In fact, at any given time, SWA U has 1,000 students at their Dallas location.  Once they are finished, leave and return to their respective home-ports, SWA U has instructors there that continue employees’ education and aid in making sure the lessons learned are applied in their day-to-day activities.

Learning and the Future of Work

As previously written, employees are driving much of the change when it comes to learning in the workplace.  With the workforce in flux and new types of workers taking over it begs the question what role will learning play in the future of work.

“I think learning plays the role of learning towards the employee to recognize as the work environment changes, what skill set does the employee need in order to keep up with those changes,” Bryant said.

The responsibility doesn’t only fall to employees.  Bryant says, as a whole, learning professionals must be tied into the challenges facing the business including employee challenges such as how-to skill employees to stay competitive and relevant in an every-changing environment.  That’s not far from the constant reality experienced by the airline industry, especially when it comes to technology.

“It’s one of the reasons why we have a seat at the table with our customer from a strategic perspective,” Bryant said.  “We really have to understand what their challenges are; what are the big projects, what are they implementing, what are they worried about, what is the next five years look like so we can plug into that and evaluate how can learning not only support the organization moving forward, but how do we support the employees advancing that organization.”


Elizabeth Bryant is the Vice President of Southwest Airlines University and a speaker at IQPC’s CLO Exchange in Austin, Texas. 


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