4 Things to Watch: What's Next for Learning Strategies

Author: Laci Loew

Date: August 8, 2023

Learning and skill growth is a critical component of attracting and retaining talent.  In fact, upskilling and continuous learning are cited as two of the top five factors that drive today's employees to leave jobs. Investment in developing leaders is equally important. In recent research of global senior HR leaders, leadership development was cited as the most important area (only behind employee experience) to which CHROs would allocate additional funding if their HR budgets were doubled.

In response, corporate learning functions are stepping up to help. As such, the global L&D market is projected to soar to more than $487 billion by 2030 which represents a compounded annual growth rate of 8% over the next seven years. L&D is no longer a competitive advantage; it is a business imperative. With a renewed focus on L&D comes a fresh look at learning strategies.

Today's Corporate Learning Is Getting Reshaped

Traditional learning approaches representing lecture-led, multi-day workshops and catalogs of uncurated, self-paced e-learning courses are being traded out. Data-driven learning approaches are taking their place. Data-driven strategies inform new leadership capabilities needed, employee growth areas of personal interest, and internal mobility opportunities. Organizational execution of this trifecta keeps productivity high and advances the employee experience.

Let's look at each of the four trends that leaders in charge of corporate learning are using to reshape workplace learning.

1. Prioritize Leadership Development

The pandemic, a looming recession, and layoffs are creating a new, uncharted, and transformational time. Boards of Directors and the C-suite are asking for leaders to build a resilient organization that enables employees to thrive in the face of change. Yet, fewer than 1 in 4 employees said their organizations care about their well-being, 42% of the global workforce respondents reported they feel burned out, and more than three-quarters of employees said they would consider leaving a company whose leaders don't prioritize their well-being.

How are organizations helping leaders navigate these new workplace twists and turns? Last year, organizations allocated more than 40% of their corporate learning budget to leadership coaching specifically for the purpose of developing leaders' human-centric behaviors. Organizations that develop human-centric leaders understand the deeply strategic and impactful nature of a healthy people-first culture. If learning strategies for leaders are void of these critical behaviors, business results suffer.

2. Implement a Skills Strategy

Gartner research indicates that 58% of employees need new skills to be successful in their current jobs, and a Gallup survey shows that more than half of those surveyed indicated they want upskilling. In the absence of a skills strategy, employees will change jobs seeking out a skills-based organization - one that values employees for their skills (not just their knowledge) and aligns employees with critical work based on their unique skills.

Upskilling strategies start with quality content, but that alone is not enough. Knowledge learned through highly curated content stays as static knowledge unless it is applied. The best forms of practical skill mastery often occur in the form of augmented reality (AR) or virtual reality (VR) and in the flow of work. Practice-based skill building creates a growth mindset and instantiates new behaviors engaging employees in their own career development while helping employers build inclusive cultures, expand their pool of top talent, and retain great employees even during turbulent and uncertain times.

3. Design for Zig-Zag Career Growth

While high-impact organizations are deploying a skills strategy, still more than 80% of employee role changes involved moving to new organizations. This data suggests that organizations might be implementing skills strategies but are not presenting employees with opportunities to move about internally (laterally and downward, not just upward) where their skills can be perpetually (re)aligned with business-critical work of personal interest. This zig-zag approach to career growth relies upon an active internal talent marketplace. Successful internal mobility strategies are defined by at least three calls to action:

  • Alert employees about what an internal talent marketplace is and its key role in supporting their skill-building expectations. Transparent communication improves the employee experience.
  • Reward leaders for sharing talent across the business. Leaders who hold their talent close to the vest stymy the viability of an internal talent mobility strategy and ultimately, business impact.
  • Inform the organization's workplace planning strategy with skills data derived from the internal talent marketplace. Knowing which skills across the organization are lacking is essential for business planning purposes.

4. Use Data and Analytics

Proving learning's impact has been a challenge forever, it seems, and is one that still prevails with more than half of learning leaders indicating they feel executive pressure to do so. Many now believe a leading way to measure the value of learning on business results is to identify and monitor the right metrics (e.g., promotion, retention, and engagement rates) and correlate those rates to employees who have successfully acquired or deepened their skills to get critical work done. In so doing, L&D's intended purpose can be better articulated and quantified in a world where the focus of learning has shifted from knowledge-building to skills-building.

The greatest challenge in using data and analytics to indicate the impact of learning lies in the fact that many L&D professionals believe their corporate learning team is not qualified to distill learning insights from data. Overcoming this obstacle requires the allocation of learning budget dollars to the data development skills for learning professionals and then holding them accountable for tracking and reporting on a single skills-based metric that matters to the business.

As the future of work transforms, so does the future of learning. To better support today's workforce in our people-first workplaces, a skills-based learning strategy is needed. It should prioritize the development of human-centric leaders and offer lateral career movements for employees' growth both informed by data that exposes skills requisite (and lacking) to achieve business goals. This is the new learning blueprint for today's forward-leaning and high-impact Chief Learning Officers and other heads of learning. To be sustainable and thrive, organizations can no longer treat learning as a perfunctory set of training programs. Learning must be redesigned to be a strategic business imperative.

--Adapted from "5 Things to Watch: What's Next For Learning Strategies" originally published on Forbes.com on April 17, 2023.