The Uberization of workplace learning

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Written by Gerry Griffin on 1 October 2019

Reading time: 4 minutes.

The Democracy of Things

We’ve never truly recognised it, but our lives have been drastically rewired by the cloud. Businesses such as Uber, Spotify and Airbnb, for example, have cut out the ‘middleman’ when it comes to booking transport, listening to music and finding holiday accommodation.

As the cloud removes all of the inefficiencies that are inherent in analogue, such as removing the need for taxi queues, traditional agents can be ‘disintermediated’. You only have to recall the Parisian protests against Uber, back in 2016, to recognise the potentially disruptive force the cloud can have.

As this process of digital disintermediation continues to gain momentum in domestic and social settings, we need to ask ourselves how such technologies are impacting the world of work.

From augmented reality to big data, there’s no doubt that learning solution providers have embraced new technologies as a means of delivering learning – we’re increasingly surrounded by new and improved, digital modes of engaging with the end user.

Digital modes of learning are unrivalled in terms of scalability, agility, and adaptability.

However, we also need to reassess the role of the L&D professional in an age where ‘Google search’ has enabled a democratisation of information; a free and frictionless access to wide variety of learning objects.

What can L&D professionals do to maintain a pivotal role in this revolution?

A personalised, retail approach to learning

In the days before an individuals’ ability to self-diagnose learning gaps and self-medicate on solutions became so easy, the L&D professional had the role of ‘broker’ – mediating between the learner and blocks of skills/knowledge.

In the digital age, with the proliferation of free knowledge, how can L&D continue to create value?

Learners should not be greedy with content, instead they must learn how to identify and acknowledge the value of content. If we consider both Barry Schwartz’s Paradox of Choice, and Iyengar and Lepper’s jam experiment, context is key – less is more, and too much choice is demotivating.

By becoming 'Sherpas of knowledge', L&D professionals need to demonstrate to colleagues the relevance of the content they’re consuming – how it’s core to their job, not distinct from it. The passive consumption of information can only move to active knowledge retention if learners have a reason to use it, and know how to apply it.

In this respect, L&D has much to gain from retailing principles, products need to be thoughtfully packaged and actively sold to consumers.


Today’s learners, such as shoppers, are increasingly motivated by impulses and triggers, and for this reason we need to ‘season’ their work life with learning, in order to get them unconsciously ‘hooked’. If material cannot be accessed and consumed within five minutes, you may have lost your ‘customer’.

This is where L&D professionals can benefit from interaction with technology. Digital modes of learning are unrivalled in terms of scalability, agility, and adaptability.

Knowledge as a service

Accenture have a useful infographic which outlines the process of making something ‘as a service’. It has some interesting implications, if we consider setting out knowledge/skills ‘as a service’. By this, we mean the learning objects, rather than the L&D function - which has always conceived itself as a service or business partner. 

Here is what I believe we can borrow from the world of Uber to become a learning disruptor, by using a few of the points from Accenture’s Infographic. 

The learning that we offer needs to be:

  • Intelligent. The use of data analytics will allow us to better sell in learning rather than merely track usage. Imagine a content delivery strategy which adapts to the circadian rhythms of your colleagues!
  • Agile. Speed of access and consumption are key here – think Amazon ‘one click’ purchase. We know that when a user has a need for learning materials – (e.g. supporting content to help deal with an internal conflict) – we have a five-minute window from trigger to fulfilment.
  • Scalable and plug-in [able], but remain personalised. Your system needs to be able to aggregate learning objects from a variety of courses into an easy dashboard – think 'Slack for learning'. But areas for interaction need to be personalised enough to make individual input meaningful.
  • Rapid response. How fast can you create a digital companion to an event/session/project? 72 hours anybody?
  • Cost efficient. Ask yourself the following when assessing any learning intervention – how will this help us make or save money?

Finally, some questions for your consideration: 

What if …

  • Apple re-designed your learning portal?
  • Dunnhumby (Tesco Clubcard) managed the data you gathered?
  • Richard Branson met with your instructional designers?
  • Mumsnet re-organised your learning communities?
  • Dragon’s Den evaluated your investment in learning?
  • Save the Children looked at your ability to respond/adapt to events?


About the author

Gerry Griifin is founder and CEO of Skill Pill.


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