Corporate Learning & Development: 3rd of 10 Issues in 2015

Human capital word cloud shapeThe 2015 Global Human Capital Trends report from Bersin by Deloitte details the current top 10 HR trends and highlights what business leaders need versus what HR is delivering. Of all the trends catalogued in this latest report, I was intrigued by data and suggestions presented on Trend Number 3: Learning and Development (L&D).

From the 2015 report:

This year’s third most important challenge was the need to transform and accelerate corporate learning, up from No. 8 in 2014. […] But even as the importance of this issue rose, the readiness to address it went down. Only 40 percent of respondents rated their organizations are “ready” or “very ready” in learning and development in 2015, compared to 75 percent in 2014.

[…]Moreover, while this issue had the smallest capability gap last year at -9, this year, the gap widened significantly to -28. This result suggests that, while technical and professional skills are a top priority, corporate training departments have fallen behind. Companies are struggling to redesign the training environment, incorporate new learning technologies, and utilize the incredible array of digital learning tools now available.

(The newly-released report is accompanied by an interactive tool, the Human Capital Trends Dashboard, which provides access to the data in the report in terms of geography, company size and industry.)

Addressing the Skills Gap is Fundamental

There are several areas of concentration on which organizational leaders can focus to plot strategies for transforming corporate L&D departments to meet today’s business demands. But it all starts with addressing the skills gap.

Business leaders are increasingly seeing skills shortages as a major corporate strategy issue. In this report, when asked if they believe that they are “ready” or “very ready” in the area of workforce capability, only 28% of the respondents agree. Part of the solution is that addressing talent needs cannot fall squarely on the shoulders of recruiters. Skill-building must also be developed internally, and in large part through corporate learning and development, for long-term success and to fill succession pipelines.

If there was no skills gap—if every new hire was already fully-trained in the ins and outs of the job that they are hired to do and if every employee automatically absorbed the skills necessary for further career progression on their own after hire—one might argue that the need for corporate L&D departments was non-existent. But human beings (and employees) always need to learn and improve, from the hard skills needed for job performance to the soft skills needed for interpersonal success. All of these topics require learning, which can be shepherded by forward-thinking corporate L&D departments. And corporate training can be addressed in different ways, such as through technology, leveraging experts, and mindful instructional design.

Learning Technology Broadens Corporate L&D Capabilities

In today’s technology-based environment, it makes sense to turn towards digital learning technology to solve corporate learning needs. With the explosion of MOOCs, cloud-based learning solutions, mLearning environments, and the ability for employees to Bring Your [Their] Own Devices to work, as a few examples, there is a host of innovative ways to bring needed learning to employees.

Yet, from the 2015 HR Trends report:

Research shows that less than 25 percent of companies feel comfortable with today’s digital learning environment. This year’s trends survey results support this: Only 6 percent of respondents rate themselves excellent at providing mobile learning, only 6 percent rate themselves excellent at incorporating MOOCs into their learning and development programs, and only 5 percent rate themselves excellent at using advanced media such as video, audio, and simulations—essential capabilities in a world dominated by digital learning platforms.

Enter the Learning Design Thinking Team

If effective corporate learning addresses not only the skills gap, but also dramatically improves employee engagement and retention (as claimed in this report), perhaps it makes sense to view learning as a “product” or “commodity” that needs to be monitored and guided to meet corporate business goals. And, “products” or “commodities” have Product Managers accountable for market analysis, competitive intelligence, product evolution to meet customer needs, and overall portfolio performance to meet or exceed business targets. So perhaps, as this year’s report suggests, a Product Manager responsible for “learning” should shepherd the learning function and merge corporate learning targets with learning technology adoption, learning data, and learner needs?

The report provides examples of high profile corporations such as Google and Nestlé, and their success in leveraging in-house expertise to create world-class learning organizations. Techniques used by these companies include instituting Product Managers for Learning. In addition, these companies advocate giving employees teaching roles, elevating the role of CLOs, and creating learning technology design thinking teams complete with learning architects and instructional designers as team members who follow agile development methodologies to productize learning.

Employ Mindful Instructional Design Techniques

Finally, with all the talk about transforming corporate learning and adapting to meet new demands, it is important to remember that human educational psychology itself remains, for the most part, fairly constant. According to Malcolm Knowles, pioneer in the field of andragogy (adult learning theory), when it comes to learning, we tend to prefer to be self-directing, experienced in life, task-oriented, relevancy-oriented, and expecting of respect. These preferences hold true whether learning is completely face-to-face, or completely digitally-enabled. Adding digitally-enabled learning to the mix allows corporate L&D departments to greatly expand the techniques used to disseminate learning, and allows instructional designers to pick and choose from a larger array of instructional strategies than were available in the past. However, whether talking about L&D “back then”, “here and now” or “in the future”, learning still needs to connect emotionally with the learner, inspire action, be transformational, and encourage accountability so that the learner wants to learn.

As stated in the 2015 HR Trends report, “This year is the time to reimagine and redesign your learning experience. Look at your learning management systems and content strategy, and expand your thinking to create an environment that attracts and encourages people to learn.”

Gauri Reyes is a talent developer and learning leader with extensive experience in roles ranging from software management to managing the learning function in organizations. She is Principal Learning Strategist and CEO at Triple Point Advisors and Founder of the YOUth LEAD program. Follow her on Twitter, LinkedIn or Google+.

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