Social platforms, mobile learning, and gamification are keys to engaging and retaining talent.
By Katie Kuehner-Hebert
As companies come out of the recession, many are ramping up their learning programs in an effort to engage and retain key talent—and in ways that also boost their productivity, experts say.
Employers and providers recently discussed top trends in corporate learning programs with HRO Today, including the rise of social platforms, mobile learning, and gamification. Here is a broad overview of some of their opinions:
- Many employers are facing an increasing skills shortage as well as engagement problems, says Gary Bragar, HR outsourcing researching director at NelsonHall. Corporate learning programs can help with both. “Several studies have shown that at least 50 percent of employees do not feel engaged at work and would change jobs tomorrow if they could,” Bragar says. “Talent development is critical not just for specific job skills, but also for career development, and to retain skilled employees as companies recognize the shortage of talent in the marketplace.”
- Companies are also realizing that it’s not enough to learn if employees are happy, “they need to learn whether they are fulfilled and productive,” says Adam Stedham, senior vice president of learning solutions, at GP Strategies. “If an employee is productive but not fulfilled, then they are a flight risk and that needs to be addressed,” Stedham says. “But if they are fulfilled but not productive, then the company needs to figure out how [the employees] can better add value.”
- Retaining people is important, but retaining customers is more important, says Edward Trolley, vice president of managed training services at NIIT. Research indicates that one of the primary reasons customers leave companies is because the person they’ve been doing business with left the company and their relationship was broken, Trolley says. “If keeping every person on the payroll forever does not help a company accomplish its objectives, then what’s the point?”
- Steven Stone, vice president of member contact learning at USAA Bank in San Antonio, Texas, says many companies “miss the pitch” in manager development. “Recognizing there may be some degree of truth in the old adage, ‘employees don’t leave companies, they leave managers,’ one way to improve retention is to address the need to create a better manager with stronger skill sets, knowledge, and experience,” Stone says. “That, I feel, is a key driver for learning organizations to help combat the loss of talent as the recovery from the recession opens up more tempting opportunities for employees.”
Current State of Spend
According to TrainingIndustry.com, roughly 58 percent of employers’ training budgets on average is spent on insourced resources, while 42 percent on average is spent on external suppliers. Overall, budgets collectively increased 15 percent in 2013.
Companies outsource for centralization of learning management and administration, content development, and for advice on which technology can be integrated to reduce overall costs while increasing participation, says Mark Oliver, managing director of Raytheon Professional Services, EMEA.
Buyers that have learning programs in multiple sites often have multiple spends, so they are looking for providers to identify areas of inefficiencies and redundancies, Oliver says. However, employers typically don’t completely outsource high-potential learning—that tends to be kept close to the vest, with specialist elements given to third parties.
Buyers are also trying to increase flexibility through cross- training and role standardization, and are looking to design standardized training components around best practices, Stedham says.
“Some markets have the bandwidth for e-learning and some don’t, or are not allowed to for certain content, such as compliance training,” he says. “For example, in Asia, we’ve had clients that used live instructors to deliver e-learning to comply with regulations.”
NIIT advises clients to choose the right learning staff who can have meaningful conversations with their business customers and can bring appropriate solutions to advance the business, Trolley says. NIIT also recommends to establish a governance process between clients and the business, “to make sure they always focus on the most important requirements in the business.”
“We also advise them to produce annual reports on what value they’ve delivered for the money they’ve spent,” he says. “All of these things are important if they want to be viewed as an integral part of the business.”
Evolving Training Techniques
According to a 2013 NelsonHall survey of 24 learning BPO providers in North America, Europe, and Asia Pacific, 55 percent of the market is now e-learning, including virtual instructor-led training, and is expected to grow another 5 percent in 2014.
More than 70 percent of respondents said cost was one of the main reasons they decided to outsource learning, Bragar says. Other drivers for increased use of e-learning include talent development, boosting productivity, and augmenting the limited resources and capabilities of the in-house learning team.
Buyers are particularly interested in recorded virtual classroom training, virtual coaching, and video snippets, that can bridge gaps between web-based and instructor-based learning, Oliver says.
David Strainick, global head of learning at NCR Corp. in Duluth, Ga., leverages Raytheon for expertise in learning management administration. Raytheon manages NCR’s customer-facing learning contact center, answering questions from employees and getting information about courses they took via NCR University, an online learning portal for employees, customers, and partners. Strainick has a hybrid model with a core group of system administrators to internally administer, analyze, and provide metrics “that matter to our leaders.”
“You’ve got to be able to demonstrate a learning program’s value to the business, and that means measuring results with very specific criteria,” he says.
Employers used to use learning management systems (LMS) as passive repositories, logging course transcripts and test scores, says John Higgins, senior vice president of growth and solution development at The Training Associates. But today the platforms are being integrated into employers’ overall talent management systems, where employers can use their LMS to create individual development plans, set and track learning goals, and then pre-populate courses as part of their learning plan for the year.
Leveraging Peer-to-peer Learning
Boston-based Iron Mountain document transport and storage company has a peer-to-peer coaching program, called Sentinel, for its drivers (called couriers), records center specialists, shredders, and other frontline staff. The company used a vendor, RDEA, to conduct an upfront analysis, providing benchmarks with similar industries. However, Iron Mountain had “the internal resources” to develop the Sentinel program on its own, says Leah Minthorn, acting director of learning.
“We created several business process teams because we wanted to tie the learning back to the business,” Minthorn says. “We had separate teams to build the coach model, design and delivery, funding and financials of the program. Each team had members that were field personal–executive sponsors, operation managers, general managers, vice presidents–people in the field who understand and do the work every single day. Frontline people were also chosen to be the coaches. Who better to train someone than the people who do these jobs every day?”
Iron Mountain is now considering whether to develop “a flipped classroom model,” made up of virtual online sessions of instructors teaching either live or recorded that the company would roll out with a possible Sentinel 2.0 program for managers and supervisors, she says.
Social Platforms Are Growing
Employers are also employing more social and collaborative learning strategies, because it leads to better engagement, Bragar says.
Companies are developing some collaborative technology internally, in combination with the usage of commercial technology, he says. But companies are also seeking help from providers to develop strategy, select, and implement technologies, give them training on how to best use them, and how to measure the effectiveness of social learning.
USAA Bank’s Stone says that he believes more learning departments will construct systems to enable the entire company to learn from one another through social media and peer-to-peer interactions.
“There will still be a need for some instructional design and development, and some delivery, but learning becomes more scalable and cost effective under the future model,” he says.
NCR uses Chatter, a module built into salesforce.com, in which thought leaders, such as the CEO, can post trends about the industry, customer event notifications, or articles of particular interest. Strainick uses it to keep his team updated on trends in learning, talent, and leadership development, and employees use to share ideas in individual groups.
“Raytheon consults with us about how to deploy courseware within Chatter and our other modalities, to achieve certain business objectives, and we use our own expertise,” Strainick says. “The power of social media in learning is your ability to continue the conversation both in and out of the classroom.”
Social learning is still very much in its infancy, Oliver says. “My advice would be to not be too heavy on the regulation. If you’ve got the right company culture, your people will self-regulate,” he says. “They know that what they post can affect their career, and if they post something that is inaccurate, others within the organization will quickly correct it.”
Incorporating Mobile Learning
More employers are interested in mobile learning, because it’s now not just about being able to put content on smart phones, it’s also about being able to put content onto tablets, which expands the use of mobile and makes learning more portable, Higgins says. Mobile learning is also getting more popular because employers can avoid having to produce reams of paper, binders, and learning materials and give workers learning at the point where they most need it.
Raytheon helps employers develop mobile content, but the essential part to know is that if the user doesn’t use mobile as part of their daily work, then the return on investment won’t be there, Oliver says. Mobile learning should be for people like sales reps, who could use mobile content within their natural toolkit. Content also needs to be adapted for mobile devices—employers may want to “chunk it” into shorter snippets, make it more graphic-based rather than text-based, and use more video content.
NCR uses mobile learning tools primarily for its customer engineers, sales team, and other employees who are out in the field, Strainick says. For example, in early 2013 the company began developing small snippets of videos called Chalk Talks: YouTube-style training videos that help NCR’s customer engineers diagnose and fix critical areas of equipment failure. NCR’s sales representatives also receive Chalk Talk videos via their mobile devices, to assist them with such content as product demos. NCR will record a subject-matter expert to talk about the product and then publish these snippets for consumption.
Currently, Strainick and his NCR team are working with Raytheon to develop a single mobile learning platform that combines existing mobile-ready content into a single site.
“In today’s world you are either doing mobile learning or you are being left behind,” he says. “Our employees need to be able to access learning available at the point of need. You can’t teach everything they need to know so the use of mobile performance support tools is critical.”
There are other challenges to mobile learning, Stone says. If a company has a bring your own device (BYOD) program in place, learning organizations may be challenged to build solutions on multiple operating platforms. Another challenge is ensuring that hourly employees are properly compensated for any “compensable time” used on learning solutions.
“I think mobile learning is a fantastic idea, but I think by the time we develop learning solutions and give them to people in the field, the technology would be obsolete,” Minthorn says. “I don’t think we could ever do BYOD because our number one code of conduct is protecting our customers’ information assets and security, and we couldn’t control everything that people look at on their devices.”
Gamification is Here to Stay
For gamification, an “in vogue” technique is scenario-based learning and simulation: putting people in scenarios where they can experience real-life situations and be permitted to make mistakes, see the consequences of their mistakes, learn from those mistakes, and get to do it again until they don’t make mistakes, NIIT’s Trolley says.
True gamification should be linked to improving human performance in tasks that will deliver on business results, Stone says. This can be achieved in the building gamification into process redesign.
“Understanding that gamification is not just a tool in the learning communities space, but a tool that can be used by process engineers, HR business partners, and business leaders is key,” he says.
Strainick says learning executives are also increasingly interested in deploying new technologies such as wearable technologies that augment reality in the field. For example, a tablet could recognize a particular ATM and automatically create a learning PDF around the functionalities of that ATM.
“CLOs will need to think about how best to incorporate these new technologies into their learning platforms and what partners are out there to help them do it,” he says.
What’s the driver behind all of these new trends and techniques? It’s generational, Higgins says, particularly as more Millennials enter the workforce.
“Employers need to give Millennials learning that’s more interactive and engaging than the old platforms,” he says. “It goes beyond expecting it—they require it.”