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Martin Couzins

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Key theme: Trends in L&D


The use of technology to deliver training is now mainstream. The Towards Maturity 2011 Benchmark shows that 78% of organisations currently use some form of e-learning and over half plan to increase their usage over the coming 12 months.
The variety of learning technologies being used has also increased. Organisations are much keener on tools such as blogging, learning portals and communities of practice. However, for many take-up of these newer technologies is still slower than expected, particularly in the social media space. 
The learning technologies used by the greatest number of organisations in 2001 are still those traditional tools of online courses, surveys, learning management systems that support standalone learning and live online environments for group learning. 
Those companies that are making best use of e-enabled learning are branching out however. And according to benchmark author Laura Overton, they are really reaping the benefits. “The report found that 150 out of the 600 organisations reported a 35% reduction in time to competency and rolling out of IT systems a third faster as a result of using more technology in the delivery of L&D,” she said. It also highlighted increased learning efficiency, in terms of cost savings and volume of learning delivered.
“Organisations using technology are also more agile and able to respond to business needs more quickly,” she says. This ability to respond rapidly to change has moved high up the agenda for many organisations and using e-enabled learning for business critical training is an important shift noted by the report.  
Historically, e-enabled learning has been used pre-dominantly for areas such as compliance and IT. Now that it is being used for business critical training in leadership and management, customer serviced, communications, team working and problem solving, there is expected to be greater investment in learning technologies.    
All of the report respondents plan to use more technology in all skills areas over the next two years, with the belief that it will improve business agility being the main driver.  Over three quarters (77%) think learning technologies will help them to respond faster to changing business conditions, an increase of 11% from 2010. Those skills increasing the fastest are those that are most important to business: 
  • 70% of respondents expect to use technology for their own L&D training by 2013, an increase of 25%
  • 60% expect to use it for customer handling/service, an increase of 24%
  • And 66% expect to use it for leadership and management, an increase of 24%.
The majority of organisations (79%) now use learning technologies as part of the induction process, with 39% saying they have achieved the improvement they desired. However, respondents are now talking about using them to boost performance with existing staff, in terms of staff satisfaction and engagement, a more qualified workforce and sharing good practice. 
The report found that an estimated 18% of overall training budget is being spent on technologies. This is a slight fall from a year ago, although many respondents expect to make greater use of technology over the next couple of years in order to reduce costs and reach a wider audience. They also plan to widen their range of technology tools, in particular with regard to embedding learning more directly into workflows. 
The report found that over half of respondents (54%) now use free learning resources, such as content from providers, Wikipedia, OU and so on. And almost a third (31%), encourage users to generate their own content to share with others. Organisations are encouraging interaction and experimenting with social media – 46% using communities of practice to connect like-minded people together and 54% use enterprise-wide information platforms such as SharePoint. However, there are several barriers to the uptake of social media, around IT infrastructure and security issues.
Using mobile devices for learning has increased to 39% in 2011, but fears related to the technology and IT security hold 71% of organisations back in this too.
Six steps to effective implementation of learning technologies
The Towards Maturity benchmark highlights the best practices of top performing organisations.
  • Work with business to define need : Ensuring that learning is aligned to strategic and tactical requirements is critical for success but often neglected with only three out of five respondents believe their e-enabled learning is relevant to the needs of the business. 
  • Understand the learner context: Successful organisations are more likely to understand individual needs and will be active in providing relevant choices to support current job roles and career progression , with top performers twice as likely to support career aspirations than average.   
  • Understand the work context: Many factors influence success including management culture and IT infrastructure -  top performers understand this and adapt accordingly but overall awareness is low for example only two out of five respondents are even aware of the learning their current IT infrastructure can support.
  • Proactively build capability within L&D: The skills the L&D team in designing learning and supporting performance are critical for success and yet three out of five respondents lack the knowledge and skills to manage and implement learning technologies.
  • Consistently ensure engagement with colleagues: Top performers proactively manage change by communicating and engaging with influential stakeholders across the organisation, they are three times as likely for example to train local champions to act as agents of change.
  • Demonstrate value back to the organisation: Top performers continually find ways of identifying, communicating and celebrating the value they are adding back to business, they are twice as likely to communicate successes back to management.

Case study: Barnardo's 

Children's charity Barnardo's won best overall elearning programme at this year's Charity Learning Awards. Lisa Johnson, assistant director information services, learning and communication, explains how the charity has benefitted from live online learning: 

"We started using live online learning over five years ago.  At first our learners were anxious about this method of delivery but once they have experienced a session they are hooked.   In the early days we experimented with delegate numbers and duration and identified that a maximum of 45 minutes for up to 15 participants was the optimum for us.

"Our approach to conversion was to develop a matrix of classroom events and map these to potential alternative delivery methods.  This included e-learning, live online session or online guides. 

"The matrix helped us identify 10 courses initially that provided core learning; content that everyone in the organisation needed to use our IT systems.  We used a regular analysis of helpdesk calls to identify additional needs that could be met in a live online session.  As a result our portfolio has grown to 25 core sessions offered in a regular monthly schedule and on demand.

"Live online sessions have significantly changed the way we support our learners in Barnardo’s.  60% of our delivery is now online, in the FY 2010/2011 we reached 54% more learners compared to 2006/07; our helpdesk calls have reduced by over 50% and every new starter that joins us is engaged with this method of learning as part of their online induction."

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