Learning and development has been facing the same dilemma for decades. During good times, the C-suite recognizes the value of employee development. But when belts tighten, training is often the first line item to be cut.
U.S. corporate training budgets have risen 12 to 15 percent annually over the last several years, Training magazine reported. But before that, they plummeted. L&D budgets were slashed by more than 20 percent during the recession. That means that top executives, who were more than happy to spend $160 billion on training in 2014, got rid of one of their best cost-cutting tools when they needed it most.
In 2015, learning and development departments have a unique opportunity to solve the problems that weigh heaviest on the minds of the people running the business. In this year’s Human Capital Trends report, Bersin found that enterprise executives need to address problems around culture, engagement and retention most. At the same time, organizational skill gaps continue to grow.
With the help of emerging educational technologies and instructional design techniques,learning is uniquely positioned to address each of these 21st century talent challenges. Learning leaders can weave learning into the fabric of a company like never before, making it as essential to the business’s operation as accounting or operations. Learning will become recession-proof.
Ironically, the best path to this macro change is an innovation that starts small: microlearning.
Although microlearning is the industry topic du jour, it’s not entirely a 21st century innovation. Breaking up topics into small, simple units, is as old as education itself. The advent of the digital age just made it a requirement.
Digital use habits have driven learners’ attention spans to all-time lows. A microlearning solution gives learners short content on their terms, which helps the engagement problems corporate leaders are obsessing over today.
Microlearning also enables the single-most important driver of a successful business strategy in today’s fragmented times: alignment. In a business with shifting priorities, it’s simply not scalable to focus development programs around long, individual events rather than a continuous, nimble program delivered in bite-size units. Reinforced with practice and assessments, granular units can lead to better learning results. They’re also faster, cheaper and easier to produce.
Say an organization refreshes business goals and priorities on a quarterly basis. Only with microlearning could a learning leader be reasonably expected to quickly produce or curate a fresh program that aligns with and facilitates the desired outcomes. Likewise, only with microlearning could an employee reasonably be expected to regularly consume learning material relevant to their own changing objectives.
When learning refreshes and aligns with business strategy, learning leaders can shift their attention from proxy metrics such as course attendance or completion, and focus squarely on whether people are hitting their goals. At the same time, microlearning’s small, modular elements are ideal for those who crave constant feedback and data about what content, formats, technologies and approaches work best for learners.
A microlearning-based approach enables a learning program to function like a utility. Think about how someone uses water any given day: in the shower, in the sink, at the drinking fountain. No one worries that water won’t do its job — they just turn on the faucet. The same applies to how learners interact with a microlearning program. It provides learning in a variety of ways, for a variety of needs, on demand.
Microlearning lets the learning department do what it does best: deliver training that improves the skills and the experience of everyone at the company. When programs work well, learning becomes a partner in fulfilling, and even creating, business strategy.
It might even let learning leaders throw away the return on investment calculator. When a development program works on every level of the business, it won’t need to prove its benefits. Everyone will already see and know that it’s working.