Cutting through the noise: CLOs make sense of constant disruption

Posted by Amy A. Titus and Josh Haims on April 20 2017.

It’s overwhelming at times…shifting career patterns, scalable learning, digital learning platforms and the legacy learning management system (LMS), rapidly evolving employee expectations, regulatory demands. Senior learning leaders are contending with a myriad of disruptors confronting them daily.

At the 6th Annual CLO (Chief Learning Officer) Forum, we had the chance to convene with senior learning and talent leaders from around the globe to deep dive into, discuss solutions for, and power through the myriad of disruptions confronting corporate learning. According to Josh Bersin, a consensus is emerging in the CLO domain: the L&D profession is in one of the most confused and stressful states we have ever seen. Specifically, we landed on eight issues as among the most disruptive vying for CLOs’ attention.

    • Achieving scalable learning. Organizations have long practiced scalable efficiency—the idea that being bigger or producing more lets you take advantage of economies of scale to potentially reduce costs and improve margins. Scalable learning is the idea that people learn faster as part of a larger group than they do on their own, so organizations should consider creating an environment that brings more people in and gets more people involved. The idea is not simply to transfer knowledge but also to create new knowledge.

A major challenge for CLOs is that scalable efficiency and scalable learning are at direct odds. Scalable efficiency looks to minimize error, standardize, and increase processing speed. All of these benefits are at potential risk of being captured by machines. The efficiencies we prize, the large organizations that exist to manage repetitive tasks, are potentially at risk. Scalable learning organizations will not prize people who can manage these tasks; instead they will likely embrace and develop a workforce of people who are problem solvers, collaborate to find improvement opportunities, and work alongside the robots.

As part of scalable learning, organizations also need to shift the focus of their learning. Machines are advancing to take over some aspects of work, but the human aspects of work remain and are the real competitive differentiators. L&D professionals should consider focusing less on developing skills and focus more on core capabilities like creativity, curiosity, innovation, imagination, passion—qualities that machines can’t replace.

    • Dealing with technology ambiguity. Learning technologies are moving so fast there’s no “safe” place to land. The traditional LMS is a good system for tracking and compliance purposes, but is not capable of delivering scalable learning on its own. MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) came onto the scene with great promise, but the application in corporate environments has not delivered a transformative moment for CLOs. Now, just a short few years later, we see a plethora of platforms that cover particular areas very well (e.g., continuous learning platforms, microlearning platforms, program experience platforms), but aren’t comprehensive enough to “do it all” on their own.

The learning technology marketplace is potentially facing considerable risk because of the amount of new capital and number of new technologies serving different needs. CLOs are wrestling with the pluses (many options with exciting features) and the minuses (which to choose?). On the to-do list is figuring out how to pilot technologies, which often requires working through challenges with their IT organizations and perhaps dealing with regulatory concerns over cloud-based technologies, and accepting that they may not succeed with some of them.

The future remains murky—will a one-stop solution emerge, or will the solution be a way to integrate many disparate systems?

    • Rethinking content consumption. What if learning content followed a flexible consumption model, where organizations paid only for the content they used? One of our presenters spoke about challenging the traditional economic model of licensing where organizations pay for a vendor’s entire library of content, much of which may never get used. Many large organizations have multiple such vendor contracts. Instead, organizations would participate in a content marketplace, gaining access to multiple vendors’ libraries, but paying only when content is consumed.

This type of arrangement gives learners the power to choose the content most valuable for them. Making it work requires new thinking and fortitude from CLOs to renegotiate contracts and also requires technology behind the scenes to manage the flow of data and content. Organizations will likely have to create new pathways and a new user interface that presents the content, so learners aren’t simply going into a giant library unguided. (One presenter spoke of her organization’s learning philosophy as “guided freedom” or the idea that every employee has the right to learn how, when, and what they want to learn.)

As careers lengthen, people change jobs relatively frequently. Skill requirements keep evolving. As a result, CLOs are thinking about how the learning function can both address and enable the realities of today’s workplaces, including the trend toward more team-based approaches.

    • Preparing the next generational cohort. We heard from the CLOs’ K–12 counterparts—courageous, inspiring principals tasked with educating tomorrow’s employees and leaders. Much as organizations have noted and attempted to address the differences and preferences among multiple generations in the workforce—Baby Boomers, Gen Y, Millennials, Gen Z—principals are trying to understand the needs of the next generation of future employees and prepare them to enter the workforce.

The principals noted that education right now in schools is geared toward task performance, but those aren’t the kind of skills that are likely to be valued in the workplace 10 years from now, as we talked about earlier. More emphasis on core human skills (creativity, imagination, curiosity) and critical thinking is needed to help kids succeed later on.

These principals also observed that this generation of children want to use their hands and experiment, and aren’t afraid of failure. But teachers tend to not have the same risk tolerance and design thinking mind-set, so there’s a need to build that capacity in teachers in order to better foster it in children. The same goes for L&D professionals.

    • Enabling learning in a time of overload. Principals are seeing some of the same learning challenges as companies, trying to keep up with learners who are increasingly distracted, overwhelmed, and impatient. Bersin by Deloitte, Deloitte Consulting LLP research notes that today’s employees have just percent of the average workweek— 24 minutes—to focus on training and development. CLOs are thinking about how to manage the flow of new information bombarding employees and provide the repetition, spacing, and questioning necessary to retain newly learned information.
    • Reconfiguring the L&D team. Forum participants confirmed what we’ve been discussing for a while—the need to rethink the skills and roles within the learning organization. While instructional design is a core capability, it’s no longer a differentiating capability. L&D should be incorporating talents from other disciplines, such as UX design, mobile app development, marketing, data science, and information design, to better meet learners where they are.
    • Getting to high-impact, digital learning. This notion of “learning that meets you where you are” is one definition (put forth by Josh Bersin) of digital learning, one of biggest learning disruptions fueling a rethink of what it means to be a mature, high-impact learning organization. Other definitions also exist, but the idea that digital learning is ubiquitous, anticipates learners’ needs, and helps shape behaviors is foundational.

One Forum participant likened L&D’s digital journey to the evolution in marketing. What used to be a “spray and pray” approach—creating broad marketing campaigns (billboards, ads, commercials) in the hopes people would see them, read them, and buy the products—is now extremely data driven. Marketing content is targeted to individuals and gives them information they may not even know they need yet—anticipating (and even creating) needs and driving behaviors.

From what we heard at the CLO Forum, and continue to see day to day in the field, L&D is on a similar (r)evolutionary course. Those of us on both sides of the street—learning leaders in business and in education as well as L&D professionals in the field—are on the journey together.

Amy A. Titus is a managing director, Organization and Talent, for Deloitte Consulting LLP. She is the co-dean of Deloitte’s Chief Learning Officer Forum and is responsible for helping to bring talent, learning, organization improvement, and change solutions to her clients.
Josh Haims is a principal in Deloitte Consulting LLP. He is a senior leader in Deloitte’s Learning Solutions practice, co-dean of Deloitte’s Chief Learning Officer Forum, and sponsor of the Wall Street Learning & Development Executive Roundtable.

1 Careers and learning: Real time, all the time, 2017 Global Human Capital Trends, Deloitte University Press, 2017.

2 Meet the modern learner, Bersin by Deloitte, Deloitte Consulting LLP, 2014.

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