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Trend Watch 2023: Learning and Development

Leaders are closely monitoring these trends to make sure their game plans stack up against market behaviors.

Once upon a time, the only way for organizations to store important documents was in physical filing cabinets and not in a network of remote storage servers hosted on the internet. And long ago, the only way to hold an office meeting was, well, in the office, and not through devices that connect each individual, even if thousands of miles apart. 

To progress from then to now, it takes a commitment to greater efficiency and a responsibility to learning and developing the skills that make innovation possible.

No organization is exempt from the learning process. But those that continually upskill their workers will be able to survive the challenges that come along the way.

Here are the top learning and development (L&D) trends that will have an impact on HR this year.

Trend 1: Building a Culture of Learning

Placing L&D at the center of a company’s culture is a surefire way to strengthen engagement, skills acquisition, and more. This strategy automates upskilling and equips workers with what they need in today’s changing workplace and global economy.

To do this, companies must gather analytics to accurately understand where to start when curating an efficient program. “Creating an effective L&D culture starts with identifying learning gaps – what’s missing, what’s needed now and in the future?” says Maggie Smith, senior vice president of human resources for Traliant. “From there, it’s critical to ensure employees have a say in their learning path.” 

Any organization that is truly L&D-driven will be intentional in upskilling its workforce. In fact, Udemy’s 2023 Workplace Learning Trends Report says that when learning and culture are closely aligned, they mutually reinforce each other, empowering both employees and the organization alike. “Learning and development have become part of both employees’ desires for growth and opportunity in their work and careers and the need for companies to continually improve and expand the skills and experiences of their workforces,” says Jeff Schwartz, vice president of insights and impact at Gloat. “This focus on growth and opportunity, along with flexibility, wellness, purpose, and of course, compensation, is critical to the employee experience.”

At Genpact, Piyush Mehta, chief human resources officer, says the company’s embedded learning program has made upskilling more than possible by supplying workers with new skills on demand—and it’s working exceptionally well. “Genome’ is our online, on-demand learning platform, designed to help our employees build the skills of the future at scale,” says the chief human resources officer. “So far, we’ve delivered over 10 million learning hours through ‘Genome,’ and every month we have an average of 80,000 users on the platform.”

Having learning at the center of a company’s culture enables employees to be integral in the trajectory of their own careers. This separates companies with fulfilled and connected employees from those that struggle with disconnected workers.

Nick Day, VP of sales and marketing of Roundtable Learning, says helping workers visualize and then actualize their journey will almost always generate positive results. “Career mapping with upskilling learning programs is a great way to build and maintain a culture of learning and development,” he says. “Creating a space where your team clearly understands their career outlook and the tools to get them there offers a huge incentive for them to succeed and grow professionally.”

Schwartz says that there are many components to building an effective L&D-based culture, including a combination of strategies, resources, programs, values, and incentives. And Andrea Lipton, senior director of consulting and advisory services at NIIT, highlights three elements to seamlessly intertwine L&D into company culture.

1. Embrace a growth mindset. Leaders should focus on developing talent through hard work and skills development and embrace potential in all employees.

2. View learning as an investment. Leaders should measure the return on investment of effective training by tracking improved performance.

3. Adapt to changing business and talent priorities. An NIIT report revealed that strong learning organizations follow a “Sense, Decide and Evolve” paradigm—they’re constantly engaged in exploratory cycles, identifying changes both inside and outside their own organizations, rapidly forming and testing hypotheses about responding to these changes, and aggressively implementing ideas that work.

Trend 2: Supporting Career Growth

Employees want to work where their professional growth is supported, not halted. Degreed’s State of Skills Report shows a clear link between retention and the availability of upskilling and reskilling opportunities. Forty-six percent of workers say they will leave their employer if they don’t see a commitment to their professional development. 

Janice Burns, chief people officer at Degreed, says companies shouldn’t avoid developing their workers in fear that they will take their new skills elsewhere; what matters is what they accomplish during their tenure. “Just considering retention is a simplistic view of what L&D is doing in an organization and within a workforce, during their employment period,” she says. “People are going to leave eventually, it’s what they achieve while working for you that you can focus on. Ensuring that they have the right skills, and access to learning that continuously builds those skills, is what keeps people productive and engaged, however long they choose to remain.” 

Schwartz also agrees that the companies that encourage career advancement will have the most loyal employees and in turn, lower their attrition rates. “Research at Gloat has highlighted that employees increasingly are leaving their companies because there are better and more easily accessible opportunities for meaningful career growth and interesting work at other companies.” 

He also says that the best tool for supporting employee advancement is actual opportunity within the company. “Perhaps the topline question is how to increase meaningful internal opportunities for growth and development and how learning and development is a critical part of the equation. I think we’re seeing that the driver of retention and employee engagement is internal growth and opportunity, along with flexibility, purpose, and pay,” Schwartz says. 

Advocating for employee growth isn’t just important to sustain retention levels; it shows that an organization is fully committed to their employees’ well-being and to achieving business goals. 

Trend 3: Personalize Learning

A Traliant survey found that half of respondents said the trainings that resonated with them most were those tailored to mirror their work environment. Smith agrees that the best way to foster strong workplace connection is by getting particular with development efforts. “Personalization is effective in increasing learners’ engagement and making the course material more relevant and relatable,” she says.

Mehta sees no other way for content to hit home without tailoring it to each recipient. “It’s imperative that training be customized for each employee for it to have a real impact,” he says. “Companies must ensure that content, and the way it’s delivered, is flexible and customized to individuals or departments to make it more relevant and interesting.”

For Burns, individualization has become such a part of everyday life, so why shouldn’t it extend to the workplace? “The question is, why aren’t you customizing training to preferences?” she asks. “It’s an expectation in our personal lives to have our music, movies, and even romantic matches tailored to our preferences based on data.”

Dr. Gregg Collins, chief learning scientist for NIIT, notes that while personalized learning has become a norm for many businesses, it’s possible that it could stagnant some workers. “Most people’s preference is to stay in their comfort zone, but the best learning does not happen when people are in their comfort zone,” he says. “So, before we worry about how to customize training by employee preference, we should first think about how to design training that works.” He says what employees should know and be able to do at the end of the training should be the primary focus. 

So, what’s the right balance? Day of Roundtable Learning thinks technology is key to providing optimal support for learning and being able to accommodate multiple styles. “Blended learning is a great solution for many organizations to appeal to all user learning styles. Some learners prefer to see someone demonstrate a task, while others make sense of new information by completing the task through individual hands-on training,” he says. “A learning program inclusive of virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR), instructor-led and eLearning can accommodate all your employees and ensure your L&D is trending in the right direction.”

Trend 4: Expanding Digital Capabilities

The 2023 Workplace Learning Trends Report found that by 2025, as many as 70% of employees will need to use data heavily in their jobs, an increase of 30% from 2018. And a second report revealed that the new technology market, which includes virtual reality (VR) for instance, is expected to increase from less than 12 billion dollars in 2022 to more than 22 billion dollars by 2025.

Day says technology adoption is ever-increasing because of its proven effectiveness across the board. “We know that most enterprise companies have implemented immersive learning into their employee development strategies or plan to in the next year because of its effect on every aspect of their growth objectives,” he explains. “Studies have shown that early adopters of artificial intelligence (AI) and VR for their L&D programs have seen, on average, a 57% increase in efficiency, 55% increase in safety, 52% increase in productivity, and 47% complexity reduction.” 

One of the most alluring aspects of tech’s effectiveness is its ability to take on the role of problem solver. Its capacity to identify and subsequently rectify issues makes all the difference when ensuring learning is as effective as it needs to be. 

Genpact’s Mehta explains how his organization’s AI-automated chatbot, “Amber,” has helped increase engagement, signifying that workers are acquiring necessary skills. It’s also taken the guesswork out of determining what works and what doesn’t. “By leveraging advanced technologies, such as AI, leaders can identify employees who feel engaged and unengaged, understand the difference in their performance, and create action plans based on all the data,” he says. “Amber offers a real-time pulse on mood and morale and helps gather employee feedback on what works and what needs to change.” And based upon its analysis, Amber provides actionable intelligence and live people analytics, enabling HR leaders and company executives to proactively address employee feedback.

Brandon Dickens, regional vice president of user experience for NIIT, says there are some groundbreaking technologies that have begun making their mark, but their true impact has yet to scratch the surface. VR is a great example. “[VR] will eventually become standard practice for most kinds of training,” he says. “There are preliminary experiments that seem to demonstrate outsized results in key areas like health and safety training and empathy training. While the VR revolution isn’t quite here yet, however, there is still good news: We have begun to see a definite trickle-down effect on training executed in lower tech and lower fidelity modalities.”

With three in four businesses saying that it is important that the results obtained from AI are fair, safe, and reliable, this is a clear indication of how important tech has become in teaching the workforce. “Today, AI’s main role in employee development is in enabling functions like auto-curation of content, auto-translation, or voice generation,” Dr. Collins says. “The real long-term potential of AI, however, lies in building AI tutoring systems that can do the kinds of things a great teacher does: Generate example problems to work on, (evaluate) learner solution, provide custom-tailored explanatory feedback, generate Socratic questions to guide learning, and so on,” he says.

Technology adoption is growing, and any company preparing for the future will put the right pieces in place to continually learn, grow, and excel. “Data and AI will drive the next generation of employee experience, talent engagement, and workforce management,” says Mehta.

Tags: HR Technology, January/February 2023, Learning, Workforce Management

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