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From curation to data analysis to multiple delivery channels, learning and development has evolved. Is your organization keeping up?

By Melissa Campeau


In the past decade, the world of learning and development has undergone some massive changes.

There’s an unprecedented quantity of content at HR’s fingertips, massive demand for continuous learning and a critical need to analyze data to make the right decisions. With so much change, has your L&D kept up?

Many companies are falling behind. Deloitte’s Human Capital Trends Report 2018 found more than half of business leaders surveyed (54 per cent) have no programs in place to build the skills of the future and only 18 per cent feel they give their employees the ability to actively develop themselves within the organization.

There’s a lot at stake: a recent survey by the Association for Talent Development found organizations with a strong culture of learning were some of the best performers, attracting more talent with the highest levels of customer satisfaction. Catching up with changes in the industry and leveraging the opportunities that come with those changes could make all the difference.


Open access to learning

One of the most significant evolutions in L&D is the democratization of learning, thanks in large part to technology. “Ten years ago, HR had a monopoly on all things learning,” said Bill Pelster, Deloitte’s U.S. learning solutions partner. “It was command and control. They provided all the classes, they funded it and they provided the course outlines and the career maps.”

Now, he says, the roles have changed. “The consumer of knowledge can go to many different places to get the knowledge they need,” said Pelster. “In a world where the consumer has choices, how does HR and learning adapt and deliver that back to the consumer?”

HR as the keeper of learning has to be something of a consumer; finding, filtering and assessing what’s on offer. “What we’re seeing now is, yes, organizations still need to do that component of the work where they fund, create and provide the classes, but we’re seeing a lot of curation of content, too” said Pelster. He adds, “There’s an explosion of content available through multiple online sources, and it’s quality content. That means the learning organization is in a curation role.”


Content offerings on many platforms

Not only is learning content now available from a wide variety of sources, organizations have the capacity to make it more easily and widely available. “Over the last decade, we’ve seen learning and development resources become more concise and readily accessible, and with new technology, training is available from anywhere,” said Avalee Prehogan, a senior regional manager with Robert Half.

Having learning modules available for instant use – on a mobile device before a sales call – can be both efficient and timely, providing content not just when employees have time, but in the nick of time when they need it most, says Prehogan. She said, “Video tutorials and brief training modules are widely accessible online for what is known as ‘micro learning,’ a way of teaching and delivering content in small bursts.”

While many formats are in use across the board, Pelster suggests video, in particular, is a must for any learning lineup. “If you’re not including video in the things you plan to do, you’re missing one of the biggest trends out there,” said Pelster. “If we go back 10 years, video was really expensive and not used that often, but now what you’re seeing is the majority of learning out there is taking place through video.”


Align format, content and outcomes

It’s important to consider and understand how to use and deliver not just video, but the other options at your disposal, suggests Kurt Tiltack, managing partner with Pathways Training & eLearning Inc., including e-learning, whiteboarding and classroom settings. “It’s about making sure all those are available at least for consideration and then matching the required learning against the tools available,” said Tiltack.

The type of information you’d like employees to absorb will inform the delivery method, to some degree.

“If you want to teach process-driven skills, for example, you might be able to accomplish that in a two-minute whiteboard animation or in a 15- to 30-minute e-learning module,” said Tiltack. “But for softer skills like people skills or leadership management, they lend themselves more to a classroom setting.”


The link between learning and performance

While improved performance is generally an associated goal with L&D programs, it’s not always a straight line of progress.

“If you’re trying to change behaviour, that’s really hard to do with just the viewing of a video,” said Pelster. “You really have to live that.” Moving the needle in a major way, in terms of behaviours, requires some degree of repetition. “That’s where simulations, role playing, mentoring and coaching come in,” said Pelster.

Tiltack agrees, “If you’ve planned a one-day management program, it’s not going to translate into a significant change in your day-to-day processes,” he said. “If you want a lot of change, be patient.” The advertising industry, Tiltack points out, is a great example of the need for repetition. “You’ll never see an ad that begins, ‘By the end of this ad you will know the following things,’ but that’s what the vast majority of learning programs start with,” said Tiltack. Instead, reinforcement is necessary. “If you’re doing a series, for example, hopefully over the course of a series there will be a more definitive change,” he said.

“You’ve got to be prepared to sustain it,” said Tiltack. “And you do that providing the audience with multiple mediums to reflect back on to consider what they’ve just experienced.” He said, “You give employees multiple avenues. Just like we all learn differently, it’s important that we get access to as many different learning options to support what we’ve just gone through.”

HR can encourage leaders throughout the organization to help members of their teams flex and reinforce new skills. “Managers may want to follow up learning initiatives by challenging employees with new, engaging projects that help them build their skills and experience,” said Prehogan.


Tailor-made learning

When it’s possible, adapt a course or program for delivery in more than one format, that can help learners with different needs and styles. Prehogan points out that people most commonly learn effectively in one of three different learning styles: auditory, visual and tactile. “There are arguments for and against the categorization of these learning styles, but ultimately what is important is that HR offers a variety of ways for employees to learn new skills rather than a one-size-fits-all approach,” said Prehogan.

“Some of the more advanced organizations are actually capturing how you prefer to learn as part of your profile,” said Pelster. They’ll then tailor what’s offered to suit your preferences. “On the same topic someone might enjoy a short 15-minute video and someone else might enjoy a game or short abstract,” said Pelster. “So, the more sophisticated learning organizations are actually teaming up with the different types of mediums within the organization and doing some basic analysis around how people like to learn.”


Keeping learning democratic

Looking ahead, the successful workplaces of the future will be moving away from siloed learning, says Tiltack. “I get asked, ‘Do you have executive level leadership training?’ My response is that it looks a whole lot like the associate level leadership training because really, what does it take to be a great leader? Is that something that should be stored in a vault?”

There are, of course, impracticalities to inviting 20,000 employees to Queen’s University for a mini MBA. “But what’s to stop the organization from having the video parts of the program available to everyone? Or why can’t everyone watch a Ted talk on great leadership?” said Tiltack. “Maybe I’m pushing a broom, but why can’t I learn it? I should have the option to learn it.”

Tiltack says ensuring learning opportunities are attended by a good cross section of employees will have impact beyond the specific learning of the course, as well. “Make sure all learning, especially classroom-based learning, has multiple representatives from across the organization involved at the same time,” said Tiltack, to heighten cross-functional understanding and even collaboration.


L&D, recruiting and retention

While many Canadian organizations have the opportunity for growth in terms of modernizing their L&D, the numbers show there’s a growing appreciation of its importance and a willingness to invest. A 2017 survey by Robert Half found 40 per cent of Canadian CFOs said their firm’s professional development budget had increased since 2016 – and that’s good news for recruitment and retention. “Learning and development is a key competitive differentiator in recruiting and retaining talented staff looking to continually improve their skills,” said Prehogan. One quarter of Canadian professionals cited career advancement potential as the most important factor when considering a job offer, according to a 2018 survey from Accountemps. “Professionals want to work for a firm that will prioritize and support their career growth,” said Prehogan.

In turn, companies are focusing on potential recruits’ willingness to adapt and acquire new skills when it comes to making hiring decisions. “A survey by Robert Half revealed that motivation to learn new skills was the characteristic CFOs considered most necessary for employees’ success,” said Prehogan. “There’s clearly a very strong link between an employee’s drive to learn and their ability to grow within their role.”


Final thoughts

Given the speed of business and the pace of change, there’s a need to keep employees developing and learning new skills. “A workforce that is constantly learning can be one of the greatest assets for any organization,” said Prehogan.

That’s true of L&D itself, too, with HR having to adapt, learn and compete as one of many providers of learning. “It’s forcing HR and learning to rethink their value in the organization,” said Pelster. “Some organizations are adapting really well and moving forward toward curation and data analysis skills to understand where there are gaps in knowledge and skills.” He said, “Others are really struggling with what this new world means to them. But the train is moving ahead whether you’re on board or not.”




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