Chief learning officers are constantly adjusting their tactics by mixing and matching content topics and delivery tools and options to address their most important organizational challenges and objectives.But are there alternatives or more effective approaches to addressing their needs? Are other CLOs approachingissues differently, or do they see greater opportunity for emerging tools?
Every other month, International Data Corp. surveys Chief Learning Officer magazine’s Business Intelligence Board to gauge the issues, opportunities and attitudes that are important to senior training executives. Research shows training budgets are recovering. In many cases, CLOs reported their training budgets for 2014 increased 10 percent from 2013. They have increased focus on technology, training strategy and performance consulting. But do CLOs believe this will continue in 2015?
The perceived value of learning and learning technologies is increasing as pains from the recession wane. For the third year in a row, more than half of CLOs are more optimistic about 2015. They see improvements in the macro-economy reflected in their clients, specifically decreasing unemployment and constant change because of globalization, customer requirements, regulations and new leadership internally shaping expectations for training and development.
And the better learning meets business leaders’ needs, the higher those expectations become. One CLO said learning is helping her overcome a severe talent gap. “We’ve decided to develop our employees and provide them with competencies critical to business success [ensures] skills are available, on-demand.”
Overall, more CLOs believe the outlook can be summarized as “sustained growth expected into 2015, with higher job growth and wage growth.”
As the recovery continues to take hold, training organizations are returning to the levels of importance they held early in the last decade. As reported in the November 2014 CLO magazine, more than half of CLOs saw a budget increase in 2014 and a similar number expect a budget increase in 2015 (Figure 2).
In addition to spending more, companies have high expectations for contributions from the learning organization (Figure 3):
• 82 percent of CLOs expect training to be more aligned with company business objectives — almost identical to last years’ survey.
• 70 percent of CLOs believe the perception of training within their companies will increase compared with last year — a small decline from last year.
• A steadily increasing percentage of CLOs believe training offerings will be better integrated with other talent management functions.
All in all, some good reasons to be optimistic about 2015.
Informal learning is expected to have a very positive effect on enterprises in 2015. CLOs are increasingly anticipating the value of self-directed and incidental learning, and are making resources available to support on-demand experiences. As one CLO reports, “With a large, geographically dispersed employee population, a small training team, and an even smaller training budget, informal learning provides a much bigger impact than formalized learning can provide.”
Leadership development is also important. Some CLOs see it as necessary, and possibly lacking competency. Others see it as a viable activity to address future pipeline requirements or to promote employee engagement. Some CLOs are combining leadership and informal experiences, engaging staff interested in pursuing opportunities for growth and succession planning. Another CLO said, “We are empowering our leaders to take what they have learned about leadership and pass it down to their employees. The goal is to have everyone speaking the same leadership language and helping to empower the workforce with great leadership from top to bottom.”
Competencies are still significant. As one CLO described: “Clear competencies drive all other talent development tactics.” Strong competency programs also can improve hiring practices and succession planning.
Other key activities are:
• Instructor-led training, mentoring and executive coaching. While mentoring requires a formalization of relationships and activities, CLOs believe it is a great way to get consistent performance without affecting the bottom line. Executive coaching can provide candid, confidential support to senior management.
• Knowledge and learning management. Both of these technologies reflect the ongoing importance of supporting learning with tools to organize and manage the information and learning assets in the enterprise.
Research also revealed items that may negatively affect training performance, including training outsourcing. The common objections to outsourcing relate to quality, relevance and disruption of the status quo. One CLO believed that for their organization, outsourced training would be “self-service free online, and you get what you pay for.” Another believed that outsourcing training “will not really address any of our internal learning needs, as we already have our own training resources.” A third CLO believed outsourcing would be “disruptive and time consuming to make the shift.”
Mobile training also may negatively affect training in 2015. Even while organizations are shifting applications and other work processes to mobile, not all CLOs are on board. “As we begin to shift some of our business content to mobile applications, [mobile learning] will cause confusion and cause issues with our employees that do not have access to Internet or cell service on the job,” a CLO said.
Back to Basics
While many magazines, blogs and analysts write about the learning industry, sometimes there is not enough coverage of some important topics. For 2015, CLOs believe the learning industry should focus more attention on some of the basics: informal learning, knowledge management and competencies. At the same time, CLOs would like the industry to spend less time talking about wikis/blogs, podcasts and mobile learning technologies (Figure 5). While some CLOs believe many employees use their phone and/or tablet throughout the day, they seem to also believe that only when learning is integrated into a person’s daily routine will it have its maximum effect — and mobile devices aren’t yet that integrated into work practices.
As training spending recovers, much about 2015 is uncertain.
Generally, CLOs feel optimistic that training will continue to be at the forefront of the war for talent, a reliance on technology will increase and ultimately training will improve.
CLOs most common predictions focused on informal learning across several dimensions:
• Monitoring:Corporate learning needs a method to easily track formal and informal learning activity.
• Self-directed/flipped:There will be an increase in technology-driven, self-paced, flipped classroom style learning made of small chunks — i.e., video, podcasts and networking groups — to facilitateinformal learning.
• Leveraging technology:There will be more prolific use of emerging learning technology to support customized, mobile, informal and social learning.
• Just in time:Employees will use more informal and just-in-time learning; value increased with level of linkage to business goals and objectives.
• Relevance:Informal learning, knowledge management, and user-created content will continue to increase to help keep content current and meaningful.
Technology is always a hot area for predictions. Some believe technology increases training costs while others see it as a strong benefit. CLOs surveyed report that:
• There will be more prolific use of emerging learning technology to support customized, mobile, informal and social learning.
• Online training will become more sophisticated in its delivery and technology.
• There will be increased use of virtual and self-paced online learning modalities.
• There will be greater reliance on virtual classroom with improved technology for increased interaction.
• There will be a greater understanding of how to use mobile learning technology, and that will make it more practical for a greater population to take advantage of this delivery method.
Overall, CLOs are increasingly optimistic and see an expanding role for employee development. Leadership development and increased use of informal learning will have the most profound affect on organizational development. And while there is debate over the efficacy of both mobile and social learning, CLOs believe increasing technology use in general will continue apace, and that the “economy has improved, freeing up resources, and organizations who have learned to live ‘lean’ these past four to five years now also better understand the importance of having a workforce that is enabled, empowered and engaged.”
That’s a nice sentiment to begin the new year.