Ian Rawlings is advocating for a data-led approach to L&D initiatives.
Today’s leading-edge organisations must invest considerable time and money designing and delivering immersive and compelling training programmes that align their workforce to the rapidly changing needs of the market, nurturing and retaining future talent.
To put learning investment into perspective, despite the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, the total spend on employee learning in 2020 was estimated at $357.7bn. With the pressure now on to adapt employee skills and roles to post-pandemic ways of working, making sure that training budgets are intelligently directed to upskill the workforce to deliver new business models is now mission critical.
The value of learning: employee acquisition and retention
Even before the current crisis, organisations were scrambling to reskill workers to cope with the impact of disruptive new automation and AI technologies that meant adapting to new activities and ways of working.
As companies prepare to return to the workplace, they will be focused on ensuring that workers are appropriately equipped for the rapid transition to new digital models. Whether that is accelerating the acquisition of new skills, or ensuring the workforce has the adaptability and resilience needed to ensure that recovery plans don’t hit the rocks.
Addressing future skills gaps and assessing the success of reskilling programmes depends on measuring the effectiveness of the entire enterprise learning ecosystem.
With talent in short supply, reskilling and upskilling staff for future responsibilities is now a top priority. Indeed, recent research highlights how effective learning provides mutual benefits for both organisations and employees, with 94% of employees stating that if their employer invested in their learning and development, they would stay with that organisation for longer.
But with more of the workforce set to be working virtually for more of the time, addressing future skills gaps and assessing the success of reskilling programmes depends on measuring the effectiveness of the entire enterprise learning ecosystem. Problem is, there is no industry standard for determining learner engagement.
Rethinking learning metrics in line with employee and business needs
Traditionally, L&D professionals use two metrics – course completion and employee feedback, plus the amount of time employees spend learning each month – to define what constitutes an ‘engaged’ learner. Many, however, do not measure learner engagement based on online usage data.
Yet many of today’s L&D platforms deliver a wealth of metrics that can enable organisations to fine tune their learning programmes and boost the relevance of the training they provide. For instance, organisations operating in highly regulated environments such as pharma or financial services can now track course completion stats and scores that are critical for demonstrating regulatory compliance.
Similarly, when it comes to tracking the employee experience of learning environments, new elearning standards like xAPI now make it possible to pinpoint exactly which learning assets and media – video, mobile, gamified, collaborative learning – generate maximum learner engagement.
Using these insights, L&D can create better materials that keep employees engaged and identify which new modes of learning will be most beneficial for supporting employees as they shift to new work roles.
Optimising the use of emerging learning modalities
As organisations prioritise which skills gaps will enable tomorrow’s hyper connected enterprise, rethinking learning delivery and when learning takes place is also rising up the agenda.
In recent years, the shift from in-person classroom training has seen organisations take advantage of new elearning and micro-learning delivery via laptops and mobile devices to make learning more accessible to employees everywhere.
The increasing automation and digitalisation of workplace roles means that learning journeys increasingly need to take place in real-time and be personalised to the exact needs of an employee in a particular moment in time.
For example, virtual reality (VR) learning and augmented and mixed reality experiences enable learners to engage in immersive simulations in situ and mid workflow – whether that is at the office or on the factory floor.
By enabling employees to walk through a process virtually before performing those actions in the real world, the time between learning a new skill and applying it productively gets considerably shorter.
Enabling employees to learn through practical experience, these types of new learning approaches have been shown to increase the quality of learning as well as knowledge retention levels
Analysing the metrics provided through VR learning and other immersive learning tools doesn’t just help improve overall employee efficiency and effectiveness. It can also highlight where employees encounter delays or issues in real-world scenarios, so that team working practices and workflows can be dynamically adjusted.
Measuring the impact of learning on business outcomes
To truly assess the organisational value of training, L&D professionals need to work with colleagues from across the business to define metrics that make it possible to assess if training investments contribute to measurable outcomes.
For example, to demonstrate how a specific sales training initiative directly resulted in sales teams securing more deals, L&D needs to be able to combine learning metrics with sales metrics held in the company’s CRM system.
Before introducing new training programmes, L&D needs to collaborate with other departments to understand and define learning objectives and create a comprehensive combined set of learning and business goals– whether that is to grow revenue, improve talent attraction and employee or customer satisfaction.
After which, it is simply a case of tracking employee progress towards realising those targets.
By taking a metrics-driven approach to learning and talent, and integrating this with wider business metrics, organisations can define their reskilling programmes with certainty and support new business models and strategies in an agile way.
By capturing what works and what doesn’t deliver anticipated outcomes in terms of workforce engagement or business impact, L&D strategies can be constantly refined in line with changing workforce and commercial needs.
Ultimately, the more organisations are able to visualise the efficacy and impact of their L&D programmes, the better prepared they will be to ensure that L&D investment is directed appropriately and always delivers on its promises.
About the author
Ian Rawlings is Regional VP EMEA at SumTotal.