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New Work, New Learning—New Normal!

How New Learning will determine corporate success in the future


The future has arrived in the world of work: If we weren’t aware before, the pandemic clearly showed us that work and personal freedom no longer have to be at odds with each other. Remote working, work-life blending, and job sharing are no longer the buzzwords of the future, but modern reality. If companies want to attract and retain skilled workers in the future, they must open up not only to the collective need for freedom, but also to the needs of their individual employees. At the same time, ever-faster (technological) advances are creating an increased need for new, specific knowledge. However, this need for knowledge can no longer be covered by traditional training courses, and what’s more, these courses do not tally with the principles of New Work. What the future is calling for even louder than a revolution in the world of work is a revolution in learning culture—albeit unconsciously so far.

And because the connection might not be clear at first glance, we have dedicated this article to exploring what is meant by New Work, what New Work looks like in practice, and why New Work will not succeed without New Learning.


Often used but hard to explain: What exactly does New Work mean?

First of all, let’s see what a textbook says: New Work refers to the structural change that our working world is experiencing as a result of globalization and digitalization. The term was coined 40 years ago by the Austrian-American social philosopher Frithjof Bergmann as a counter-model to traditional capitalism. Since his concept is very radical and, in context, still follows more of a theoretical basis of capitalist ideals, an understanding of New Work has developed over time that, although it focuses on the individual, it ultimately aims to achieve corporate success for the company.

But what exactly does this ominous change mean?

For the first time since industrialization began, we are experiencing a lifestyle shift through digitalization and globalization that proves that work and personal freedom no longer have to be at odds with each other. This realization—massively reinforced by the pandemic-induced shift toward digitalization—forms the basis of all theory regarding New Work. But if you think it’s employees alone who benefit from New Work, you’re not thinking big enough! The freedoms gained not only motivate employees and encourage loyalty, but also require employees to take responsibility and work in a self-directed way: Two core skills that will form the basis for reacting as a company to the increasingly rapid technological and market-specific changes in the future. But more on that later.


What New Work looks like in practice

For many companies, New Work means a completely new mindset: Adaptability, agile working, work-life blending, agile learning, job sharing, flexible work arrangements (anywhere, anytime), and involving employees in decision-making processes are just some of the principles and methods that define New Work. New Work workplaces offer a great deal of freedom for creative and agile working, but also for concentrated work. At the same time, working from home, working in co-working spaces, and digital nomadism are becoming standard.

The goal: New Work makes the concept of “work”, which has hitherto been a burden for the majority of people, an important and valued part of life because it

  • can be done wherever you like to spend your spare time
  • integrates seamlessly into your daily routine
  • is more meaningful as you’re involved in decision-making processes
  • provides more creativity and freedom from formerly fixed structures
  • offers job sharing concepts for people who want more free time, but would normally have this denied.

…and enable companies and teams to adapt quickly and react immediately to changes. Errors are detected more quickly, and working and learning becomes much more efficient due to the high frequency of feedback loops.


so you can react flexibly to changing circumstances at home. Self-determined working promotes productivity because as soon as tasks have been completed, the transition to private life can begin. In the past, people may have been tempted to spend too much time on some tasks to take up their fixed office hours.

Nadine Pedro
[Translate to English:] Nadine Pedro, chemmedia AG

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How New Work helps retain employees

Of course, New Work is not the panacea it likes to be sold as. Like any concept, New Work also entails risks: For example, where digital skills are lacking among the workforce. Where not all employees are willing to open up to a new mindset, and may also be afraid of change. Or where work processes require more intensive organization and coordination to take the needs of individual employees into account.

Nevertheless, digitalization will sooner or later make New Work the New Normal. It is therefore not a question of whether New Work will find its way into our world of work (it has already been there for a long time), but of how New Work will be implemented in individual companies. For all the risks and individual reservations, therefore, it will be these freedoms (alongside salary) that will determine how successfully companies can attract new specialists and retain them down the line. Freedoms, trust, a flexible balance between work and private life, and importance to the company will in future become the additional currencies used to pay employees.


Why New Work doesn’t work without New Learning

or: Can an organization make progress at all if its learning culture does not change?

The question is, of course, rhetorical. Unlike in the preceding decades and centuries, the knowledge we acquire from training and education no longer carries us through our working lives. Today, training and education form just a theoretical or practical knowledge base, which sometimes loses importance after just a short time. Rapid technological changes, digitalization and globalization are constantly demanding new skills and new specific knowledge. It is logical, then, that these skills and knowledge will need to be learned—and as quickly as possible. Rigid training systems can no longer cover this need—the organization process is too lengthy, the learning process insufficiently customized. Ergo: In a world in which work and learning can no longer be separated, corporate development—including New Work—is only possible if the acquisition, use and transfer of knowledge is also raised to a new level.

What companies need today is a completely new learning culture that integrates lifelong learning into the workday as naturally as a morning coffee. However, this can only succeed if employees are aware of their own responsibility to acquire knowledge and find themselves in a positive learning culture in which they have the freedom to do so under their own initiative at any time. 

If it wasn’t already, the connection to New Work should become obvious with the word “freedom”.


The three basic principles of New Learning

The decentralized nature of New Work and the simultaneously rapidly increasing need for new, specific knowledge make it difficult to identify learning needs from the outside. At the same time, learning needs and processes are so personal that learning must be as self-determined as working itself. There will rarely be overlaps in which a large number of employees need the same knowledge at the same time. And even if they do, they probably won’t be in the same place. Accordingly, learners need a high degree of personal responsibility to identify their own learning needs and to pursue them under their own initiative. At the same time, the company needs the appropriate learning platform, which on the one hand provides learning content, but on the other also facilitates collaborative learning and independent research (keyword: learning experience platform).

This is where the circle is completed: With the incentive of personal freedom, New Work promotes the three important core competencies—self-determination, personal responsibility and flexibility—that New Learning also demands.



Self-direction means making decisions freely and without influence. Those who work and learn independently therefore have a direct choice of which path they take to achieve their personal goals. This makes it all the more important for employees to feel valued in the company and for their personal goals to overlap as far as possible with those of the company.

Personal responsibility

Personal responsibility is the consequence of self-direction. When you start to act in a self-directed way, you enter the area of personal responsibility. There is no one else to blame here but yourself, but at the same time you gain a higher degree of freedom.


Learning no longer takes place at planned times outside your regular working hours. It now has to be able to be flexibly integrated whenever an acute need for knowledge arises. Flexibility is therefore not only necessary on the part of employees, but also on the part of the company leadership, who must recognize and promote the learning process as an integral part of day-to-day life at work.


Three learning methods that integrate the New Learning principle into your corporate culture

Since New Learning redefines the learning culture in and of itself, but does not describe a specific learning method, there are many different ways to implement New Learning—the main thing is that the learning methods fit the New Work ideals of

  • being available anytime, anywhere
  • Self-direction
  • and the availability of the necessary knowledge at the precise moment of need (keyword: learning on demand)

Ergo: New Learning requires eLearning, even if only in terms of location and time agnosticism. However, not every eLearning method automatically meets the other New Learning criteria. Below, you will find three example learning methods and technologies that are perfectly suited for this, and that explain in more detail what is important in New Learning.



Rapid changes, digitalization and new challenges mean that knowledge needs to be accessed quickly—so far, so familiar. Networked technologies are everywhere, and they enable us to meet this demand: We google solutions on our smartphones—whether we’re looking for a dinner recipe, information on building a shelf, or a video tutorial on playing the ukulele. The same thing is happening in the agile world of work. The effect: We no longer stock up on knowledge, but instead acquire it through a Google search in response to problems and needs, often before, after, or alongside our work. This informal learning is already going on, and is worth supporting: In contrast to complex web-based training courses involving hours of study, knowledge can also be taught in small units and thus in line with our new learning habits. It’s called microlearning

Each learning unit requires between one and a maximum of 15 minutes of learning effort, and can be handled in a wide variety of formats—be it explanatory videos, short quizzes, flashcards, infographics, or just a single piece of knowledge (nugget) from a web-based training on a very specific topic. 

These varieties of microlearning content can be found and retrieved on the learner’s desktop or phone, whenever the knowledge is needed. The benefit: The immediate application of the newly learned knowledge ensures that it is absorbed quickly.


Adaptive learning

New Work focuses on the individual and their needs—so New Learning should do the same. For a long time, it was said that eLearning could not be sufficiently customized and therefore could not replace face-to-face learning. However, professional eLearning software has now created a wealth of functions that customize eLearning in a way that no face-to-face training course that does not take place 1:1 would. It’s called adaptive learning.

Learning processes and content can be adapted on the basis of information such as interactions, tests, learning times, personal preferences and environment (keyword: learning analytics). For example, the user’s individual level of knowledge can be taken into account through pre-tests. Learners with a lot of prior knowledge skip basic content (no demotivation through redundancy), while learners with little prior knowledge start with the relevant basic material (no demotivation through overload). Another type of adaptation segments learners by learning type/learning preferences. For example, auditory learners are primarily offered audio files, while learners who prefer reading and writing work primarily with text and tasks such as fill-in-the-gap exercises.

But don’t worry: Professional authoring tools make it possible for all the content to be created only once and for the adaptation to be implemented automatically. It is therefore not necessary to define individual learning processes for each level of knowledge, or to create a new course for each type of learner.


Online coaching

The first thing you think of when you hear the term “coaching” will probably be euphoric talks by well-known lifestyle coaches on large stages. But coaching is not only concerned with lifestyle or motivating top managers—it can also be used wherever there is a goal be achieved. At the heart of coaching is direct communication between coach and client. Coaches work over a medium- to long-term period, helping their clients achieve their goals and solving any problems that arise in the process, offering support rather than advice. So they do not offer ready-made solutions, but instead help people to reflect on their actions, strengths, and weaknesses, and to use their findings to optimize outcomes. Coaching is therefore ideally suited for things such as further developing leadership skills and adapting them to the professional environment. 

In accordance with the New Work concept, coaching should take place online, whereby, depending on the method, not only location but even time independence is guaranteed. Traditional coaching naturally takes place as a 1:1 conversation in a web meeting. It can be supplemented by what is known as asynchronous coaching, for example supported by chats, questionnaires or special coaching software that simulates realistic person-to-person situations (especially useful where employees are learning about customer contact and conversational situations).


The bottom line.

New Work has secretly and silently crept into our reality—and is therefore now being loudly proclaimed as the New Normal. In addition to salary, freedoms are the new currency with which specialists can be found and retained in the highly competitive market. The most important, and perhaps most difficult, step in this direction is therefore finding a suitable mindset where managers are willing to step away from principles, trust employees, and boldly grant freedom wherever they can. New Learning forms the vital foundation that companies will need in the future. Because no matter how New Work develops in your company, the accessibility of new knowledge and the ability of employees to learn in a self-determined way will determine whether you can react quickly enough to the increasing frequency of (technological) changes.

Magda Lehnert | Blogger
Magda Lehnert

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