Learning in 2018: The rise of technology and calls for personalization
A number of surprises, spurred by a tight talent market, drove some of the developments in the learning space this year.
Which learning predictions for 2018 took off and which fell flat? Niche learning, working with remote teams, upskilling and the rise of VR/AR were expected to dominate the L&D space — and it turns out, those predictions rang true, according to a number of sources.
But thanks to more employees demanding development, a few key developments appeared and dominated the past year, too.
Niche learning in specific categories, like the emerging cannabis and craft brewery markets, was on the rise. “We’ve got multiple growing cannabis companies coming online and looking to lead in educating the market, doctors, retailers, pharmacists and others — on all aspects of this new industry," Jeremy Auger, chief strategy officer at D2L, told HR Dive via email.
But Michelle Tasevski, director of learning and development at Addison Group, said niche learning includes more. "People are increasingly interested in personalized learning journeys, catering to the specifics of what they’re looking for as opposed to providing blanket training is vital," she said in an email. "It is all about getting the right content to the right person at the right time." Linking learning to a daily routine is also a big part of this; those trying to immerse themselves in a niche industry are increasingly seeking training opportunities specific to that as a part of their day-to-day.
Still, employers are wising up to "working smarter, not harder" when it comes to employee development, moving away from offering "more" and instead offering more focused opportunities. "We have to get away from systems being the work, to the systems working for us," Chris Havrilla, VP of HR technology and solution provider research at Bersin, said. People want, and should get, learning when and where they need it so they can use it, she explained.
Training remote teams
Shifts in connective technologies have created an influx of remote workers, bringing new challenges in talent management and prompting the need for training on how to manage these workers as well as providing tools for their own growth, Kathleen Pai, VP of HR at Ultimate Software, told HR Dive. "Providing opportunities for virtual employees to connect with one another can help them feel a greater sense of belonging within the company, no matter where they work," she said in an email. Company culture remains a critical ingredient in creating a successful business, especially in a tightening labor market, she added, "but we are increasingly moving away from a 'one-size-fits-all' approach to culture, in everything from benefits packages to professional development."
Heather Doshay, SVP of people and places at Rainforest QA, agreed that getting remote learning right has been a top priority for companies in 2018. "By this, I mean not just how to be a remote worker, but also organizations needing to evolve all learning and development programs — which have historically been delivered in person — to be remote accessible," she said.
A large portion of the current early career workforce (often group most interested in employer development programs) is from Gen Z. And Gen Z has expectations for their learning experience. "This generation grew up on mobile," Doshay said in an email, "so organizations should consider how they make their learning initiatives mobile-friendly. Mobile content should be available for teams at all times, and businesses need to be asking themselves, 'How can we engage with and support the learning of our workforce all the time?'"
Employers can't forget hybrid teams in developing a learning program — or a communications plan, Rebecca Corliss, vice president of Owl Labs, told HR Dive. Training is key to get an individual contributor up and running, but continuous communication guarantees long-term success of the group. "It's essential," she said in an email, "that there isn't an imbalance in the information that in-office workers receive versus remote workers."
Auger said he's seeing widespread interest in work-integrated learning experiences for higher education students aimed at addressing the skills gap by building into the curriculum some of the basic job market skills and soft skills needed for new graduates. "I expect that we’ll start to see governments dramatically increasing funding to support these types of programs," he said, "and implement requirements for [work-integrated learning] experiences in education programs."
The accelerating pace of workplace transformation across every industry continues to reinforce the need for upskilling, Tanya Staples, VP of learning content at LinkedIn Learning, told HR Dive in an email. LinkedIn Learning has grown its user base to more than 13,000 enterprise customers, she added, with no signs of slowing down. Mike Hughes, managing director of West Monroe’s operations excellence practice, noted that all of the clients he worked with in the past year are pursuing upskilling initiatives, especially those in the tech industry. Clients approach upskilling in different ways, however: some are introducing their own internal training, while others have partnered with online training or local universities or colleges.
"They understand that the cost to introducing these upskilling opportunities are not only less costly than trying to source the skills externally, but they also engage their current employees, making them more likely to build a career with their current organization," Hughes said.
Staples said she's seeing high tech-training moving across industries. "Early adopters like Walmart and Starbucks have made strides in how they use VR and AR technology for corporate training; however," she said, "the most valuable application is seen in precise training fields such as medicine or engineering, where a simulated learning environment is safer and more cost-effective." Tasevski agreed that VR technology is on the rise in the training world, largely due to the way it can create a risk-free environment for employees to test the waters and gain feedback and coaching.
Eric Freshour, senior manager in West Monroe Partners’ operations excellence practice, also agreed we’re seeing many different approaches to training, partly to accommodate the wide ranges of skill sets and experiences now present in the workplace. "There is continued growth," he said in an email, "of things such as e-learning, gamification, simulations, app-driven learning, etc., to meet different learning styles and generational differences."
While many 2018 learning predictions panned out, there were a few others that came as a surprise.
Training for soft skills like leadership and communication is the top L&D priority, according to Shane Metcalf, co-founder and chief culture officer at 15Five. Creating a high-performing, growth-oriented and fun company culture is becoming increasingly important, yet many businesses struggle to accomplish this or to maintain their cultures as they grow. "Soft skills training," he added, "has possibly the greatest influence on culture-building, which is vital in terms of every company’s recruitment and retention efforts."
As talk about the skills gap grew, reports on the importance of soft skills bloomed, especially as employers worked to find people willing and able to adapt to change.
Beyond general and role-specific L&D, individualized growth and development opportunities are also important — and personalized learning and career pathways are mission-critical. "Every manager should work with every employee, to develop a professional development plan that responds to a particular employee's existing skills and their desired trajectory towards becoming their best self at work," Metcalf said.
Staples notes that HR leaders are increasingly implementing technology that taps AI, analytics and machine learning to tailor personalized career paths. These paths encompass an individual worker’s personality, experience and learning style.
"I believe what many HR leaders didn’t necessarily anticipate," Pai said, "is how much pressure would fall on companies to expand and personalize the trainings they offer." And thanks to new tech, that is becoming more possible — and expected.
Havrilla believes continued innovation and demand in the learning space will make learning more impactful and relevant: "The continued exploration and adoption of Learning Experience Platforms (LXPs) and the incorporation of 'AI' or intelligence to help with curation, personalization, timing, and most importantly, relevancy, and impact were themes we saw surface throughout this year."
Staples agreed that learning experience platforms are on the rise. Increased adoption of LXPs will also facilitate more self-paced learning — good news for Gen Z whose preference is for more independent, self-directed learning. "Platforms or tools that employ this approach, will increasingly be tapped to engage the youngest generation of workers," Staples said.
"Where we need to see continued innovation is within the art of the possible," Havrilla said. Embracing and co-creating solutions with vendors, IT and other stakeholders, and adopting these technologies can help HR leaders in all organizations reach the goals they've set.