Posted by Dani Johnson on January 18, 2018.
In many companies, learning is starting to break down the walls of the classroom and become integrated into the work that employees do every day. In 2018, however, this integration will take a leap forward—propelled by new technology and a fresh perspective on the importance of combining work and learning.1
Taking time out of work to learn formally has become an unattainable luxury, and high-performing organizations are actively looking for ways to use work itself for learning.2 Fortunately, this marriage of work and learning has an additional happy consequence: Employees place a lot of value on opportunities to learn. They want to stay abreast of the latest trends and learn new skills to open up future opportunities. True learning organizations—not just the L&D function, but the organization as a whole—must create the right conditions for employees to continuously grow and develop.
What integrated learning means for the future of work
As the L&D function becomes more closely aligned with the rest of the organization, the focus shifts from programs and courses to creating a seamless experience for employees across all people practices, including talent management, learning, performance management, and rewards. Three trends are currently converging in this direction:
1. New technology helps people learn as they work: Many higher-performing companies have made great strides in helping employees access learning content outside of traditional learning management systems—and learning technology vendors are helping to do this more effectively. In the past couple of years, we’ve seen an uptick in the use of learning engagement platforms, such as Degreed, Pathgather, EdCast, and others, offering employees more control over their development. From these types of platforms, employees can find information needed at the moment, define learning paths for future development, and leverage each other for learning opportunities that occur on the job.
More interesting still is the adoption and adaptation of technologies that are not “learning” technologies for the purposes of employee development. Organizations are using advanced data analytics and the technology that supports it, artificial intelligence (AI), wearables, continuous feedback loops, and other integrations to develop employees as a part of the work. Here are two examples:
- Accompany, Inc. (a relatively new AI company) integrates a rich database of business leaders, constructed with automated parsing and intelligence from millions of sources, with an employee’s calendar, contacts, and communication patterns to help determine how important contacts are to the employee personally. The Accompany system then alerts the employee to any pertinent news on his or her important contacts to help the employee make better and more timely decisions.3
- Similarly, Crystal is a “personality detection technology” that works with existing email software and uses natural language processing to create unique personality profiles for individuals with an online presence. As employees write emails, Crystal offers ways to optimize communications based on the recipient’s personality.4
While neither of these technologies are technically “learning” technologies, they develop key skills (e.g., industry research and planning, better communication) into the work itself—helping to improve efficiency and performance and reduce mistakes. In 2018, more organizations are likely to take advantage of workplace technologies for employee development.
2. Learning organizations are getting better at using data: The L&D function has moved far beyond “smile sheets” to measure employees’ perceptions of learning. Higher-performing organizations are leveraging data, not just to make better decisions about what employees should be learning but also to improve the work itself. In fact, our High-Impact Learning Organization study data showed a close connection between learning and performance.5 In higher-performing learning organizations, the use of data is critical—and it flows two ways:
- In one direction, the L&D function in higher-performing organizations coordinates closely with other business and HR functions to use analytics that will help it understand what employees need for their development and how to deliver it most effectively. The overall learning organization collects performance data from a variety of sources—traditional learning as well as experiences, data, and information—monitoring various systems and data sources to improve the development experience itself. This close reading and use of data also helps organizations to view employees individually—moving beyond more traditional methods, such as personas—and providing a truly personalized, relevant, and applicable experience.
- In the other direction, the L&D function leverages data gathered from several systems to draw correlations between development activities and overall business outcomes. In fact, in higher-performing organizations, performance data is collected more often and from more sources than in average- or lower-performing organizations. These higher-performing organizations are creating continuous feedback loops or are continuously offering employees information on how they’re performing—and then using that same data to recommend learning sources, experiences, and people who can help employees to self-correct.
It’s clear that the convergence of learning and performance is becoming ever more apparent, to the point where it’s nearly impossible to address one without the other. And in both cases—development needs and development opportunities—the connection to business outcomes is critical.
3. Learning organizations realize that learning and development can be its own reward: Recent evolutions in total rewards packages already position learning, including coaching and mentoring, as a compelling form of nonsalary reward. This approach is now often being used to attract and retain talent; in some cases, it’s listed as part of an overall benefits package along with well-being programs and other, more traditional benefits.
What’s new is that some companies are beginning to think of specific learning or development opportunities as special benefits for employees, rather than as a standard part of the rewards package. Similar to the way cash and other incentives have been used in the past to reward the achievement of business objectives, companies are now offering unique learning opportunities, including special assignments or rotations, externships, and, in many cases, a dollar spend that employees have control over for their own development. Degreed is one example: it gives all its employees $1,200 to spend on learning—no matter what form that learning takes, whether it’s related to their job or not.6 Other companies offer high performers a percentage of their time to focus on learning or special stretch assignments.
Higher-performing learning organizations are able to make this work often not through direct programs but more often through influence throughout the organization. Learning as a reward takes cooperation, communication, and commitment, not just from other HR functions but from other business functions as well. Finance, leadership, communications, the C-suite, frontline managers, and individual employees must all be onboard.
Benefits for All
The continued integration of learning with the work itself benefits everyone. Employees gain the knowledge and skills they need to succeed in their current roles and to position themselves for career growth. HR and learning leaders gain credibility and influence as well as new tools to ensure an agile and flexible workforce in a tight market. And other functional business leaders have clearer visibility into how learning and talent management are helping to achieve business outcomes. Look for CLOs to continue making “integration” their watchword in 2018.
Every day from January 16 through January 26, Bersin will be sharing perspectives on the most timely, relevant, and interesting developments for HR professionals to watch in 2018. Check back every day, or visit bersin.com on January 29 for a consolidated report with all of the predictions.
Dani writes about the evolving L&D function for Bersin, Deloitte Consulting LLP. She focuses specifically on the necessary changes in how L&D approaches its responsibilities and allocates its resources (people, time, and money) to have a lasting effect on both organizations and individuals.
1 A Look Ahead at L&D: Invisible, Contextual & Systemic, Bersin, Deloitte Consulting LLP / Dani Johnson, 2016.
2 High-Impact Learning Organization: Maturity Model and Top Findings, Bersin, Deloitte Consulting LLP / Dani Johnson, 2017.
3 For more information about Accompany, see https://www.accompany.com/“.
4 For more information about Crystal Knows, https://www.crystalknows.com/“.
5 High-Impact Learning Organization: Maturity Model and Top Findings, Bersin, Deloitte Consulting LLP / Dani Johnson, 2017.
6 For more information about Degreed, see https://degreed.com/about/jobs.
7 The People Analytics Maturity Model, Bersin, Deloitte Consulting LLP / Madhura Chakrabarti, PhD, 2017.