The Future of Workplace Learning & The Butterfly Effect

Michiel Hofman & Tim Taylor 

New thinking - New methods - New tools

It is received wisdom that learning and skills development is beneficial to both the employee and the employer.  But did you know that 76% of the new generation of incoming workers believe it is critical and they are not prepared to settle for outdated, poorly operated learning management systems, which is bad news for the 97% of large businesses that use some form of LMS to deliver training and education to their workers. 

There has never been a better time for rethinking your approach to workplace learning. 

Many organisations are exploring new approaches for employee development.  The most forward-thinking people are challenging the traditional use of formal structured methods such as classes, workshops and set curricula. 

The landscape created by COVID has pressed many in the industry to ask questions about the effectiveness of traditional learning models.  There is also the need to review the economics of training; companies are under pressure to lower costs and reduce budgets for travel.  However, one must be careful not to stray too far in the other direction and miss out on the incredible benefits learning can have on general productivity.

The focus on finding new and improved ways to engage in workplace learning is also driven by the recognition that most adult learning occurs through experience, practice, conversations and reflection in the workplace.

The Butterfly Effect

In chaos theory, the butterfly effect is the sensitive dependence on initial conditions in which a small change in one state of a deterministic nonlinear system can result in large differences in a later state. The term is closely associated with the work of mathematician and meteorologist Edward Lorenz.



Many companies are missing out on the productivity gains caused by the butterfly effect because their workplace learning is vertical and imposed on their people, effectively treating knowledge workers like factory line units on which to occasionally imprint skills.   Don’t make this mistake.


The biggest mistake employers are making in regards to learning is the assumption that it is merely a means to a singular end. A course delivered at a scheduled time for a particular skill; the outcome of which, it’s hoped, is improved performance in that one skill.


Learning strategies impact the bottom line

What is overlooked is the butterfly effect, i.e. the impact that an innovative learning strategy has on the bottom line.  In case studies ranging from 1995 to 2004, it has been found that ‘organisational learning culture’ has a material effect on employee motivation, job satisfaction turnover rate, and ultimately improves profitability.


Six innovative learning strategies

  • ONE - Social
  • People want to share their knowledge, learn from each other and feel motivated in doing so. This is the foundation of an organic learning culture where people are recognised for their contributions.
  • TWO - Self-directed 
  • People need to be enabled to pursue and direct their own development. People are naturally curious and motivated by their own success, when given the right environment they will improve faster and in ways, management would never have imagined.
  • THREE - Personal growth
  • To be truly engaged, people need to feel that their learning is not merely a means to an end for the business, but is an aspect of their own self-realisation. In this way, they are doubly motivated to improve for both the company and themselves.
  • FOUR - Connecting culture and purpose to personal development
  • Make Personal development a key aspect of your company culture. For a business to grow, its people need to grow along with it, cultivating a culture of continuous personal development will lead to both happier and more productive employees.
  • FIVE - Convenience
  • With the incoming generation of workers increasingly habituated to convenience and efficiency, learning and training cannot afford to lag behind. Learning must be made available in modern, digestible formats.
  • SIX - On-demand
  • By framing learning and training as something peripheral to work and productivity, you harm both. We don’t wait anymore to catch a TV show at a predetermined time, why make people wait to learn? By integrating learning into the everyday work cycle, learning and working can harmonise. 

The Future

“Continuous and substantive development is essential to the value of any company

learning should be engaging and voluntary; collaborative rather than competitive”


A ‘social learning environment’ is essential to the effective development of skills which ultimately leads to increased productivity.  Your people are knowledge workers, you rely on their IP to innovate and deliver results inside very dynamic markets.  They are talented, motivated and intuitive, and they are demanding the opportunity to continuously learn, grow and improve. 

How this is achieved is through more modern models of workplace training, driven by individual-self-directedness.  When people are empowered to initiate their own learning journeys and to participate actively in their own development, the momentum of the Butterfly effect is set in motion. Colleagues are enabled, not only to learn at the behest of management but to engage actively to learn from each other. In this way, learning has the effect of creating a virtuous cycle wherein peoples' job satisfaction is increased thus productivity is increased, turnover is decreased and peoples' willingness to learn further is increased in turn leading to a repeat of the previous steps and a massive boost for your company.

It follows then that developing your people can have not only the straightforward effect of directly improving their skills but makes them feel more valued; leading to greater productivity and improved company culture. 

Now, these ideals may seem lofty and perhaps once they were, in the times of dusty old binders and Rolodexes. We however are privileged to live in a time when technology is regularly revolutionising entire industries: from banking to automobiles, why not workplace learning and coaching? 


Advances in computer technology, AI and Machine Learning means dynamic personalised and engaged learning models are now available.


When you broaden your perspective of what learning and development can mean for your company, the results will pay dividends in performance, company values as well as socially and culturally.