Over the last couple of months I’ve been reading and exploring a series of meetings and interview excerpts conducted with L&D heads, talent management leaders, and vendors of next generation learning tools of various organizations. My goal is quite simple: try to decipher the new corporate learning landscape, which we can now term as “Digital Learning.” In this post I would like to share few key insights about how the world of corporate learning has changed and evolved over the last decade or so.

Firstly, it is important to address why this topic is so relevant and important in the current operating environment. The corporate L&D industry globally is over $200 billion in size and thanks to the emergence of digital content and tools, all L&D programs are being reinvented for digital access, enabling businesses and employees to learn like never before. To ensure that L&D continues to stay relevant in addressing the learning needs of the employees and plugging the skill/talent gap for the organization ensuring business growth and healthy ROI, it is critical to understand how the trends have changed over the past decade. Let’s delve into each aspect one by one.

  1. The User or Learner Profile

A major chunk of the working population in 2010 comprised the Generation X or generation Y (who were the early millennials born in years 1986-1990) who were motivated by the concept of ‘learning on demand’. They were the flag bearers of embedded learning. At its core, embedded learning can be neatly summarised as learning while doing as opposed to learning to do. It was an increasingly popular learning approach a decade back as it suited our fast-paced times, increased speed to performance, fed the new generation of digitally savvy and knowledge hungry learners and could be enabled by emergent technologies. Common examples of embedded learning activities that sit in leadership and other formal learning programs are:

  • structured on-the-job learning activities
  • whole-systems learning projects where large groups experience learning in real time
  • simulations
  • action learning projects
  • group and individual coaching
  • personal change projects targeting leadership development or behavioural change

Over the last 10 years there has been a major shift in the worker profile into mostly comprising of Generation Y&Z (born in 1990’s and early 2000). The biggest issue faced by this profile is “time”.

LinkedIn recently released their latest research (4,000+ L&D and business professionals) and asked people how their workplace learning could be improved.  Guess what the #1 issue was:  people do not have enough time to spend on learning.  “Getting employees to make more time for learning” was the #1 challenge they cited, and among the learners who responded, 58% want to learn at their own pace and 49% want to learn in the flow of work.

One research in 2015 found that among the 700+ organizations studied, the average employee only has 24 minutes a week for “formal learning.” People simply do not have as much time as they’d like to learn in a formal way, so the need of the hour is for an informal “in-the-flow” learning which plugs seamlessly into the workday of the employee. This has given rise to the need for L&D practioners to provide ‘anytime’ and ‘anywhere’ learning opportunities to employees and provide bite size learning modules which can be fitted easily into the regular work days. As opposed to traditional courses which typically try to achieve multiple learning objectives, bite-sized learning is normally focused just on one key objective.

While it could be argued that even a single learning objective could be very broad, for example, how to prepare effectively for a client meeting, the focus for bite-sized learning is on outcomes. This means that not everything in a topic needs to be covered, just what is essential to achieve the outcome desired.

  1. The Learning Philosophy

L&D in the mid 2000s to the year 2010 operated from a philosophy of following a blended approach towards learning. The concept of 70-20-10 principle was being applied to developing training courseware. This has changed in recent years to applying the concept of Design thinking to developing training content. Design Thinking is basically an approach for deeply understanding the audience and their challenges, in order to generate creative and effective solutions. It resembles Agile models in its methods of prototyping and testing. It differs in its emphasis on human-centered solutions. This is critical at this time because the solution to many problems may be much more complex, broader and more integrated into work than one training course can provide. Perhaps the solution to a problem requires developing a community of practice—not formal training; or perhaps there is a need for performance support combined with a user interface redesign; or a change in organizational processes as well as interactive training.

  1. Learning Systems : The traditional LMS is no longer the centre of corporate learning, and it’s starting to go away!

For many years HR and L&D professionals focused on the Learning Management System (LMS) as the center of corporate training. Research on this market indicates that it makes up more than $4 billion of enterprise software products and services. While we cannot expect the market to disappear overnight, it’s no longer the center of action.

Why you may ask?  LMS platforms were designed around the traditional content model, using a 17 year old standard called SCORM. The LMS industry, emerged because companies wanted to track all their various forms of instructor-led and online learning, and much of that tracking used the SCORM standards.

Unfortunately, the paradigm that it was built on was focused on the idea of a “course catalog,” an artifact that makes sense for formal education, but no longer feels relevant for much of our learning today. As a result, LMS systems tend to be very hard to use, there are often thousands of courses to look for, and most employees simply find them of limited value (except for mandatory or compliance training).

We hear continuous stories from organizations around the world that “employees simply do not use the LMS unless they have to,” and this has caused a lot of pain in L&D. Companies spend millions of dollars on these systems and to find that employees don’t use them is a painful process. It also impacts employees’ perceptions of the HR and L&D department.

No one is saying that the $4 billion LMS market is dead, but the centre of action has moved. Today’s LMS is much more of a compliance management system, serving as a platform for record-keeping, and this function can now be replaced by new technologies. And these systems have typically been very expensive, so companies are now starting to find ways to turn them off. The LMS, which was largely architected in the early 2000s, simply has not kept up effectively.

  1. Learning Formats : Emergence of Micro Learning vs Macro Learning

Macro-learning is something we do when we want to learn a whole new domain. If you want to learn all about SEO, or digital marketing, or cyber-security, or the new sales methodology – you are going to have to commit some time. The content may be a MOOC, a series of small videos (ie. Lynda.com, Udemy, etc.), or an instructor-led program that includes simulations, group discussions, and exercises. In earlier decade organizations would focus more on providing macro learning programs for employees but now the focus has shifted to micro learning. These are things we can quickly read, view, or consume and they only take 10 minutes or less. These may be a video, a blog, or a set of instructional questions that help us think differently than we did before. As a more evolved information-seeking generation, we are more willing to consume this kind of material all day, and most of the news sites and social networks now offer such learning in a massive, curated stream. The reason why Micro learning has gained so much popularity is because attention spans are getting shorter and learners expect more from training. Learners no longer want to just gain knowledge, they want to be engaged, entertained, and able to apply what they learn immediately. They want to see improvements and be able to quantify their progress. They want to do so anytime, anywhere, on any device. They want to be in control of their learning journeys and yet be guided in the right direction. Hence L&D offerings are also now transitioning to cater to this mode of learning where learners are in control of what, and when, they are learning.

To summarize, it is becoming increasingly evident that L&D leaders and functions across organizations need to revolutionize their approach by creating a learning strategy which not only aligns to the business strategy but also takes into cognizance all the changing dynamics in the ever evolving L&D space. These changes entail some risk, maybe even some trial and error but one thing is for sure, the rewards will be great !!


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