For some seventeen years now, the Chartered Institute for Professional Development (CIPD) have published an annual survey, highlighting trends in Learning and Development, and identifying issues and potential challenges for L&D professionals. The 2015 survey is no different, as it views the industry at a time of change. While the public sector draws back, experiencing considerable cuts to budgets, the private sector is looking towards further growth and recognises the need for investment in L&D services, either in-house or externally. The world of the workplace is in constant flux, subject to advances in technology, and, as a result, a changing marketplace. This change seems more pronounced in times of financial difficulty, and as a result, the survey presents several interesting matters and anomalies.
Embracing technology – or are we?
Three-quarters of the organisations involved in the survey are already accessing learning technologies, however, the way they use these methods varies hugely. Overwhelmingly, organisations report that face-to-face provision continues to be prevalent, and there is an expectation that this will remain the case going forward. Additionally, the survey reports the existence of a confidence gap with regard to e-learning provision, with only a quarter responding that they feel either ‘very‘ or ‘extremely‘ equipped to embrace the technology. Many expressed that they would benefit from increased support from IT colleagues, and also that time-sensitivity is an issue when engaging with e-learning. Others feel that tech based learning isn’t relevant to them or their job role, or even that their organisation’s infrastructure would not support its use. Clearly, then, the challenge exists for e-learning providers to build and grow both confidence in the product, and in the concept of e-learning itself as an effective method of behaviour change in the workplace and corporate growth. A quarter also reported that their L&D provision included the use of social/behavioural neuroscience in its practice, and this is one element where e-learning providers could be of increasing benefit. Wranx, for instance, gains impressive results thorough the use of spaced repetition and bite-size learning, with some 85% of users engaging on a daily basis.
Recognising the need for alignment – or are we?
The survey also highlights the need to align L&D initiatives to the business strategy of the corporation, and the importance in removing barriers to that alignment. Many responders reported that the most common barrier to alignment is a lack of clarity regarding the corporation’s strategy across the workforce, as well as conflicting priorities from senior management. Approximately a third reported that they felt ‘apathy‘ or a ‘lack of understanding‘ from senior management, which can lead to the purpose of L&D initiatives being reduced to a reactive ‘add-on’ or ‘sticking plaster’, rather than a proactive and well supported tool for business growth and productivity enhancement. Additionally, a quarter found that a lack of investment in L&D services, and a ‘lack of insight ‘ from senior management in regard to the importance of alignment as part of the corporate strategy. Clearly, in frameworks where the L&D team are in-house, this can lead to services becoming overstretched and consequently, counter-productive. Perhaps, in the light of these specific results, there is demand for senior level specific L&D initiatives to assist in the recognition of the various and significant benefits of keeping training fluid, broad and proactive.
Monitoring and evaluating – or are we?
The importance of assessing the levels of knowledge transferral, and the resulting behavioural change, from training to workplace, and its impact on the corporation can not be underestimated. The majority of organisations have systems in place to evaluate the impact of their L&D initiatives. Evaluation, according to the survey results, appears to be of a higher priority in the public sector, which could be because of accountability. However, a shocking 14% of responders said that they carry out no evaluation or monitoring of their L&D provision. We see an increase in evaluation where organisations have L&D aligned with, and as part of, their business strategy, and where the provision is valued, encouraged and supported from senior management level down. There are a wide and diverse range of evaluation methods available to corporations, and most use multiple methods. Of those respondents who regularly conduct evaluations and appraisals of L&D impact, the top three methods are learner feedback (80%). (presumably linked to the fact that the majority of training delivered is face to face). Management feedback (52%), the use of general HR metrics such as absence, sickness, retention, engagement and performance (39%). That said, representatives of many larger organisations said that, although they would ordinarily gather data from L&D interventions, they would be unlikely to act on its findings, or implement it into later training.
So then, where next? How can we move Learning and Development forward?
The difficult financial times of recent years have clearly had an effect on the amount of resources available for L&D, but now, as we start to see an increase in investment in training over the past 12 months, Learning and Development is better placed to grow its offer, and build on its credibility. Recognising the constantly evolving needs of business is key. By aligning L&D better as part of a corporate structure, organisations are better equipped to effectively monitor impact and effectiveness, support leadership development and therefore ensure that learning is delivering change and growth, both in individuals, and by extension, in the organisation. Companies and organisations can find further positive effects from embracing and harnessing technology for the multiple benefits of e-learning, such as lower costs, ease of access, better evaluation and monitoring systems and self-led training, using specific and appropriate content. These are just some of the benefits available to organisations from technology based knowledge transfer.
One observation we could glean from the 2015 survey, is that, when it comes to learning and development, business is working hard, but not necessarily smart.