The power of time, and our ability to use it to our advantage.

Leading with learning in mind is a necessary skill to consistently innovate as a team. Continually learning and revisiting skill sets is crucial to combating the half-life of learning. 

As leaders, it’s important to make time available to our employees to freshen up their skills and knowledge through programs and tools. It’s equally important to ask ourselves, “how am I helping to provide the right resources?”.

half-life of learning

Below, we’ll discuss the following:

  • What is the half-life of learning?
  • How can we contribute as leaders?
  • Why should individual growth be the focus?

What is the half-life of learning?

Now, what is the half-life of learning? For one, it’s something that is not talked about frequently enough. It affects all of us, no matter what we specialize in and touch day-to-day. It lives within marketing campaigns, our bodies, the living things around us, our skill sets, and more. 

Put succinctly, it’s the halfway point of one’s strength becoming ineffective. Regarding learning or knowledge, the half-life is the halfway point for a current skill set or facts to no longer be true or effective. 

Ernest Rutherford discovered the concept of a half-life within the context of science. He deduced that it takes a certain period of time for an element to decay halfway.

For example, we can ask, “what’s the half-life of caffeine in a group of 100 people?“ Caffeine’s half-life is about five fours. By the fifth hour, the caffeine’s effects have fully diminished within half (50/100) of the people. Within the half-life period of the next five hours, the effects expire on half of the remaining 50 people (25/100), and so on. Like any other element, its effects vary per person, but the half-life serves as a comprehensible range for its lifespan.

We can also practically apply this to work. Within marketing, how long can a campaign represent relevant and effective information? Within learning, how long are someone’s learned skills still relevant? 


Say that you’ve been operating with skills you learned years ago. Since then, your competitive advantage with those learned skills has diminished. The World Economic Forum claims that “the half-life of a job skill is about five years (meaning that every five years, that skill is about half as valuable as it was before).”

How can we contribute as leaders?

Suppose you consciously support your employees in real learning, educating themselves, participating in important programs within their specialty, etc… In that case, they remain relevant in their field and are significantly more valuable in their role. It’s a no-brainer when spelled out. As leaders, we need to make this a priority and hold ourselves and others accountable for staying ahead rather than playing catch-up.

We lose information without practice and reinforcement. Putting this concept into practice is critical to working against the half-life of learning.

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How are we approaching accountability in this realm? These organizations offer structuring opportunities for learning and upkeep accountability. At Voltage Control, we have programs designed to keep organizations on track and sustain change.

Maintaining a competitive advantage requires this continual learning. An environment for innovation can only be cultivated by staying ahead of the curve with knowledge and skills. 

What are the best resources for knowledge? Knowledge can be taught with content. Find the relevant educational content, and commit to time with it regularly. Are there education programs that employees can attend? Who in the space is in the business of educating others? We should be absorbing information that’s new to us.

It’s also key to observe trends within certain fields. What is changing within their expertise in the next ten years, and is knowledge or experience required?

What are the best resources for skills? They’ve learned through experience with others. The more we can encourage collaboration amongst individuals, the better our team. We develop skills by learning from those with more or different experiences, so it’s important to have confidence in your team’s structure and provide room for growth within the company, as well as to educate individuals about the half-life of learning so that they’re invested in their growth.

Setting aside time specifically for continuing education in both knowledge and skills is vital.

Where are we headed?

As innovators, not only do we need to be ready to address change. We need to expect it and get well ahead of it. 

Within the workplace, demand does not match supply long-term. In 2020, the World Economic Forum claimed, “This lack of attention to upscaling will lead to an urgent disparity between workers and jobs. In the future, nine out of 10 jobs will require digital skills, yet today 44% of Europeans age 16 to 43 lack even basic digital abilities. In Europe, the impending skills gap will lead to 1.67 million unfilled vacancies for ICT professionals by 2025.”

The world around us is constantly evolving.

The half-life of learning is something to be embraced. It’s an opportunity to recognize that everyone’s skills fade and that innovation will always play a role in our lives. It’s a matter of whether we choose to continue learning or accept our past experience as the extent of it. Learning and management play equal roles in the workplace. To impact our work, leaders need to allow employees the time and resources to develop and learn information relevant to business goals.

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Why should individual growth be the focus?

Keeping this half-life of learning in mind is crucial from a hiring perspective. Degrees from decades ago have little to nothing to do with the knowledge that’s relevant now. Thinking long-term, it’s also important to consider how roles need to evolve with time. Automation is likely to greatly impact needed skill sets in the current decade. For example, McKinsey claims, “6 of 10 current occupations have more than 30% of technically automatable activities.” They claim that while job opportunities will still exist, a significant portion of the population will need to learn new skill sets to remain relevant. 

People need to feel that there’s room for groove within their rules and that their responsibilities can develop as they do. How are we allowing employees to explore their interests and strengths? Are we using them to our advantage within the organization? Are we allowing them the flexibility to understand their strengths and value?

Looking for support with learning, relearning, and innovation? We offer resources and programs to help you build a team that’s staying ahead of the competition. Reach out to us at hello@voltagecontrol.com with any questions.

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