The current pandemic has changed our thinking and living like never before. As a learning manager, you are contemplating your next wise investment in order to serve your remote working employees effectively. A few common questions you may have encountered:
- Would you go for an auto-switch from classroom to e-learning?
- Would you buy an LXP and push the existing content resources to one of the channels?
- Would you consider a blend of both worlds?
Your research is chock-a-block with options like learning experience platforms, content platforms, xAPI, curation tools, microlearning, LMSs — you’ve probably come across a fair few of these popular buzzwords lately. How would you weigh one from another? You can neither succumb to the buzzwords nor critically brush them aside.
You need a rationale for your decisions, and it is with this inquiry that we began our study on what the key trends in L&D are, what the learning tools are, and how these tools fit into the big picture of learning strategy. We interviewed learning managers from Kellogg, Danone, Electrolux, Ascensia and Unilever to validate our hypothesis before framing this 4-axes learning diagram.
This article is intended to help you understand where corporate learning is going, so you will be able to make the correct decisions in your working environment. Further, we will look at how the current trends impact the strategy, learning platforms, tools and content delivery channels. We believe there are just four main trends you should take into account, and we are not recommending you follow one trend over another. We hope to help you plot where your current strategy lies and where it could go next.
Trend 1: Move from formal learning to informal learning.
Formal learning is often categorized as a planned, direct, non-contextual and formulated activity happening off-the-work in a classroom or regulated environment. In contrast, informal learning is unstructured, spontaneous and, very often, unintentional while solving the problem at hand.
Many L&D departments are moving their focus away from formal learning. Thanks to Jay Cross’ work and the 70:20:10 model, organizations understand the significance of informal learning in keeping up knowledge fluency.
Formal training is still required to handle the mandatory and company-specific training programs with the likes of compliance, security and onboarding. On the other hand, there are business-critical training areas that cover product training, process training, best practices and technical training. These may or may not occur in a structured formal learning environment and hence began relying on informal learning methods. We observe that more and more organizations are navigating in this direction.
This trend from formal to informal learning offers an excellent opportunity to L&D and HR to cover a rather vast ground for employees outside the scheduled agenda and ensure a faster knowledge-currency on some of the business and mission-critical content.
Critical view from L&D: “It is NOT easy to implement informal learning because employees/HR do not give priority to it.”
Quick win: Help them understand the alignment between informal learning and business goals.
Trend 2: From a top-down approach toward a bottom-up approach — the learner is taking control.
Modern-day employees are invariably self-driven. Organizations don’t need to direct them on how to develop and what to learn. These employees decide which trajectories match their personal career goals with the organization’s goals. They determine what, where and when to learn. Due to this change in mindset, the old top-down approach of the L&D department is no longer relevant. Right now, it is all about facilitating the learner and moving toward a bottom-up approach.
This bottom-up approach has a significant impact on the role of L&D. That role is moving toward moderator and facilitator rather than controller and planner. This approach also offers adult learners a sense of control as they can choose when, what and how to learn.
Critical view from L&D: “L&D/HR may not fully trust their employees to own the learning (bottom-up learning, where employees drive learning).”
Quick win: Show them the time and money saved due to employees owning content development, plus the impact on employee engagement by partnering with employees.
Trend 3: Move from a learning approach toward performance support.
Until the last decade, learning was all about conditioning and transferring knowledge. That is no longer the case. People can Google knowledge and facts, and teaching them to do this is only the first step.
This spoon-fed approach has shifted from off-the-job to making the knowledge available in the work context to improve performance. The goal of formal training is to help learners acquire knowledge and new skills, whereas performance support systems are meant to help learners complete the tasks at hand as quickly as possible, while they’re on the job.
Critical view from L&D: “Challenge is transition: Moving away from large programs to bite-sized performance support.
Quick win: Demonstrate speed of business achieved by providing performance support content.
Trend 4: Move from a knowledge focus toward a skills focus.
Having knowledge available at your fingertips in a performance support environment is one thing. Still, we need to teach people what to do with that knowledge and guide them on how to change their behavior. It is not just about knowledge anymore. It is about applying skills to knowledge to increase or enhance performance.
Critical view from L&D: “The challenge is digitalization: moving away from paper format to digital formats. People still print handbooks/instructions on how to do what; i.e., how to apply the skills using a short, handy manual.”
Quick win: Talk about the time to market and immediacy in solving a task at hand.
The Diagram of Change
These four trends form the axes of our Diagram of Change. Each quadrant covers one of the four functional areas of interest for L&D (talent development, formal learning, knowledge sharing and performance support). Take some time to think about where you belong on these axes and which quadrant resonates most with what you do.
Now, let us look at learning platforms and tools associated with each of the quadrants in the Diagram of Change. They are broadly classified below:
Let us quickly analyze the nature and offerings of these various tools.
Talent management systems
What they are: TMSs are HR-based and focused on recruitment and skills development. These tools are more associated with employee development than learning, for example, leadership development and performance management.
What they aren’t: TMSs take a top-down approach and are limited in what they can offer — mostly because they don’t directly link to courses on the web or the organization’s learning system. This lack of integration means TMSs have far less of an impact on learning than some of the other quadrants’ tools.
Learning management systems
What they are: LMSs often are key to a traditional, top-down e-learning approach. For a long time, they were the main channel for L&D departments to push and manage learning throughout their organizations.
What they aren’t: LMSs support L&D with managing their learning initiatives — they don’t have the learners themselves in mind. Some LMSs try to get around this by improving their interface or adding features that encourage a more learner-driven model. Those changes are mostly cosmetic. At their core, LMSs remain administrator-centered and database-oriented.
Learning experience platforms
What they are: Learners are more and more taking charge of their own workplace development, from e-learning and microlearning courses to curated web content, best practices and how-tos. They want to be able to decide what, how and when to learn.
As a result, employees want to find the right content at the right time. That’s where LXPs come in. They’re platforms with smooth user interfaces and intelligent algorithms. They also let workers discover content, get recommendations and find experts in their domains.
What they aren’t: LXPs are a world apart from the more traditional top-down LMS tools. You could use the analogy of watching Netflix versus watching a TV channel with a fixed programming schedule. Does that mean LXP is the magic bullet for all corporate learning problems? Probably not. As leading expert David Perring points out: “LXP is certainly not business smart, or fit for purpose for workflow resources or performance support. It’s the equivalent of walking into the library and searching for a book when what you really wanted was to simply land on the pages you needed.”
An LXP is a glorified version of an LMS. These platforms offer a highly engaging user experience, often with the same old content. Also, they are a mountain of content that doesn’t match learners’ real needs in the workflow. This can become a problem. Workflow support and on-demand and just-in-time help for employees is where we see the long-term development of learning tools heading.
Performance support systems
What they are: PSSs — sometimes also referred to as workflow support tools — aim to improve performance by helping employees solve problems. They offer workers the practical information they need to solve a particular learning need while working. The attention to these solutions is proliferating.
What they aren’t: They are not a replacement for good old training methods of classroom and digital learning, and it is important to understand this distinction before venturing into providing performance support aids. It is important to be careful about what to teach via performance support.
Implications on knowledge creation and distribution
In the end, what matters is how the knowledge or learning content is created and distributed to your learners. Instructional designers create the most formal e-learning content. Although these are specialists in e-learning, they’re often not experts on the particular topic on which they’re creating. This traditional approach still works for topics that can afford a delay in process or that do not change much, such as onboarding or compliance.
On the flip side, this traditional approach will prove expensive and slow while dealing with business-critical content like products or processes. The speed of business is ever-increasing, and these performance resources are affected by change even more than formal learning content.
Employee-generated learning offers a useful solution in this direction. It turns the content creation process on its head by allowing employees to share their expertise. This enables them to take responsibility for creating their own training. By putting workers with the most relevant expertise in charge of building and maintaining e-learning, you remove all those earlier downsides.
In addition, it serves all four trends discussed at the beginning of the article.
Informal and performance support content
The employee-generated Learning approach is already working for many companies. Among the five moments of learning needs, it solves the learning needs for new and more in a synchronous way. But change, solve and apply don’t need courses. They need resources that are also fulfilled by asynchronous formats.
Bob Mosher, senior partner and chief learning evangelist for Apply Synergies, recommends that at least 80 percent of all content should come from these employees, or business matter experts, as he calls them. It’s the only way to create these resources and keep them up-to-date. This will be mainly for change, apply and solve. The content will not be in the form of a course, but in the form of performance support content. We call these “employee-generated resources.”
Different ways to create or get content
By adding employee-generated learning/resources to the mix, you now have five methods for creating or curating content:
- Bespoke formal courses: content created by instructional designers, either from L&D or a third-party.
- Content platforms: online platforms (like LinkedIn Learning) offering default courses on topics.
- Curation of content done in curation tools or in LXPs in learning paths.
- Performance support content created in performance support tools. This content can only be used inside those tools.
- Employee-generated learning. Courses created and maintained by employees, now extended into employee-generated resources as employees are also sharing their knowledge more and more in the form of performance support resources.
According to research by Fosway Group, only 5 percent of learning organizations expect things to go back to the way they were pre-pandemic. This Diagram of Change is only a preliminary attempt to map the current trends and thereby help you position your current and future strategy and associated tools. Given the current uncertainties, we see a lot more subtle changes happening with the likes of empathy in learning, cultural push for digital learning and data-driven decisions in learning strategies. We invite questions and collaborators to amend/expand this diagram and make it more universally useful to L&D folk from all industries.