What distinguishes personnel development in the age of digital transformation

CoachHub · 30 June 2020 · 10 min read

With digital transformation, concepts and methods of personnel development are changing.

In this blog we provide an overview of future learning formats.

Due to increasing digitalisation and advancing globalisation, companies are already facing new challenges. It is no longer enough to carry out personnel development using the methods used to date. Because we are looking into a future that seems uncertain to us.

The only thing that is certain is that new skills will be required to use the changing times as an opportunity. Above all, a high degree of flexibility, and also a high willingness to learn, will more than ever be a basic requirement for future success.

The way people learn in the future is also changing. In order to enable up-to-date personnel development, both new learning content and innovative further training formats are required, which can be flexibly and efficiently integrated into everyday work.

In order to establish suitable learning processes and thus guarantee successful personnel development, this requires not only the willingness to learn but also corresponding learning opportunities that do justice to the digital change:

  1. Employees have to invest independently in their development and have a high degree of self-organisation. This goal can be motivated intrinsically (ie, internal incentives such as self-fulfillment) or extrinsically (ie, external incentives such as career development).
  2. Employers have to create freedom that enable ‘learning on the job’ and actively promote a learning culture in the company.
  3. Learning must be designed in an innovative and attractive way: digital learning formats, for example, can be flexibly and efficiently integrated into everyday work and convey learning content that is tailored to their needs (more on this below).

Trends and current topics in personnel development

Digitalisation places new demands on personnel development , which previous personnel development measures can only partially meet and must therefore be supplemented by other learning formats. These encompass diverse knowledge and skills not only related to technical content, but also to personal, social and methodological skills.

The increasingly rapid growth and spread of knowledge, as well as the rapidly developing range of software and online tools, result in new technical requirements. These are mostly:

  • Rapid acquisition of expertise
  • Knowledge of software and online tools, as well as handling of data and understanding of programming
  • Multimedia understanding including the use of digital platforms and social media presence

In addition, personal and social skills are becoming increasingly important for the newly established leadership models, new work concepts or changing communication in many ways. Here are some of the most important topics:

  • Digital leadership competencies , which allow digital leadership through distinctive skills in virtual communication and employee motivation, as well as building and leading virtual teams
  • Increased social and emotional intelligence that meets the new work concepts and requirements of new generations
  • High flexibility, willingness to change and growth mentality

Social intelligence, for example, is strategically necessary for effective digital collaboration. Be it for successful communication, creating trust with employees or goal-oriented planning and implementation of digital conferences. In addition, teams that are becoming more and more intercultural must be led, which requires strong intercultural skills.

Digital learning formats offer the advantage that they impart both the latest, as well as specialist knowledge tailored to the individual needs of the employees. However, they are criticized for the practical application and practice of acquired knowledge, which is particularly necessary for the acquisition of personal skills. Such skills are difficult to acquire using short-term formats such as one-off e-learning. Formats that stimulate the learners, accompany them over the long term and provide targeted exercises, provide better results. But how can sustainable behavioural changes be achieved? And how do we actually acquire knowledge?

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How do we acquire new knowledge and skills?

We know from cognitive psychology that learning and skills development shape our personality to a large extent. This begins as early as childhood, when we absorb a lot of information in the shortest possible time, and continues throughout our entire life. Learning here means medium and long-term changes in a person’s thinking, feeling and acting that go hand in hand with various processes of memory formation (Roth & Ryba, 2018). In the narrower sense, it is a matter of neuronal change processes, whereby new memory contents are created with the help of various neurocognitive mechanisms such as attention or associations.

Declarative and procedural memory models

Squire (1987) developed an influential memory model that differentiates between declarative and procedural memory. While the declarative memory contains episodic and factual / semantic knowledge, skills such as cognitive and motor skills or habits are stored in the procedural memory. Both forms of memory are based on different neuronal structures: For declarative memory, these are the medial temporal cortex and the hippocampus, which as the “organiser” is responsible for storing and retrieving content. The hippocampus is in close interaction with the limbic system, which is our internal reward system and is significantly involved in processing emotions and motivation.

The basal ganglia and adjoining cortical structures play a crucial role in procedural memory. How we learn is therefore largely influenced by our motivation and positive emotions as a result of unconscious rewards. Certain neural structures, especially the nucleus accumbens, ensure that content that appears useful and pleasurable is most likely to be saved (Roth & Ryba, 2018). Rewarding substances are released when you call up and apply what you have learned, so that we increasingly use this new knowledge. As with other areas of life, it is also true for our brain that learning and the associated changes are exhausting and time-consuming, and are therefore usually only carried out if a corresponding reward is promised.

For a suitable implementation of learning methods, this means to build up learning so effectively, individually and above all joyfully in order to achieve the desired effect. One possibility is to design  learning as a total sensory experience , whereby emotions, subjective requirements and various sensory impressions are included in the learning process. Emotions  serve as anchor points, which arouse genuine interest in the learner, which has a highly beneficial effect on motivation. A positive attitude towards the learning content leads to a quick and long-term consolidation of the acquired knowledge. The subjective requirements are further possibilities  of the learner and to develop the most individualised and optimally tailored content and methods. By addressing  various sensory stimuli  (e.g. visual, auditory, audiovisual), learning is recorded as a holistic process and promotes the acquisition of knowledge by linking options to existing knowledge.

FUN while learning

According to Schäfer (2017), the most important aspects of effective learning in adulthood can be recorded with the acronym ‘SPASS’: self-directed, productive, activating, situational and social. The individual components mean:

S – self-directed:  learning processes can be designed and used individually
P – productive:  learning is result-oriented and effective
A – activating:  learning processes are stimulating
S – situational:  learning can be adapted to the given situation
S – social:  communication and exchange options support learning processes

These aspects should be a fundamental part of successful personnel development in the future. A personalised learning means employees decide the topics on which they want to work, motivating a self-directed learning. At the same time, the workplace offers a good learning environment to enable  learning in an exchange  – be it to work on topics with other employees, to apply knowledge directly or to support one another (transfer effect). Measures like these also have a positive impact on the culture of the company. Learning is conceptualised through company-relevant content , so that knowledge transfer is result-oriented. But how can you conceptually and methodically design learning so that further training is a profitable, continuous and sustainable part of working life?

What will future learning formats for personnel development look like?

An essential prerequisite for modern personnel development is the establishment of an open and exchange-oriented learning culture in the company, in which employees are involved and understood. The Working Out Loud concept offers a suitable method for this (WOL) and means the opportunity to let other people participate in their own work, to share results and to promote a generous use of knowledge. In addition, so-called WOL circles can be initiated, whereby ‘knowledge sharing’ is deliberately exploited and used for mutual further training. Building on such a corporate culture, personnel development should be an integral part of enabling employees to gain qualifications while working. In order to meet the changed requirements for managers and employees as well as to implement suitable learning method concepts in a targeted manner, digital learning formats are also available. Learning management systems are mainly used to manage various digital learning content and methods. On the other hand, personalised learning clouds (PLC) can be used to  tailor  topics and methods to the individual needs of the learner. Employees decide which skills they want to improve and adapt their learning pace and methods to their own preferences. Another advantage of learning clouds is the ability  to track learning progress. Learning goals are achieved transparently and comprehensibly via processed modules or received certificates.

Regardless of the establishment of personalised learning clouds, digital learning formats offer decisive advantages over conventional personnel development measures: They are  flexible in terms of time  and  space . Information can be called up at any time and from any place. Learning can therefore take place from anywhere – be it directly at work or at home – and be easily integrated into everyday life. In addition, content can be situation-specific and adjusted to smaller or larger learning units. Instead of a seminar lasting several days, the content can be divided into manageable units. In addition, digital formats offer a high degree of interactivity, participation and collaboration potential and thus enable knowledge to be anchored, reflected and new perspectives gained. Communication options should therefore also be given priority in digital formats. Personnel development has a wide range of digital learning formats available that take into account the company-specific context, the current development of knowledge or skills, and the individual development needs of an employee. A selection of them is briefly presented here:

Web-based training  and  webinars  enable participation in online courses, some of which are created and hosted by well-known universities ( e.g. Harvard, Stanford, Yale). These include freely accessible Massive Open Online Courses  (MOOCs) , which contain a combined knowledge transfer consisting of videos and reading materials on a wide variety of topics.

Learning Experience Platforms  are online platforms that focus on the exchange of knowledge and exercises via messenger, Skype, and much more. put. The exercises vary depending on the learning content in their methodology (e.g. single vs. multiple choice questions, open questions, fill in the blanks, linking tasks, etc.). Online courses on various topics are also offered. Experience platforms are of great importance for personnel development measures that are based on mutual exchange such as coaching, collegial case advice, or mentoring because they offer a wide range of communication options.

Micro learnings  focus on conveying and using small chunks of knowledge that can be quickly learned and implemented in everyday life. This includes podcasts, videos, blog articles, or practical exercises for everyday life.

Habit Changing Apps  definitely help to change personal habits and gain a different way of dealing with them, which can have a positive effect on personal development as well as your own time management.

Virtual Realities (VR)  above all offer opportunities for further technical training in technical areas and to gain “real” experience in virtual worlds, with different learning aspects being addressed simultaneously. One advantage shows up in the fun, tension and play factor, so that VRs are often perceived less than classic learning. Learners are specifically, experience-based and emotionally involved in the learning process and playfully train new strategies.

Augmented Realities (AR)  combine virtual and real environments to an augmented reality perception, whereby interactions with the real reality take place in real time. In the future, AR will become more important and create previously unimaginable creative spaces.

In order for employees to be able to meet new knowledge and skills requirements in the future, suitable personnel development is required that can cope with digital change. An open corporate culture, ‘learning on the job’ and digital learning formats are essential to enable flexible and efficient learning.


Roth, G. & Ryba, A. (2018). Coaching, advice and brain. Neurobiological basis of effective
behavior changes. 3rd edition Stuttgart: Velcro cotta.

Schäfer, E. (2017). Lifelong learning. Findings and myths about learning in adulthood. Berlin,
Heidelberg: Springer

Squire, LR (1987). Memory and brain. New York, US: Oxford University Press.

Author: Dr. Stefanie Regel

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