5 Trends for the Future of Learning and Development

By David Wentworth and Mollie Lombardi

In today’s world, organizations that fail to adjust their learning management practices and solutions often struggle with organizational growth or productivity. As a result, leading companies are abandoning traditional methods of learning in favor of more effective solutions—often involving technology innovation—that engage talent and improve performance. This report highlights key trends affecting the future of enterprise learning and recommendations for selecting the right provider.

Key Findings

  • One-third of companies are increasing their budget for learning and development.
  • 41 percent of companies describe their culture as “Controlling.”
  • Only 10 percent of companies are leveraging mobile learning solutions.
  • 59 percent of companies are leveraging social learning activities.
  • Source: Brandon Hall Group 2014 Learning and Development Benchmarking Study (n=569)
  • Prioritizing the Individual

Organizations are facing several critical pressures, including a short supply of leaders, the need to develop and engage employees, and issues with turnover. Finding and keeping talent is no longer an HR challenge but a strategic business priority. Yet, most companies are unable to build lasting relationships with their employees in an effort to overcome these challenges. Instead of empowering employees with the tools they need to succeed, many companies feel threatened by their workforce and fearful of change. In fact, when asked to define their company culture, 41 percent of companies described it as “controlling,” or a highly structured and informal place to work with little collaboration. With the emergence of a younger generation and the rise of the independent worker, companies must rethink their approach to talent and begin to prioritize the “individual.” They must provide a new mechanism for learning—one that can adapt to the needs of a changing workforce and align closely with organizational objectives.

For many companies, an updated learning and development process is long overdue. Brandon Hall Group’s 2014 Learning and Development Benchmarking Study shows that more than 50 percent of companies have revisited their learning strategy less than two times over the last five years. It may seem surprising (considering the state of the global economy over the last few years), but learning has remained, for the most part, stagnant. The good news is that one-third of companies are increasing their budget for learning and development over the next 12 months. With nearly 50 percent of these companies currently spending $100 per learner per year, companies will need to become more strategic about their learning programs and technology enablers. Brandon Hall Group research indicates that the top areas of learning investment include internal L&D staff and external consultants. Although having the right resources and expertise is critical, companies may want to consider the role technology can play in transforming their learning functions.

Trends and Recommendations

Although learning is one of the most mature areas of talent management, it is also one of the most innovative. With recent technology advancements and the rapid adoption of social collaboration, learning and development has come a long way. Yet making a decision to improve a learning management program and invest in a learning management solution is often a daunting challenge. Five key trends and best practices that companies should consider include the use of mobile technology, adoption of social learning tools, alignment with corporate objectives, use of adaptive learning principles, and the ability to measure effectiveness.

Going Mobile. Mobile has transformed the way companies work, interact, and collaborate. With global penetration rates skyrocketing, organizations that are not considering mobile in all areas of HCM will have a difficult time competing for talent. Despite this reality, companies are still slow to embrace mobile learning solutions. Only 10 percent of companies are using mobile Web-based learning solutions. Some 8 percent are using mobile learning apps, 5 percent mobile performance Web-based sites, and 4 percent are using mobile performance apps Most companies recognize that mobile learning solutions can improve adoption, expand global reach, and engage users better, but do not understand how to execute a mobile strategy. Additionally, some organizations find it challenging to determine what options are available and which providers to consider. Regardless of the barriers they are facing, organizations looking to improve their learning functions will need to make mobile part of the equation and determine what requirements they have in order to select a technology partner.

Understanding Social. Companies are quickly embracing social media tools, as well as investing in social collaboration tools to better engage employees and foster a learning culture. Although social has become mainstream, companies still lack the knowledge and insight around how to use these tools for learning and development. Of the 59 percent of companies using social for their learning strategies, only 24 percent say they are effective. One reason is that companies are limited in the social tools they are using. Companies are using document sharing, discussion forms, and blogs, but they aren’t generally using video or micro-blogs—which our research shows are more effective—to improve their learning functions. Companies must educate themselves on the value of social learning and invest in providers that offer solutions that drive business outcomes.

Considering Adaptive Learning. Adaptive learning is a methodology that breaks traditional models and allows employees to learn at their own pace. It has gained popularity with educational institutions, referred to as “adaptive teaching,” where a teacher will gather information on individual students to learn what they need to do to improve their learning. In the workforce, adaptive learning is conducted similarly. Employees can be monitored individually and in real time to determine what learning approach will best suit their needs. It has advantages for younger generations entering the workforce that have expectations around flexibility and interaction. Adaptive learning can be effective at improving efficiency, as well as employee engagement and retention since it allows employees to build confidence and overall expertise. Companies may want to consider breaking traditional learning methods by introducing aspects of adaptive learning.

Aligning with Business Objectives. The learning of the past operated in silos where learning professionals had little interaction or input from other areas of the business. The learning of the future must be closely aligned to overall corporate strategies in order for companies to achieve results. Any program or technology investment should involve input from business leaders to ensure that learning is driving retention, engagement, and performance. For those companies that did align learning and business priorities (48 percent), more than 70 percent were able to improve company revenue.

Measuring Effectiveness. To determine if the learning strategy in place is driving business outcomes, companies must find a way to consistently measure its effectiveness. Companies should determine metrics in advance and include both business metrics and learning/HR metrics. Currently, most companies are considering team encouragement, employee engagement, and employee satisfaction over more concrete business metrics such as retention, turnover, and revenue per full-time employee.

Key Takeaways

Most companies must adapt their learning strategies to meet the demands of today’s workforce. Traditional models of learning do little to bridge the gap between employer and employee or to improve engagement and performance. By aligning learning strategies with corporate objectives and leveraging innovative technology, organizations will be able to significantly improve their learning functions. Key takeaways:

Select the right provider. In the past, organizations had limited technology choices for learning and development, but today there are new solutions emerging every month. Organizations should consider providers with innovative capabilities such as mobile and social and also understand the importance of measuring the effectiveness of learning activities.

Collaborate with the business. Learning professionals must work closely with business leaders to design the learning program and also to gather input on the right technology providers. With executive support, organizations can help shift their approach to learning and create new vehicles for enabling individual success.

Put the individual first. Companies must shift the way they view employees and consider focusing on the individual and his or her unique learning needs. For some companies, this strategy may include aspects of adaptive learning; for other companies, it could mean a different communication strategy.


AUTHOR:  David Wentworth and Mollie Lombardi are analysts for Brandon Hall Group, an independent HCM research and advisory services firm that provides insights on Learning and Development, Talent Management, Leadership Development, Talent Acquisition, and Human Resources. Wentworth is senior learning analyst and Lombardi is VP of the Workforce Management Practice.


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