We live in a delightful age of digital knowledge and learning assets that are deliverable to us anytime and anywhere. Yet, there is a legal “learning firewall” lurking.
Ask 10 of your learners when they would like to take a digital course or an e-learning program. Many will say they would prefer to access it after or before traditional working hours.
Ask where they would ideally want to be when they participate in a digital learning experience. Many would vote not to be at their desks, so they could escape the continuous distractions like phone calls and incoming emails. Also, they would rather not be seen in “learning mode” by their colleagues because, sadly, that is very often considered a less valuable use of time. And many would say they could learn better if they could access learning assets from home.
In fact, many of your workers do take time at home — during the night, in the early morning hours or on weekends — to learn more deeply and study. Personally, I can’t fully concentrate on a digital learning program at my desk, in my office or in my building. So, like your workers, I frequently shift my learning time to home.
This would be an acceptable strategy — if it didn’t potentially cause wage and labor law issues for many organizations. In most states, a worker who is paid on an hourly wage must be compensated if they access corporate learning assets outside of work hours. In fact, that person must be compensated on an overtime or other basis, even if they voluntarily choose to access your organization’s learning portal from home.
So, many major corporations create a learning firewall, which prevents certain workers from accessing learning assets when they are not at an internal corporate IP address — wired or wireless — or are outside of their normal working hours.
Read carefully: I am not advocating taking advantage of workers by insisting that they must learn from home without compensation. In our digital age with more and more mobile workers, it is natural and probable that an employee will choose to use some commuting time, at-home time or sitting-at-a-coffee-shop time to access knowledge and learning assets.
The learning industry needs to have an open and honest conversation with leaders from human resources, labor unions, and state and federal departments to fairly and creatively design ways for employees to access learning from home — on a voluntary basis — without an immediate or severe wage implication.
Some organizations have offered free tuition to higher education institutions as an employee benefit. This can allow hourly employees to learn on their own time for their own development without wage implications, but the learning must not be directly related to their current job responsibilities.
Recently, I had a conversation with an HR leader who asked if the organization is responsible for injury costs if an employee is walking outside while using a mobile device to access a learning program — and they trip on a curb. At first I laughed, but then I realized my colleague was totally serious.
We are even seeing this issue when it comes to the process of onboarding employees. Often, new hires want to prep for their new jobs by accessing learning from the corporate website. They might want to share that with their family to give them a sense of their upcoming work. But, once again, there might be a learning firewall preventing access from afar.
Further, this issue surfaces just as we are gaining support for upskilling efforts to provide ladders for front-line workers to rise in their roles and compensation through deeper access to new learning and certification.
Chief learning officers and learning leaders, let’s come together with labor and employee groups to craft solutions for learning in this digital and mobile age. Then, give legislators and government regulators an opportunity to create a pathway for every employee — regardless of wage status — to voluntarily and fairly access digital knowledge and development.
Elliott Masie is the chairman and CLO of The Masie Center’s Learning Consortium and CEO of The Masie Center, an international think tank focused on learning and workplace productivity. To comment, email editor@CLOmedia.com.