Staff learning and development (L&D) programs play an enormous role in the corporate world.
They allow organizations to close internal skill gaps, improve productivity, increase employee engagement and retain staff for longer, amongst other things.
But the rise of remote working during the COVID-19 pandemic, advances in educational technologies and changing staff attitudes mean the way businesses deliver L&D is quickly changing.
According to research from edtech firm Kallidus, 53% of learners think online learning fits better into their working days.
It also found that the most effective remote L&D tools are video content, e-learning and blended learning.
UNLEASH spoke to HR leaders to get their views on the future of L&D.
L&D is crucial
Operating in the highly competitive and constantly evolving technology sector, HP must ensure it’s always ahead of the curve.
Part of its strategy is encouraging employees to expand their skillsets.
“Employee development is core to HP’s ongoing transformation and continued success. We ensure our employees are continually learning and applying new skills, regardless of where and how they choose to work,” says Debbie Irish, head of HR at HP UK & Ireland.
Over the past few years, the US computing giant has taken significant steps to modernize its L&D programs. Today, they’re mainly delivered online and digital focused.
“HP’s global Think Digital program is a great example of how we arevhelping our employees around the world to develop their understanding and skills in this way,” Irish says.
“We continue to invest in platforms that support our digital transformation such as Brain Candy, a personalized learning platform providing content recommendations and curated learning suggestions based on individual chosen learning paths.”
Overcoming common challenges
Irish admits that it’s harder to do things like technical product training online. Still, she says the hybrid working model has allowed HP to collaborate with external providers like The Mindset Development Group to solve this challenge.
She explains that both organizations collaborated to create customized training modules for HP’s sales managers and adapt existing content to suit virtual learning.
Irish continues: “Virtual sessions have enabled many more people from across the UK & Ireland to participate, learn, network and connect in shared learning experiences.
“The response has been fantastic, and we are already planning the next series of hybrid delivery L&D modules for the coming year.”
In order to develop effective virtual resources, Irish says organizations should take an agile, creative, and flexible approach.
“Some in-person training cannot be replicated into a virtual space easily, so think about the opportunities presented by the virtual platform and what it can do, then build your content from there.”
But at the same time, she believes that organizations shouldn’t stick to a single format and simply transmit content.
Instead, Irish recommends including break-out activities, quizzes, videos and surprises in employee L&D content. This will help ensure it’s engaging and interesting for learners.
“As with any L&D planning, listen to the people you are designing for. Engaging in advance on the key outcomes, and conducting quick surveys and pulse checks, will ensure you’re always in line with your employees’ wants and needs.”
But it’s not just large corporations like HP using technology to improve L&D.
Sonovate, a London-based fintech startup, has adopted a range of digital solutions to help its employees acquire and develop new skills.
Elise Lockyer, head of HR at Sonovate, says: “In April, we launched a tech solution called 15Five to help us put organizational and individual goals front and center.
“We have also supported employees’ set priorities [which we] review in weekly check-ins to pick up on significant topics, wins and challenges in ongoing meaningful one-to-one conversations with managers.”
Lockyer explains that Sonovate has also implemented HowNow, an intelligent learning platform, to provide a central place for sharing knowledge, supporting collaboration, onboarding new employees, launching new product training and driving productivity across the entire team.
“This will sit alongside 15Five and provide employees with their own profile where skills will be automatically inputted based on their job title, which they can assess themselves against – as well as adding any further skills they have, need, or would like to develop,” she says.
The COVID-19 impact
The pandemic has fundamentally changed how people do their jobs, with remote working now the norm for most professionals.
But while remote working has helped to prevent workers from catching COVID-19 and kept businesses operating during lockdown restrictions, it’s not been without challenges.
“With so many of us working from home, many employees may feel they lack the visibility they need to progress on their career paths. This demonstrates just how important it is to maintain an emphasis on learning and development throughout this period, and regardless of where employees are physically situated,” says Jill Morris, senior HR business partner at Hitachi Vantara.
When the pandemic comes to an end, research shows that many workers would like to continue working remotely a few days per week.
So, to ensure L&D programs are effective going forward, organizations must design them with hybrid working in mind.
Morris says businesses require a major culture shift and associated set of policies to do this effectively.
She tells UNLEASH: “Because many employees don’t yet receive formal training to support their professional development while working in a hybrid environment, a lot of HR professionals are investing in technologies designed to both increase employee engagement and further their personal learning and development.”
For example, she says, Hitachi Vantara has adopted an internal recognition platform that allows its employees to highlight and commend great work happening inside the business.
“This peer review is necessary for employees to recognize and close their performance gaps, and achieve their professional goals,” Morris adds.
Another way organizations can transform their employee L&D programs to meet the needs of remote workers is by leveraging AI-powered coaching platforms.
Morris explains: “These platforms ‘read’ relevant performance data to provide tailored coaching programs, actionable goals and detailed performance insights. They can also be used to assess the efficacy of peer coaching.”
Communication tools continue to be crucial in boosting employee L&D during the pandemic, according to Morris.
She says: “We use video conference tools to replicate in-person meetings as best as possible, and encourage all staff to remain in regular contact with one another.
“This ensures all employees are sharing their support, as well as providing constant encouragement in stressful and difficult times.”
Firstly, businesses must be able to measure, monitor and audit their employee L&D initiatives.
This, according to Bennett, will help employers offer educational programs that meet their objectives and generate ROI.
Bennett says: “Outcomes and benefits of these programs can be assessed with exam results or future career promotions.”
The second vital consideration is that employee e-learning should be customizable to suit all learning styles and requirements.
“For example, at VMware with health and safety training online, I choose to receive it in real-time text or video; but I have colleagues who prefer it in audio form because they find that text and visuals can be distracting,” says Bennett.
“Businesses shouldn’t take a one-size-fits-all approach to e-learning. HR leaders need to invest in platforms that empower employees to learn in ways that suit them, so they are set up for success.”
But, like Morris, Bennett believes businesses should also offer a blended learning experience so that employees can continue to develop their skills and expertise in a hybrid working environment.
He continues: “In order to achieve this, the platform that underpins it has to be flexible enough to manage the scale compute power of the platform, in real-time, for high-demand learning programs.”
“Multinational organizations might have an e-learning course which has been localized for 80 countries.
“This requires 80 sets of content to be hosted in real-time that need to be accessed by individuals across the world at any given time. The question of scale is solved by adopting a multi-cloud approach.”
Bennett says HR leaders can improve their understanding of different employee learning behaviors through the use of AI technologies.
“For example, if an individual learns best through audio, the HR department can tailor training programs to help deliver a better experience with context to employees,” he says.
“They will be receiving content which gives them the maximum opportunity to be successful, along with being able to support more advanced learning approaches such as the gamification of learning, which is fast becoming the primary approach to L&D, or personal development planning for organizations.”
Providing employees with L&D opportunities has numerous benefits for businesses, from closing skills gaps to increasing staff retainment.
What’s certain is that programs must change with the times if they’re to be successful in an increasingly hybrid, technology-driven workplace.