The Pivotal Role of the Learning Professional of Today and Tomorrow
By Jenny Dearborn, Senior Vice President and Chief Learning Officer, SAP
Whether we’re talking about the corporate learning environment of today or 10 years from now, one truth will remain: The right experiential and continuous learning will deliver the sustained human capability businesses are seeking. Executives know this—and they want results now.
According to a recent global study by Deloitte Consulting LLP and Bersin by Deloitte, Deloitte Consulting LLP, 59 percent of executives believe learning and development is an important part of business strategy. Yet according to new SAP research, only 47% of executives surveyed say their company has a culture of continuous learning (visit our Workforce of the Future Hub for more insights into the role of corporate learning and the future of work). We have our work cut out for us.
Here are three ways learning professionals can meet these challenges, now and in the future:
1) Demand for learning experiences—not just training activities
Several recent studies have shown that our cognitive machinery is fundamentally incompatible with conventional, one-way schooling. The traditional “one to many” approach to teaching and learning isn’t effective. The days when knowledge was considered a commodity to be delivered from teacher to student are over. Instead, knowledge emerges through curiosity-fueled exploration. Everyone must be a student, and a teacher.
Corporate learning executives are bringing this approach to the workforce, shifting the focus from activity-based learning to experiential learning. By integrating interactions, mentoring, coaching, action-based learning, shadow assignments, and access to educational resources into the learning program, corporate learning can help employees feel empowered, invested and engaged to the business.
2) Proof of accountability and value through data-driven analytics
Traditionally, corporate learning relied on vanity metrics to demonstrate value. Specialists tracked the number of training hours conducted, programs offered, and employees trained at each session. But, these measurements didn’t indicate whether corporate learning had any impact on business objectives.
This approach is quickly becoming undesirable. Since they have ubiquitous access to information and limited time, employees are willing to invest their time, energy, and resources only if the learning program can bring true value to their work. For learning specialists, this means there’s little room for guesswork. Specialists can rationalize learning and predict how they can help advance strategic goals by understanding what information to collect, how to analyze it, and which methods can best communicate findings.
The need for analysis doesn’t end when training begins. Once the learning experience is complete, learning specialists should analyze the performance of their “students” to determine program effectiveness. If they haven’t realized the expected results, specialists should conduct further analysis to identify remaining gaps and map them to specific areas of the program to improve future learning opportunities. This methodology is summarized in the chapter “Results-Based Evaluation: Keeping the End in Mind” in the recently published ASTD Handbook.
3) Integration of social and collaborative communities into learning programs
Employees of all generations are affected by technology—personally and professionally. Most of us even use social communities to communicate and consume information 24×7. By using this same technology, employees can obtain learning content, collaboration opportunities, and experiential programs that help them develop and grow their skills.
This is where a learning framework that includes social and collaborative communities becomes essential. For example, companies can create an intranet portal that provides employees with a wide range of high-quality, relevant, and engaging content; social learning opportunities; and live access to training systems—anytime, anywhere, and on any mobile device.
The stakes will be higher for corporate learning in 2024
Over the next 10 years, corporate learning will move beyond curriculum creation and design and toward lifelong learning. It will also become a hard-core science that requires number-crunching and a thorough understanding of the entire business. But more importantly, corporate learning will become a critical part of finding, engaging, and retaining talent.
As a result, professional development will be a top priority. By fostering a culture that values career-long learning, businesses can help employees believe that their talents and skills are well-used, motivating them learn more to improve performance. This feeling will become contagious, even spilling over into recruitment. Recruiters will seek out candidates who place a high value on learning—seeing this quality as a good match with the overall corporate culture.
To all my fellow learning professionals: The future of your business rests squarely on your shoulders. Don’t fear this challenge; embrace it. This is your chance to uncover a generation of geniuses who will see your business as a place to go, grow, and innovate. And for your executives, that means a workforce that’s ready to outperform the competition.
To learn more about the workforce of the future and the importance of building a learning culture in your company, check out the great resources on our Workforce of the Future Hub.
Twitter is where I hang out: @DearbornJenny
 Deloitte Global Human Capital Trends 2014. To download a complimentary report, visit: http://marketing.bersin.com/deloitte-global-human-capital-trends-2014.html