The Future of Corporate Learning and Development

Question 1: How Is Enterprise Learning Changing?

An overwhelming 94 percent of the learning professionals we surveyed see the working styles of employees shifting. Because organizations, employees, and even the macroeconomics of business are changing in a post-industrial, globalized world of work, employment is shifting from production and industry to service and knowledge work. The expectations of employees are also changing.

Thirty years ago, instructional designers and trainers focused largely on mastery. Employees wanted it as well. In an era of virtual lifetime employment and high unionization, becoming incredibly good at something meant having a well-paying job for as long as you wanted.

Today, that learning philosophy is largely gone. Employers and employees instead focus on adaptability over single-minded mastery. The need to keep pace with rapid change, volatility, and uncertainty drives an appetite and need for learning agility. For knowledge and service work, employees expect continuous learning opportunities. Learning professionals recognize that the discipline of learning has to adapt to this new way of work. How are they adapting?

93% Embracing the change

Learning professionals have been unfairly targeted as being resistant to these changes. We hear whispers of instructors and trainers being unwilling to give up classrooms and traditional teaching methods. When asked directly about it, though, learning professionals seem to have fully embraced change. Just 7 percent of respondents believe they accomplish more in classrooms, and 93 percent think they’ll actually be able to accomplish more with new innovations in learning technology.

69% Balancing the needs of the organization and the employee

In an ideal learning world, organizations get the skills they need and employees get the knowledge to advance their careers. Learning professionals recognize their important perch between organizations and the workforce. Nearly 70 percent of respondents said they can serve the needs of organizations and employees. Traditional corporate learning is anything but traditional anymore. It’s changing quickly and going beyond the historical bounds of the discipline. The work of learning professionals is reaching more into the areas of HR and operations than ever before.

In a nod to the current reality, learning professionals in our study identified three top areas where learning is benefiting their organizations:

35% Leadership development

At 35 percent, this area is where learning professionals believe their efforts benefit the organization the most. However, it’s important to note that the definition of “leadership development” is evolving. Learning professionals have embraced Ram Charan’s concept of “leaders at all levels” and understand the need for all employees to
be proactive and show initiative.

30% Integration with career planning and development

Thirty percent consider this a key benefit to the organization. For learning professionals, making progress in this area entails forging partnerships with HR and operational leaders to build a web of workforce management and succession initiatives.

26% Continuous learning

With changes in the way organizations are approaching the skills and knowledge needed, continuous learning is becoming a given, with 26 percent saying it benefits the organization. For learning professionals, the ability to deliver continuous learning is dependent on mobile and collaborative technologies that can bring learning to the workplace and the field. It also requires activating internal subject-matter experts to create content, not just consume it.

Transforming your organization into a learning organization is not easy, but it’s critical. In PwC’s 2014 survey of global CEOs, 63 percent said they were concerned about the availability of critical skills at all levels. Who is going to lead your organization, and how are they going to get there? For learning leaders and the broader organization, the best (and maybe only) solution will be to build your own talent. With the people and the right tools, you’ll be better off than just hoping the employment market or — more realistically — luck will help your organization succeed.

The Starr Conspiracy’s take:

There’s a new mandate for the learning function today: Enable the workforce to adapt, at speed, through continuous learning and capability development. We live in a world where no organization can predict the future; they can only prepare to adapt to inevitable changes. As a learning professional, you need to break out of your silo and collaborate with senior leaders, HR, and line managers to create an environment of continuous, adaptable training, coaching, and knowledge sharing.

Brandon Hall Group’s take:

Learning needs to drive individual and organizational performance in order to be considered impactful and worth the investment. Organizations today need to know that they can rely on their learning strategy and initiatives to deliver high-quality learning to people in the shortest amount of time that can be immediately pressed into action to meet business objectives. Learning today is the new competitive advantage for organizations. High-powered and hard-hitting learning that propels an individual forward in their competency and skills development is a must. Organizations need bigger, faster, stronger employees, and the only way to accomplish this effort is to develop a high-octane learning strategy and execute it flawlessly.