Between the skills economy and the hybrid work approach, it’s an exciting time for L&D organizations.
Two major shifts characterize today’s work: The skills economy and the hybrid work approach. Alone, they are both powerful. But together, they are completely disrupting work and learning in significant ways.
It’s an exciting time for learning and development organizations. They are stepping up to meet the changing learning needs of employees and businesses. This article outlines the new landscape of work, lists its implications for learning leaders and providers, describes solution frameworks and makes the case for preparing your L&D organization for the future of learning with digital technology.
If the challenges my client L&D organizations describe are any indication, there is a distinct pattern of struggle to keep up with the growing demands from businesses and employees. The challenges occupy a wide spectrum — rapidly shifting need patterns, content obsolescence, remote solitary learners, content overload and the lack of certainty of effective outcomes — and despite the large and ever-growing libraries of learning content, robust video-conferencing technologies and learning management systems. So, where is the problem?
The new landscape of work
In decoding the challenges that L&D organizations face, a good place to start is to understand how work has changed. Learning and work go hand in hand — therefore, the future of learning is deeply entwined with the future of work. With recent changes in the nature of work, learning processes need to undergo a relevant transformation. Work has changed in many ways, of which two stand out.
The first drastic change: The skills economy is here. As technology races ahead, skill gaps have appeared, widened and morphed. There was a time when L&D organizations could get by without using technology. Not anymore. New skills are needed across all kinds of work.
According to Brandon Hall Group’s 2022 research study, 76 percent of companies say competency, skill gaps and inadequate learning technology negatively impacted their L&D organization’s efficiency and effectiveness.
Given the tight talent markets, businesses are looking to L&D to upskill and cross-skill employees at a rapid pace. In a way, organizations are being sent back to the 1970s — to when they had to build their human capital from scratch through training and development programs.
The second drastic change: Hybrid work is a major disruptor. Although the pandemic has begun to recede, employees have discovered that they can still assert their preference for working from home for at least part of their work week.
Implications for L&D leaders and providers
As one already knows, the new nature of work has brought in a swathe of challenges, especially for L&D leaders, learning content providers and learning technology providers. Each of these players has adapted in swift and drastic ways.
Businesses are increasingly holding L&D accountable for skill development. As a result, L&D leaders are agilely straddling business needs and employee expectations. According to a 2022 Brandon Hall Group research report, the first priority for L&D leaders is to link learning to skills and competencies, and this will continue to be a major focus.
At the same time, L&D is requested to meet a higher bar of engagement. Employees are getting used to the frictionless consumption of social media, and that experience is setting their expectations for how L&D content should look and flow.
Although L&D teams can effectively straddle these two expectations of outcome and engagement, they run on limited time. They must develop and deploy content fast and pivot fast. Gone are the days of planning ahead for years with little change in curricula and learning delivery.
Learning content providers
In today’s climate of work, learning content providers are now tasked with developing content that is current, accessible and consistent.
Rapidly aging content seems to be a recurring concern nowadays in a majority of digital publishers. There could be several reasons for this: The underlying subject matter could change, the graphics may become dated or the language and examples could use a makeover. Additionally, incompatibility with new display technologies and delivery platforms could impose a burden on producers to keep content current and compatible.
Making learning accessible is no longer simply a compliance issue. As more and more companies adopt their own diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives, content providers see a spike in requests for content that includes accommodations for disabled users.
Finally, content providers must think about consistency. Today’s content is delivered over multiple platforms, and is consumed in multiple formats. The same content isdeployed through traditional e-learning, microlearning, presentations, PDFs, videos and slide decks. Consistency across multiple formats improves learner experience and helps lower maintenance costs.
Learning technology providers
Learning technology providers must leverage hybrid work patterns to drive outcomes.
In a hybrid work environment, people will end up learning differently and at different speeds. This can be addressed with technology. For example, customization and personalization of learning technology experiences at scale is no longer a nice-to-have feature — it is a necessity. One learner may prefer watching a complete video lecture in its entirety. Another learner may prefer to use a video skimming tool to help determine whether the recording contains relevant information before investing time in viewing the entire video.
As hybrid work patterns change the social context of work, learning must be integrated seamlessly into online work. Learning must go where people live and meet them there.
Businesses increasingly need to tie competency models with L&D. The demand for outcome measures and insights is insatiable. In response to these needs, technology vendors must increasingly provide integrations with entrenched systems of record, such as performance management systems, learning management systems and HR information systems.
Illustrative solution frameworks
What are some of the solution frameworks and opportunities available to address these challenges? For the purpose of illustration, this section draws upon a future of learning framework developed at Harbinger Group. The framework is in turn based on Harbinger’s decades-long experience in designing engaging learning content, linking it to learning at work, automating content creation and making content delivery seamless.
The ideas and examples outlined below have three key philosophical underpinnings. First, learning must meet the learner at work — in whichever systems they live in — in the flow of work. Second, treat technology as foundational to learning, not as an afterthought. Finally, content design and learning delivery are holistically viewed together to produce learner-centered, yet guided learning experience.
Key themes that are of great interest to L&D professionals include building learning programs, engaging learners, automating common tasks and producing insights from data. Accordingly, the following sections describe how to design and produce learning content at scale for keeping up with technology, how to get learners to engage with the content, how to select and automate processes to provide a seamless workflow across applications and how to measure outcomes that in turn drive incremental changes.
This theme concerns designing learning materials today that are future-ready in addition to meeting today’s demands. The building process should be scalable, rapid and agile. The resulting content may be instrumented for easy discovery, competency mapping, and embeddable interaction. Finally, the content needs to be accessible for people with disabilities.
One example: A global consulting firm needed to create and deliver learning content at scale. They wanted to support training in multiple modalities, including instructor-led training programs, virtual classrooms, micro-learning courses and web courses. Their goals were to manage courses across different formats and course modalities, to facilitate easy authoring of content, and to improve content reuse.
Our solution comprised three key elements: deploying and implementing a learning content management system platform, transforming existing content through templates and tags and building custom integrations with the learning management system. With this, authors could create content rapidly and leverage it across modalities. The solution also facilitated an integrated publishing workflow.
A variety of approaches for learner engagement have emerged in recent years.
Several factors drive a company’s selection of engagement approach. These factors include learner demographics (entry-level joiners, managers, executives), learning application (onboarding, cross skilling, leadership development) and engagement time horizon (short term, long term).
Nudge learning platforms allow ways to push microlearning experiences to users at the right time in the right context over time.
One example: A global training provider of biosecurity and biosafety for small enterprises wanted to enable long-term learning retention as an engagement goal. They used SprinkleZone — a nudge learning platform — to onboard employees at their organizations and to send them periodic assessment questions using nudges. This helped their customer organizations achieve the desired learning outcome that went beyond awareness raising and helped institutionalize biosafety and biosecurity approaches.
User experience innovations abound. Video skimming tools save time by allowing learners to get to the point of interest quickly. Bots provide support at the point of performance by inferring the intent of learner’s queries and providing the right learning material needed at that time.
Interactivity builders provide templates for adding interactive elements such as games, exercises and visuals to learning content. Gamification frameworks provide a variety of elements from game mechanics such as points, levels, leaderboards, and rewards. By adding these to learning content, one can drive motivation and engagement. Microlearning frameworks allow for the creation of short-duration learning experiences that one could combine in myriad ways to build appropriate learning paths.
Two key areas in which automation pays rich dividends are content creation and learning delivery.
Automation frameworks for content transformation have a huge potential to save time and costs when legacy content must be modernized. Transformation frameworks address such issues as digital asset extraction, translation, accessibility, device compatibility and more. AI-based question generators allow for developing multiple-choice and descriptive questions automatically based on course materials. Content migration across systems is a common need, as organizations change their authoring and delivery platforms. Automation solutions are available here too.
Automation in learning delivery aims at achieving personalization of user experience and interoperability of delivery systems. Headless LMS allows customization of the user interface and experience of LMS. By ensuring integration across content sources, content delivery systems can provide curated learning paths to learners from a single place. Workflow automation allows for connecting the dots between employee performance, skill gaps and learning needs, course assignment, progress capture and performance impact.
One example: An early mover in the learning experience platform movement, this industry-leading learning technology provider delivers personalized learning and curated learning pathways for upskilling. To make their value proposition stronger, Harbinger is helping the LXP platform to integrate with multiple LMSs and content providers so that irrespective of type, location or source of the content, a learner can discover and access content through their platform of choice. This futuristic design gives learners a platform-agnostic and cross-provider access to learning via automation and integration.
The most important aspect of any L&D initiative is to be able to measure impact on the learner’s performance. One needs to implement and customize learning platforms to connect outcome information with continuous performance management systems and collaboration tools to provide a holistic view of training and its short term and long-term impact. One metric that HR leaders could be interested in is how many cross-trained engineers are working on projects that need their new skills, and how their performance rating changed after the training.
One example: A growing technology services organization needed to speed up the skilling process to reduce the time for new team members to be productive on new technology. The business also wanted to measure the impact of these training programs and talent readiness within a specific timeline.
The firm implemented a competency framework within their LMS to map the skill proficiency levels of individuals with the competencies required for the job roles. This enabled designing the learning pathways for learners and assigning personalized learning goals within the system. The L&D leaders and the learner’s manager both had complete visibility of skill readiness throughout the program using the details captured with competency reports, quiz scores, assignment feedback and the overall learning program dashboard.
L&D organizations are forging into new territory. L&D leaders, learning content providers and learning technology providers must foresee and plan for a broad range of challenges.