The landscape for today’s businesses is changing faster than ever. It isn’t simply a continuation of the evolution that’s existed for decades. It’s a whole new picture, involving fundamental, powerful transformations in what workplaces look like and how they operate.
“Organizations face a radically shifting context for the workforce, the workplace, and the world of work,” the 2017 Deloitte Global Human Capital Trends report says. “These shifts have changed the rules for nearly every organizational people practice, from learning to management to the definition of work itself.”
Nowhere is this change more clear than in workplace learning and development. It has quickly become an even bigger priority for companies than talent acquisition, the report found, with 83 percent calling learning important or very important.
Evolution breeds opportunity
This new era for Learning & Development means challenges — and opportunities. Businesses that take advantage of the opportunities are quickly rising to the top of their industries.
“Leading companies are moving to overhaul their career models and L&D infrastructure for the digital age,” the Deloitte report says.
Towards Maturity, an organization that supports the Learning & Development industry, found that “top-deck” organizations are allocating nearly twice as much of their available L&D budgets toward “technology tools to support learning.”
To understand why this is happening and how your business can become a leader in this evolution, it’s crucial to understand two major forces that are coming together: the new needs for technological skills and the new ways today’s employees learn.
The technology ‘tornado’
Leading businesses have figured out something basic, if paradoxical. They’ve discovered that they can’t know how business will be done 10 years from now.
That’s because new technologies are sprouting up so fast — and they’re becoming competitive necessities so fast — that no one can predict what systems will rule the future marketplace.
Artificial intelligence “will lead us into the mother of all tech revolutions,” Newsweek reported. “... Today’s AI-driven revolution is coming so fast that we have trouble even imagining how it will turn out.”
But it isn’t just AI. “Emerging right along with AI are robotics, virtual reality, blockchain, 3-D printing and other wonders. Each would be huge by itself.” Combined, they form a “roaring EF5 tornado, blowing down the industries and institutions in its path,” the Newsweek article said.
So a skill that’s crucial today can be replaced by another whole new technology tomorrow. That explains why LinkedIn found that the average shelf life of skills has fallen to fewer than five years.
As a result, businesses need their workers “to constantly evolve skill sets,” LinkedIn said in its 2017 Workplace Learning Report.
Learning is the new top skill
Now, the ability and willingness to learn is the most important skill evaluated in new hires, according to a report by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the University of Phoenix.
Eighty-four percent of respondents deemed it “very important.” By comparison, 53 percent considered subject matter expertise as very important.
So corporations are realigning to make constant learning a core part of what they’re all about. And that requires tackling the other major force.
Today’s workers learn differently
Far too many of today’s workplace learning initiatives are stuck in the past.
“Half of L&D pros are challenged to get employees to make time for L&D,” LinkedIn found.
“Why aren’t employees more engaged with L&D? Because today’s learner is different than the learner of yesterday. And learners are evolving at a quicker pace than the learning programs that support them.”
Ironically, while businesses want their employees to be up to speed on all the latest technologies, they aren’t using the latest technologies to offer learning.
“With the influx of technology in the workplace, modern learners are demanding more modern formats for learning. Yet our data shows the number-one method for training today is still through an in-person classroom setting,” LinkedIn said.
Rallying cry for businesses to evolve
That’s a huge problem, experts say. Millennials are the biggest group in today’s workforce, and on their way to becoming the majority.
To learn workplace skills, they “get content from two places: their search engine and their neighbor,” said Tamar Elkeles, who led Qualcomm to be named Learning & Development Organization of the Year in 2015 by Chief Learning Officer magazine. Often, “they’re going to YouTube.”
So online talent development platforms are the way to reach workers. These platforms pull together all kinds of available content and allow employees to learn when and where it’s most convenient for them, said Elkeles, an adviser to Pathgather.
But most businesses are still using outdated methods for learning, hoping these employees will show up to in-person courses for big blocks of time.
General Electric Co. has a renowned leadership institute. But only 15 percent of its employees attend a classroom experience there each year. So to reach the rest of its more than 350,000 employees, the company started new online initiatives — and found that thousands take part each week.
Making learning available on mobile devices is also essential.
“Build your apps,” Elkeles said.
“Learners are mobile-dependent,” elearningindustry.com reported. “Mobile devices have become the go-to way to gather information at the point of need … As such, organizations must start to leverage a mobile learning strategy to empower their learners with the ability to access learning materials.”
Social learning on the rise
Today’s workers also want to learn from each other. The top-down approach in which the only development programs available came from company-approved and company-designed instruction is a thing of the past.
Now, people are happy to share their expertise over talent development platforms. And this phenomenon is boosting business. “There is a clear connection between organizational performance and social learning,” elearningindustry.com said.
Businesses find that when they make social learning available, people share knowledge about emerging and edge technologies. Then, when those technologies suddenly became important drivers for business, there are already workers in their midst who know how to use them. And the learning platform helps others get up to speed more quickly.
So it’s no surprise that a survey by the Brandon Hall Group found mobile and social technologies are now the biggest priorities for companies looking to catch up on — and become leaders of — the Learning & Development evolution.
Making it practicable
Still, having all the best learning technology isn’t enough. It’s also up to organizations to make sure their learning initiatives are translating into practice.
Companies must ensure that “digitally enabled program design supports learning transfer,” Towards Maturity said, explaining:
“We all know that knowledge and skills need to be applied on the job or they risk being forgotten. But not all of us are designing programs to ensure knowledge transfer and application. That’s where we are missing a trick.
“Achievers are including activities that help individuals to practice the desired outcomes, leading to improved performance (66 percent vs 41 percent nonachievers) while 39 percent use highly interactive methods, such as games and simulations, in their learning solutions (vs. 18 percent nonachievers).”
Too often, businesses forget that after employees complete certain learning initiatives, “these folks now have to back to the real world and implement these things,” said Elaine Biech, the “trainer’s trainer.”
To solve this, businesses should make sure managers are aware of what their employees are learning and why. “We need to talk to those managers and explain, ‘Here’s what it’s about, here’s why it’s important,’” and show them the steps employees should be able to take after completing the training, Biech told Pathgather.
The good news
Things are looking up.
When asked what direction their companies were going, workers said they expect a big jump in their company’s use of everything from integrated mobile apps to gamification in the next two years, Towards Maturity found.
That may be optimistic.
But it’s inevitable that more and more companies will come to see and embrace the L&D evolution. At a time that startups can quickly supplant traditional businesses, success requires more agility than ever — and modern learning is the way to achieve it.