We often talk about learning as either mandatory or optional in organizational life. Learning must be imperative because it is at the heart of how our businesses grow, function, react, merge, connect, retain, evolve and create value for shareholders, employees and customers.
I am excited to launch this new column and dedicate it to the learning imperative. My goal is to push the learning industry to take a fresh look at its assumptions, language, status, delivery systems, changing technologies and impact on the corporate scorecard.
Let’s do a quick scan of some of the key forces that are empowering and, at the same time, diluting the impact of learning in our organizations.
Learning in the Age of Self-Service: A key meta-trend is the growth and expectation of self-service. From airport check-in kiosks to online HR transactions, the browser is evolving as the first line of service delivery. This has huge impacts on the cost of delivery, the availability of service and the shift of responsibility. On a recent visit to Cathay Pacific Airlines in Hong Kong, I met with the directors of HR and learning to discuss their deployment of a self-service culture. They have designed their headquarters to create physical zones where employees access self-service learning resources as part of regular preflight preparation. It is powerful to see e-learning placed in the context of a shift toward self-service, where lower-cost assets are used aggressively to free up precious face-to-face assets for critical needs.
Learning executives should start a larger conversation about self-service trends in their organizations. Self-service cannot be about losing access to expertise or taking the motivational elements out of learning deployment. The learning imperative requires that managers become more engaged in e-learning. Conversations about learning, connections to performance reviews and dialogues and projects to push “transfer” are key elements to self-service’s success supporting a learning culture. We cannot use self-service to disengage from the learning process. But a word of caution: Some organizations have substituted great classrooms with mediocre e-learning. This is not self-service—it’s downgrading!
Learning in the Age of Compliance: The good news is that compliance is driving support for training expenditures and increasing the overall number of learning offerings in many organizations. The bad news is that more than 60 percent of all new learning offerings (and therefore expenditures) in large companies are being driven by legal compliance regulations. If we are not careful, compliance can have a powerful draining effect on both learning budgets and employee excitement. For example, many financial companies now have to deliver dozens of courses every year to keep employees in compliance with ethics requirements and HR-driven certifications. A number of these are delivered through mandatory e-learning classes. Compliance fatigue is surfacing among the learners participating in this avalanche of classes. When learners stop viewing learning as something that will enhance their (and the organization’s) performance, we are in deep trouble. The challenge for CLOs is to provide new ways of dealing with compliance requirements with high-value learning needs. Where competency exists, let’s assess it rather than just re-teach it. (I have had to take the same Sarbanes-Oxley class on two different corporate boards. They had no way to certify my knowledge or readiness, so they complied by re-teaching.)
Learning in the Age of Google: When asked to define the best learning tool on the market, I often surprise journalists when I say Google. More employees reach for Google when they need to learn something than head toward well-designed learning portals. They want to use natural language to search for a list of knowledge assets rather than choose from a long list of constructed choices. They would ideally love to see how other learners have rated these learning choices. Learners would like to be able to drill down to the segment of a course that can help them right now, without being tracked as a learning-abandonment incident. However, Google-like searches also surface a lot of useless or inaccurate information. CLOs have a short timeframe to prepare their knowledge, learning and collaborative resources and technologies to be used strategically by Google-era workers.
Self-service, compliance and Google are three forces impacting the current and future worlds of learning. The learning imperative is to make them a positive force for business and development.
Elliott Masie is CEO of The MASIE Center, a global learning think tank and home of The E-Learning Consortium, a collaboration of Fortune 1000 companies. Elliott can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.Filed under: Technology