Corporate Learning: L&D’s Untapped Resource




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Corporate learning has become a corporate challenge.  Never before has the learning function been under so much scrutiny as it is in today’s work environment.  Executives want to see a strong return on investment and the pressure to succeed is mounting on HR and learning professionals.  The problem is compounded by the fact the workforce has changed and continues to morph.  Millennials are in charge as older generations continue to decline in size, but the Millennials won’t be driving the bus for long.  Generation Z, also called the iGen, is continuing to grow.

Meanwhile, HR is experiencing the reality that a labor shortage exists and it is inhibiting its ability to find top candidates to fill their open ranks.  Corporate learning has become the next big tool in the War for Talent as it adds to the company’s overall attractiveness and competitiveness in the talent market.

In the guide below, the HR Exchange Network explores the topic of corporate learning, training and learning and development in more detail.  It takes a look at the current state of affairs, strategies, what learning leaders are investing in and what to expect in the coming years.

What is Corporate Learning

As a basic definition, corporate learning is defined as a system of development activities designed to educate employees.  Most of these activities happen “in house” and are not often extracurricular in nature.

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But corporate learning has become more than just training new employees and leaders.  While that is still a part of the function, the evolution now includes being a strategic partner critical to the success of the business.  Why?  In addition to the changes notated above, there also exists the reality that many companies are suffering from a skills gap of some sort.  Recovery is not an easy task as it can take between two to five years before a seasoned professional can become fully productive.  This means companies must continually train, retrain and educate employees in order to grow.  And that learning doesn’t just include learning around the day-to-day activities of an employee.  It must also include leadership development across all levels.

The video below is a panel discussion on bridging the gap between different types of learners and addressing the skills gap.  Panelists include Sheila Jagannathan, head of the Open Learning Campus for the World Bank Group and Jim Mason, director of learning solutions for security company ADT.  The panel was moderated by HR Exchange Network editor Mason Stevenson.

The Learning Strategy

The cornerstone of an excellent learning program, especially one that drives business success, is one with a robust, targeted learning culture.  While every company and organization has a learning culture of some sort, its strength relies on several factors including:

  • Targeted goals
  • Content
  • Delivery/Technology
  • Application
  • Knowledge retention

Components Explained

To better understand each factor, a description of each is below.

Targeted goals – When discussing targeted goals, this includes several components such as training required by the company both as it relates to company policy and compliance and day-to-day skills and procedures.  These are knowledge areas that are critical to understand for the employee.  It also includes the alignment of learning goals with business success.

Content – Content pertains to any piece of learning information that is shared with the employee throughout development.  Not all content is required to be received by the employee.  In most cases, the content provided is targeted based on the employee’s level of expertise and position within the company hierarchy.

Delivery/Technology – When thinking about delivery and technology, focus on the way in which content is made available to the employee.  On one side, it’s strategic in that it could be microlearning, instructor-led training, social learning or eLearning.  On the other, it’s about the form the content takes:  video, text, virtual reality, etc.

Application – Application refers simply to the learned knowledge being put into practice correctly and effectively.  Effectiveness pertains not just to using the knowledge, but using it in such a way that it increases productivity and, in some cases, safety.

Knowledge retention – Knowledge retention focuses on the employee’s ability to retain the knowledge learned.

What Learning Professionals Have to say about Corporate Learning

To understand more about corporate learning, here are a few quotes from learning professionals on the topic and associated issues.

Casper Moerck, the head of learning technology and digitalization for Americas at Siemens, says “The current landscape of learning is fragmented, unclear and difficult to navigate. It is also exciting and promising. I think there are a couple of reasons this is the case.  New skills are needed as technology develops and markets change, but further to that we see new generations with different needs entering our companies.  The second reason it is difficult to navigate because of the new developments in learning technology. We have several technologies converging at the moment, but we have not found out how those technologies will shape our processes and learning technology ecosystems.”

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Rose Sheldon, director of enterprise learning for Allstate, says “Technological innovation continues to accelerate the pace our employees need new skills sets for future roles. Also, the digital revolution has brought an emergence of new learning technologies. In this rapidly changing environment, learning leaders need to identify the right technology and investment to support the needs of our learners.”

Joe LiVigni, head of learning and development, UGN:

“The concept of time for training is changing. We are trying to figure out how to make learning more accessible, more on demand. We must remember that some learning isn’t meant for on demand. Think of changing a behavior versus learning a process. A process can be learned on demand, but how do you change a behavior on demand? I haven’t seen that answer yet.”

Casper Moerk, Rose Sheldon and Joe LiVigni are speakers for HR Exchange Live:  Corporate Learning.  Click the image to register for the free online event.

Why you should invest

Today’s employees are not attracted to instructor-led training.  Instead they’re looking to scalable options that can provide learning that is easily digested, engaging and informative.  When great content is mixed with great technology, learning can reach and meet every employee where they are.

In a survey conducted by the CLO Exchange with Chief Learning Officers, 40% of executives reported that they’re investing in mobile learning.

What technologies are CLOs investing in?

Learning Must Be Agile

Those top technologies support the idea of being innovative in the corporate learning strategy.  There are a number of ways to achieve this; through video, mobile and eLearning for instance.  In May 2019, the CLO Exchange asked its audience what are the top priorities of investment:

But it’s not enough to only be focused on technology.  Learning must be agile.  Chief Learning Officers are really focused on several areas of investments to address this issue.  Looking at the big picture, a large percentage of the learning budget is being dedicated to emerging technologies as a solution.

Best Practices

Employees at all levels and regardless of generation are thirsty for knowledge.  The challenge for HR and learning professionals is how to quench that thirst.  Below are some best practices to consider.

Communication Style

Most companies will fall into one of two categories.  The first emphasizing a unified learning approach across the board meaning regardless of age and learning preferences, learners are grouped together and trained the same way.

The other approach means tailoring learning to the individual groups and delivering it in a style that motivates each.  Consider the communication style.  According to The Training Associates, Boomers prefer a more formal/process approach to learning.  Compare that to a Millennial who’s preference is more casual and immediate and one can see why considering the make-up of the workforce is an important step.

Embed Learning

Learning, generally speaking, is not a normal part of the day for the average employee.  In most situations, employees have to devote a specific time or part of the day to learning.  If it’s embedded, it becomes part of the day-to-day activities of the employee.

Once learning is embedded, it offers a real opportunity for employees to learn through experience and reflection, something Moerck believes in firmly.  In fact, that’s the strategy they take within his company.

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“I think for me, as a person who is in learning technology, one of the things I'm really happy to see is how we are leveraging content curation of digital content to really provide some good experiences for our employees,” Moerck said.

Content

While all of the above tips are important, none of them really matter if the content isn’t up to par.  Content must be diverse, but it must also be relevant and accessible whenever and wherever the employee needs it, can be learned at any pace, is optimized for shared and social learning, can be used on-the-job and evolves with the learner. 

Embrace Agility

As with everything, learning is constantly changing and that requires HR and learning professionals change with it.  This is commonly referred to as agility.  Unfortunately, not all companies embrace the idea of agility.  As a result, many can’t keep up with the needs of the current workforce or those of the future, which include flexible, blended modes of content delivery.

Being agile means embracing and embedding a variety of training modalities into the current learning programs.

One of the best examples of this is Walmart eCommerce, which includes Walmart.com, Jet.com and the Walmart grocery.  Maxanne Whitehead is a Senior Learning Designer with Walmart eCommerce.  Her team works on designing learning on a global scale.

“What we're focusing on,” Whitehead said, “is taking this blended learning approach, which didn't exist two years ago. When I came into walmart.com, it was 600 PowerPoint slides. So we've already made some big changes, just by adding that blended learning and reducing classroom time, in some cases from eight weeks down to four weeks. From that, we saw a shrink in the amount of time our customer care agents were on calls, our customer satisfaction percentages go up, so we saw them return in our metrics for those successes.”

Gather Learner Feedback

Feedback should be solicited from learners.  Ultimately, learning leaders not only need this feedback to determine what is and what isn’t working, but to help ensure learning content is sought after by the learner and received in the way that best meets them where they are in their current development journey.

Leadership Buy-In Critical

Now leaders have a culture all their own and, as often is the case, learning is not part of it and that means it goes ignored when it comes to the business strategy.  That must change.

The way to change it focuses on the learning to which leaders themselves have access.  Using leadership development programs can entice leaders to take ownership of learning and align it to the business.

A great example would be NBC Universal’s LEAD program.  It was created for the sole purpose of making sure leaders have continued opportunities to grow and develop.  This program is directly tied to the business.

“These really exciting cohorts for leaders are created at the request of a business or portfolio. LEADS are designed under the 80/20 rule.  So 80% of the content is part of a cohort and then we work with the business to customize the remaining 20%. The 20% uses provided content, and includes the executive sponsor bringing in a panel of leaders that us the language and the culture of that particular business.  From that we design a great three-day leadership experience that's informed by the business itself.”

It’s been very successful.  In fact, NBC Universal has completed 50 LEADS since 2014.  The reason for the success is that leaders are requesting these LEADS for their teams that ultimately drive the business through change.

The Future of Corporate Learning

Despite all of the challenges and changes, corporate learning has a bright future.  Integrated learning tools will give employees access to content anytime and anywhere.  And that’s key as the need for re-skilling and up-skilling will be a focus for the next decade or so. 

Leadership has already begun to notice the importance of learning in the workplace and that trend will continue, especially as the labor shortage continues.

In Summation

Educate every employee and support the business.  That’s the most basic goal of any corporate learning strategy.  But it’s not just about making workers more productive.  It’s also about creating the environment and the culture where employees want to learn and have continuous access to content.  Embracing this will lead to a much richer ROI and a successful future for the workforce and the company.

Image courtesy:  Pexels

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