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Industry Updates

March 16, 2023

Employee-Led Training Helps the Learner, the Teacher, and the Company

Rosa Finelli

Executive Director, Learning and Development, Kaplan North America

Sharing Knowledge with Peers Builds Engagement, Skills and a Culture of Continuous Learning

Continuous learning isn’t just a slogan any more. Increasing evidence shows that it’s more like an approach to life. That means it extends well beyond traditional academic classroom instruction or favorite podcasts into the day-to-day activities of the workforce. And it pays off for employees and employers alike. 

Why? Let’s start with demand. A slew of recent data show that the vast majority of employees actively want to learn and grow on the job. For example, nearly three quarters of employees (73%) say they would stay longer at their companies if more skill-building opportunities were available there.

What’s more, providing those opportunities benefits workers financially. According to a recent McKinsey report, skills learned on the job contribute 46% of the average person’s lifetime earnings. Meanwhile, organizations that embrace learning and development see more consistent earnings and greater resilience during periods of crisis, as well as increased retention. 

By and large, organizations are listening. More than 95% either have reskilling and upskilling programs or are developing them, according to a recent LinkedIn report. But when it comes to building these programs out, momentum is slow. Only 2% have reached the post-activation measurement and assessment stage, and 40% are still in the early stages of ideating, selling to stakeholders and assembling teams—figures that have barely shifted in the past year.

In this environment, many organizations stand to make faster progress, and to benefit in other ways, by adopting a continuous learning model based on peer instruction. Employee-led learning programs work on two levels: Employees learn from colleagues with expertise in a particular area, and the employee-trainers get a chance to develop important leadership and communication skills while gaining exposure within the organization.

Skills learned on the job contribute 46% of the average person’s lifetime earnings

An employee-led training conference at Kaplan

For the past two years, Kaplan has embraced this employee-to-employee training model through its Develop U Virtual Conference (DUVC), a four-week, online conference where employees provide training to their colleagues in an area of expertise. Cited as a factor in the Association for Talent Development’s recent recognition of Kaplan for its prestigious 2023 BEST Awards, the conference is organized and hosted by the company’s internal learning and development team, which invites all employees to propose sessions they could lead. Other colleagues are recruited to help produce the sessions by offering support to presenters as they develop their presentations, as well as managing the virtual chats, breakout rooms and Q&As.

The 2022 DUVC offered sessions from 42 different presenters, with each session presented twice to accommodate employee schedules. Each session is also recorded and posted on Kaplan’s Intranet so it can be reviewed at any time, even after the conference is over. 

The sessions are separated into five main categories: Leadership, Health and Wellness, Business Essentials, Technology and Keynote. Last year, courses covered a wide range of topics, from Microsoft Excel mastery to personal finance to portrait drawing. More than 800 employees attended the virtual conference, giving it an average rating of 4.72 out of five.

Another model of employee-to-employee training

DUVC is just one example of how an employee-led training program can work. At Google, 80% of all tracked trainings throughout the year follow an employee-to-employee model. This program, called g2g (for “Googler-to-Googler”), provides opportunities for interested employees to teach courses, lead mentoring sessions, and design learning materials. 

Trainings cover everything from general professional skills like leadership and communication to more department-specific skills like sales training and coding. Volunteer trainers are asked to participate in a facilitation bootcamp, a two-hour, interactive live workshop to develop foundational presentation skills. To date, more than 6,000 Google employees have participated in the g2g program.

At Google, 80% of all tracked trainings throughout the year follow an employee-to-employee model.

Tips for successful learning

Whether an employee-led training program takes the form of an annual conference, as is the case with Kaplan, or is distributed throughout the year, as with Google, companies should consider a few best practices. 

First, these programs tend to work best when they’re volunteer based, with few barriers to entry. Not all employees will want to take time away from their primary role to facilitate learning for colleagues. Those who do shouldn’t have to spend an inordinate amount of time getting authorized to do so.

Second, interested employees should receive some form of presentation guidance to prepare them to train others, whether that means an in-person training session, an online bootcamp or virtual training modules.

Third, employees who participate as trainers should receive some sort of internal recognition. A certificate or mention in a company-wide publication makes the process more meaningful for participants and acknowledges that they’ve taken on a new role that benefits the entire organization.

Ultimately, employee-led training programs help make continuous learning a reality for large numbers of people who are highly motivated to improve themselves and their organizations. They establish a culture of curiosity and learning that empowers participants and keeps them engaged in the organization’s mission. With employees gaining new skills, and employers benefitting from a more engaged workforce, the spread of this approach seems certain to be a winning proposition all around.