Digital Gives L&D a Second Life

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The role of corporate learning and development (L&D) is changing. And businesses around the world are pouring serious money into this area.

Earlier this month, e-commerce giant Amazon announced that it would cover the entire college tuition fees for its 750,000 hourly employees in the U.S.

The spending is also going digital. According to market intelligence firm HolonIQ, the global online degree and micro-credential market is expected to grow by 260% in six years, from USD45 billion in 2019 to USD117 billion in 2025.

A significant portion of the spending is likely to come from corporate L&D. Gartner expects that by 2024, 40% of companies will deploy continuous learning technologies.

Part of the reason is that corporate L&D is no longer about building skills to win a new deal or meet compliance requirements. Companies are beginning to realize that L&D teams with the right technologies can empower change management, drive employee experience (EX), and enable performance management.

The connection to change management

The volatile economy brought by a market still reeling from the impact of COVID-19 is forcing businesses to bring frequent and often difficult-to-anticipate changes to the workplace. And, according to Association for Talent Development (ATD), learning professionals have a role to play in helping change initiatives succeed.

“If leaders and their workforce are to improve their change management capabilities, it will require relevant, innovative, and dynamic learning opportunities that keep pace with the shifting demands of organizational transformations,” stated the ATD report “The Role of Organizational Learning in Change Management.”

Change is often unsettling, particularly when these are introduced remotely in the post-COVID-19 era. Companies cannot merely rely on a few online town hall announcements to facilitate the change of habits and mindset, noted Marc Remond, vice president for meeting and learning experience at Barco.

Change from the ground up

Meeting and e-learning platforms provide more than training employees for change. They can also be used to drive change as effective communication channels.

“Change management is about changing culture and sometimes business models,” said Remond. “There’s only so much leaders can do to force down changes. If you need people to believe and see things the same way, you need workshop-style interactive discussions, allowing facilitators to bring thought-provoking ideas.”

Remond added that virtual classroom tools that provide large video walls allow facilitators to encourage brainstorming and interactive discussions, ensuring all the participants are involved. Such interactive discussion, he believes, is critical in Asia, where local implementation and interpretation of the change initiative are equally important.

“Asia is a complex market; change management needs to happen from the ground up,” he said. “But once [employees] are convinced, there will be much less resistance for moving forward.” 

From learning to EX management

Another new strategic role of L&D is enabling employee experience (EX) for both new and existing employees.

The pandemic has forced many countries to close their borders, restricting talents from moving and causing a talent crunch for many businesses. This means HR leaders are forced to hire overseas talents that work remotely or reskill existing talents to meet the changing needs.

For new employees who are forced to start working remotely, an effective onboarding platform to establish a good relationship becomes more important than ever. “The first 100 days are critical for new employees to understand the corporate culture and determine their retention rates,” said Remond.

To upskill and retain existing employees, businesses are also moving from offering training courses to building a learning culture. This is particularly important for technology companies like Rackspace Technology, where tech skills are highly valued.

“As an organization, we empower employees to pursue professional development goals by offering various certification courses,” said Shweta Mishra, human resources director for Rackspace Asia Pacific & Japan. “It is also crucial to establish a culture that ensures everyone is talking and walking the same employee value proposition.”

Experience-driven learning culture

Companies are reviewing their learning platforms to help establish this learning culture, noted So-young Kang, CEO of Gnowbe, a microlearning and engagement solution provider.

“With the proliferation of accessible content, more employees and companies are prioritizing (learning) experiences over just content,” said Kang.

On top of being mobile-first, Kang said an engaging learning experience should consist of “Know-Think-Apply-Share.” In addition, to provide content, an effective learning platform should also be designed to encourage participants to apply and share the newly acquired knowledge. These elements help complete the learning cycle and foster a group learning experience that empowers employee engagement.

“A powerful way of building team engagement and increasing ownership of learning is through providing shared learning experiences,” said Kang. “When employees are provided with fun, easy-to-use, and engaging learning, then it encourages a culture of lifelong learning.”

From learning to performance management

Digital learning platforms are also recognized for providing traceable and measurable interactions. The learning platform can also support effective performance management when this data is integrated with other HR systems.

“We see a stronger desire to link learning with performance,” said Kang from Gnowbe. By tracking the learning experience of individual talent, HR professionals can tie that data with their performance outcomes to measure ROI.

The data provides HR professionals an overview of the talent inventory, enabling internal talent sourcing and supporting further L&D plans.

“With an inventory of talents and skills within the company, we can rank the skills we need and work on filling out high priority roles before looking for talent elsewhere,” said Mishra from Rackspace Technology. “By doing so, organizations are providing developmental opportunities for existing staff members.”   

Digital learning may initially have been a response to the pandemic, but the increase in adoption has demonstrated a value beyond employee skills-building.

“We need to think beyond its limitations,” said Remond from Barco. By focusing the potential of L&D in upskilling talents, enabling collaboration, and changing behavior and mindset, companies can transform and stay competitive at uncertain times.

Sheila Lam is the contributing editor of DigitalWorkforceTrends. Covering IT for 20 years as a journalist, she has witnessed the emergence, hype, and maturity of different technologies but is always excited about what's next. You can reach her at [email protected].

Image credit: iStockphoto/CreativaImages