Great news regarding the learning and development industry: the Learning Management System (LMS) “market is well over $2.5 billion and grew by over 21% this year.” The stats come via Josh Bersin, Founder and Principal at Bersin by Deloitte. “These are big numbers, especially since the market grew by only 13% the prior year.” Reasons for recent growth, cited by Bersin, include a targeted focus on reskilling employees and closing the skills gap, the ubiquity of learning content, recent advances in learning technology, and a growing need for supporting global learning needs.
The information above prompts thoughts in many directions, but my immediate attention was drawn in the direction of skills and the oft-mentioned “skills gap”. Whether you believe that we have a true skills gap or not, and whether you’re talking about trade skills, soft skills, technical skills or any other critical skill set, linking skills to learning is a critical need in training design.
The following are suggestions for how to take a thoughtful approach toward designing learning experiences to address any skills gaps in your business or organization.
Inventory Skills, Identify the Gap
Before you can address a skills gap, you must identify it. That is, identify both the skills needed (in a job, in a department, in an organization) and the gap itself (is the gap a chasm or a crack, what issues are falling into the gap, what is the business need?).
From a skills perspective, take the time to inventory the skills that your learners need to be successful on the job. Then, pare the list to the skills they need to learn during your training program to be successful on the job, and you have the basis of your training. Skills can be inventoried through assessment tools, recruitment and HR tools (such as job descriptions, competencies, performance appraisal metrics), surveys, discussions, and related methods. Consider also, do your learners need to grow trade skills, tech skills, leadership skills, soft skills? Is the gap location-based? Considering all aspects of the skills needed by your learners will make your training program considerably more effective.
From a gap perspective, it’s all about the business need. Consider both the immediate as well as long term needs to ensure a succession pipeline. Consider that needs may be related to organizational maturity. For example, in order of increasing organizational maturity, skill-building may be related to: 1) regulatory, compliance, and job-specific training; 2) process and systems training; or, 3) leadership development and function-specific training, such as sales, customer service, management, and advanced technical skills.
Build Skills for Real Life
Thoughtfully planned and executed training programs are the cornerstone of supporting people in learning new skills and growing knowledge. But if those skills and knowledge are not put to use, then the bridge meant to span the gap may crumble. Ensure that newly-learned skills are put to use in real-world, relevant scenarios.
Discovery-based learning, first introduced in the 1960’s, is making a comeback in education today. Learning by doing, learning by failure, and being provided with the materials but not the answer is said to promote problem-solving, creativity, and innovation. Adding teamwork elements to discovery-based learning has the added benefit of experientially teaching soft skills, like negotiation, persuasion, and cooperation. One reason this learning technique is making a comeback in early childhood education in particular is that the immediate stakes are low while the long-term results have a potentially huge payoff. If an elementary school student “fails” on a school project, but learns a life skill, it’s a success. In the workplace we want learners to be able to experiment and learn by doing, too—but not at the expense of the bottom line.
Training programs can provide the perfect place for workers to fail (as the stakes are low in training) so that those learned skills can be put to use in the real world (where the stakes may be high). Include skill-building experiences in your training, but give the learners the opportunity to apply the skills too—in a real-world simulation, if not in the “real world” itself. Incorporating skill-building in a blended learning program allows time for teaching the skills (i.e., in an online training module), problem-solving (i.e., in a face-to-face or virtual conference brainstorming session), application (i.e., in an on-the-job pilot program), and discussion of the applications of the skills (i.e., via a microblogging tool).
Measure and Prove ROI
So, build skills, ensure application of the new skills in the workplace, and close the skills gap. At the same time, take measurements to prove that your workplace learning projects deliver a high training ROI.
Add pilot tests, surveys (both of learners and learning stakeholders), and self-assessments to the measurement mix. Gather all data, analyze it, and use it to make profitable learning decisions—profitable for both the organization and for the individuals.
On the Importance of Skills and Gaps
Whether or not you believe that there is a local, national, or global—skills gap, every organization certainly has a unique skills gap that changes in width at any given time. On an individual basis, each of us has our own skills gap that we are (hopefully) constantly striving to close—a hallmark of a lifelong learner. Skills gaps will always wax and wane as a business evolves. As long as we are actively working to build bridges to span those gaps, we will make progress as a whole.
For those of us in the learning and development field, it’s incumbent on us to make a conscious decision to tie the skills needed by our learners to the learning that we provide—regardless of if the blame for those gaps exist within our outside of our organization. Continuing to build those bridges will hopefully help each of us contribute to growing the LMS market stats in 2015 and beyond, and contribute to the evolution of the LMS in the global workplace.
What are your thoughts on the latest LMS market stats, and the implications of those stats to the learning and development field?
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 in constant pursuit of bridging her personal skills gap. Gauri is Principal Learning Strategist and CEO at Triple Point Advisors and Founder of the YOUth LEAD program. Follow her on Twitter, LinkedIn or Google+.