Learning culture: taking the fear out of modern L&D

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Recent advancements in digital technology mean we have more options than ever before when it comes to L&D tools, but there senior management remain sceptical about their application. A change in our learning culture is what’s needed to push forward.

A 2016 Towers Watson Global Workforce study, revealed career advancement is now the top retention driver in businesses, but today’s employees want development opportunities and training resources on their own terms.

Many want to pick and choose what and when they study and require access to more innovative training that uses social media, VR or gamification techniques that deliver resources in a friendly and flexible way.

It’s true that L&D of this nature is becoming more widely available, however research from Towards Maturity states 58% of line managers are still reluctant to encourage new ways of learning. With this in mind, it’s easy to see why executive boards are sceptical of modern L&D training solutions.

When we stick with what we know, it holds us back from the future and employees who feel their careers lack progression are unlikely to stay at your business for long.

So how can we communicate this so that new training techniques attract senior buy-in and show our teams modern L&D is not something to fear?

Compare with competitors

Attempts to gain c-suite support for training will fail if it’s not on the business’ strategic roadmap.

Executive buy-in goes beyond sign-off and leaders must fully understand how a learning culture works, why they’ll need to be visible champions of it and, of course, why it’s worth the investment.

A good starting point is to benchmark your L&D function against industry standards. Use industry data to help set targets and thresholds, and then leverage third-party evidence to defend your learning budget to senior management.

The difficulty is that even though the c-suite may be open to trying something new, more traditional management often try to fit new ideas into old practices.

There's lots of great data available from L&D industry organisations, such as the Association for Talent Development and Bersin by Deloitte, which can be used to back-up your budget requests.

This strategy provides an opportunity to compare yourself to your peers and determine how well you’re aligned to accepted best practices and standards.

Once you have these insights, review and share your robust plan, being open to candid feedback and be prepared to defend your business case.

If your c-suite can see that their competitors are using this type of training and it’s helping them achieve success, they’ll understand why newer training methods are worth the investment.

Build trust

L&D’s new mission is to drive self-directed learning and this means rolling out courses that can be used on smartphones and accessed inside and outside an office environment.

Making learning experiences available in these formats enables employees to create, access and consume learning in the best ways for them.

The difficulty is that even though the c-suite may be open to trying something new, more traditional management often try to fit new ideas into old practices.

Informal learning becomes informalised training, social learning is seen as adding social media to courses, and the 70-20-10 framework is seen as a training model, rather than a model for general workplace learning.

So, how can we help traditional businesses accept a new L&D framework? It’s not about telling them to keep up!

Ask if they are happy to attend some of the training you’re proposing. We need to help senior leaders experience the new world of learning for themselves, so they are in the best position to help their organisation move forward.

It’s true different technologies are not going to be right for every business, but this does not mean it is something the c-suite should write off completely. 

Even simply asking management to identify examples of how they can apply the learning in their own role is useful. This enables individuals to truly identify how the training will work across the entire business and keep employees engaged, during and following a workshop too.

If needed, propose a pilot programme with a small group and let the team know you would like to evaluate and review the results with them to determine the way forward for future initiatives.

Target effectively

Deloitte claims for businesses to appeal to new, generational expectations they need to make ‘flexible, open career models’ a permanent part of company culture.

However, while it’s all very well for senior management to understand why training is relevant and invest in less traditional offerings, they also need reassurance courses will now be fully taken advantage of by employees following sign-off.

The higher the pick-up, the more internal scepticism or worries from above will be reduced.

To ensure you spread the word efficiently, all employees need to be well informed of what’s on offer and be able to make choices based on personal preferences. This means organising activities that appeal to key learning styles such as activists, pragmatists, reflectors and theorists, as different employees will respond to training in different ways.

For example, while a theorist will respond better to a more structured, theoretical approach, an activist usually performs better in an interactive format.

To keep all four varieties engaged, your programmes should combine multiple styles combining face-to-face, e-learning and simulation exercises.

Personalising courses for individual needs and offering the right blend of training can overcome objections around time commitment and increase positive outcomes. 

Addressing technophobia

It’s true different technologies are not going to be right for every business, but this does not mean it is something the c-suite should write off completely. The immediate challenge is to identify the best technologies for increasing business performance.

As mentioned earlier, once a company has identified individual challenges and motivations, they can use this insight to build a digital learning ecosystem, using a range of technologies to meet employee needs.

This is a more difficult approach than purchasing a one-size-fits-all solution, but that the benefits are much greater.

Obstacles and setbacks are at times, an unavoidable part of L&D, as businesses need to adapt to changes in workplace culture and learning attitudes.

L&D must also address how devices such as smartphones are perceived when it comes to workplace learning. Many organisations still think of them as a problem rather than part of a wider solution, while others worry about keeping track of progress.

However, the key is to ensure individuals participating in online learning have regular lines of communication with tutors – by phone or email – and their L&D teams are supporting HR in their online learning journey too.

The use of a learning management system can help here, enabling both L&D professionals and those taking the courses to keep track of where they are.

Employees can see how much they have left to complete and take breaks when they need to. This level of transparency means senior management are kept in the loop and know not only their teams get regular contact and support, but HR can also monitor employee progress in a non-invasive way too.

The future is bright

The purpose of learning is to make a real impact on your business. Obstacles and setbacks are at times, an unavoidable part of L&D, as businesses need to adapt to changes in workplace culture and learning attitudes.

However, it’s a company’s ability to tackle these challenges head on which really matters.

Resilient organisations continually developing solutions to the recurring L&D challenge will stand out from the crowd and attract, develop and retain the very best employees for years to come.

For the latest thinking, practical tips and expert advice on fostering a learning culture in your organisation, check out the TrainingZone.co.uk learning culture hub

About Fredrik Söderlindh

Fredrik Söderlindh, CEO, findcourses.co.uk

Fredrik Söderlindh is the CEO at findcourses.co.uk and the CEO and founder of EMG – Educations Media Group. Today, EMG is the market leader of education marketing and operates the world's largest search engines for education and training. With the vision of helping everyone in the world find the right education, it partners with over 4,000 education providers and helps over two million students in their search for education each month.

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