Why Corporate Learning and Development Is Failing
With each passing year, roles in organizations have grown in complexity and become more nuanced. A person entering the workforce may have the basic job functions down, but the organization will add the variables of industry, intellectual property, and organizational culture. Learning and development fill the void by transferring those subtleties to new employees.
Integration starts with a wave of onboarding during the first days of employment. Day one, week one, and month one begins general orientation, followed by skills training. The employee is inundated with hours-long PowerPoint presentations and a corporate trainer droning on or acting as master of ceremonies. The employee is not only taking on too much knowledge to retain but also sifting through an inordinate amount of useless or filler information.
Because in good organizations, the new employee’s reward for completing onboarding is to pass on to the next level. Here, they are assigned a mentor—who wants nothing to do with them—to now show them the ropes. Dejected, the new employee goes to work and tries things out. Their manager corrects their product until their quality standard becomes acceptable. The new employee quickly becomes productive and is rewarded by becoming a mentor for new employees.
The new employee is no longer new; they bring experience and constantly look to move into their next position. To get promoted, though, they must develop into the next stage. Prior to the turn of the century, the organization drove the model of professional development. The company would put together specific development programs that would guide someone into a managerial or a craftsperson role. These programs tended to be very specific to navigating the organization and not as applicable outside of the organization.
Technology played a key role here in lowering the costs of professional development. Speakers or courses could be put together that not only were open to the entire organization but also could be generic enough to be used in multiple companies. The course was recorded and then put on the intranet as a Massive Open Online Course, or MOOC. Content began to multiply as libraries loaded with assets just like Netflix. Now corporations could offer every skill imaginable online and no longer needed to create the specialized content that they had relied upon in the past.
Online training was a massive win, looking from the outside in. While the costs of learning management systems and course library access were high, they paled in comparison to the cost of employing training staff to develop and deliver content—not to mention the time employees saved taking shorter online courses from their desks instead of attending live training events.
This transformation also flipped the balance of learning responsibility. The organization no longer owned the development of the individual; the employee was now the master of their own fate. With an ample library of knowledge to pull from, organizations dropped their customized development programs and put the onus on employees to figure it out and develop themselves.
Unfortunately, at this early stage of online courses, the drive to increase the number of available content led to low quality. Poorly designed and produced courses proved to be highly ineffective. Worse, they soured many of the attendees on ever using online training again.
Most learning and development professionals share confusion as to why no one was using their approach. They provided an open catalog of everything a person could want. Even if the quality was poor, the right message was there. Human resource departments were unsure why very few participated in professional development training.
Live training used to be an event—a place to connect, network, and form a community. Yes, you physically had to leave your workspace. That is a good thing for learning and making new associations.
The current approach to online training, be it 20 minutes or two hours, doesn’t work. Chaining a person to their workspace to listen to an avatar drone on quickly leads to boredom. That boredom leads to disinterest and multitasking. Online training creates obstacles to learning.
Few digital learning mediums work. Interactive simulations, serious gaming, and micro-training that mirrors social media with positive results. Achieving these outcomes starts with significant investment and commitment. Learning is not a problem with a single solution that you identify and then forget about it. Development needs to be integral to the business to ensure that training can continuously enhance the organization.
Corporate training also can’t be a one-stop shop. By focusing solely on online training or on live training, the organization will miss out on significant opportunities. Build your program from a design perspective through the eyes of the employees who will use the training. Weave them into live events, guide them through asynchronous online learning, and provide them with an opportunity to experiment in a makerspace to play with new skills.
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