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Learning is up but the skills remain the same

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An all-round increase in learning activity is changing the role of L&D, says Martin Addison of Video Arts.

You’ve been busy - and we have the figures to prove it. Since 2009, the ‘Learning Index’ has looked at how you deliver training and your plans for the future. This year, two particular findings stand out. First, that more organisations than ever before are now delivering learning face-to-face; and second, that other methods of delivery, which are often perceived as an alternative to classroom training, have also seen a rise.

In other words, more learning is being delivered now than at any time over the past four years. Classroom training - which had previously been in decline, because of cutbacks and austerity measures - looks to be back in vogue again, as Britain’s economy shows signs of growth.

One might expect that the resurgence of classroom training would have had a detrimental impact on technology-related learning. But quite the opposite has happened. The use of elearning has increased and so has the use of webinars. The use of mobile learning is up too, as is the use of podcasts, online communities and social networks, video portals/'corporate' YouTube channels and ebooks. As if that were not enough, more L&D teams are now creating their own 'self-authored' elearning courses and their own video content than ever before.

So, hats off to everyone in the L&D community. I wonder how many other corporate teams or functions can claim to have achieved an all-round increase in activity?

Subject areas

The survey also asks about organisational learning priorities, so it reveals which subjects are being covered by all this extra learning activity.

In today’s organisations, the number one learning priority is soft skills development. This is significant, as it reflects the importance that organisations place on working well with others. Soft skills are usually defined as the personal attributes, social graces and behaviour that characterise our relationships and underpin our ability to interact with other people. The fact that this is the top organisational learning priority shows that companies recognise that people need help in this area. Working in teams and communicating, negotiating and influencing others are not things that necessarily come naturally to many employees.

The second highest learning priority is leadership development. That’s not surprising because good leaders can inspire others, give direction, motivate, manage change, handle ambiguity, create trust and make things happen - all of which can enhance employee engagement and dramatically improve bottom line results.

"What’s interesting is that the essential skills that are valued in organisations - such as soft skills and leadership qualities - haven’t really changed over time."

This year, the survey shows that induction training has risen to become the third highest organisational learning priority. This indicates that, as the economy recovers, companies are turning their attention to recruitment. Helping people settle in more effectively, so they can get up-to-speed quicker, is a worthwhile aim. Other key learning priorities this year are customer service, professional skills, health and safety, compliance, product training, IT, diversity and equal opportunities, project management and finance.

Developing these skills

What’s interesting is that the essential skills that are valued in organisations - such as soft skills and leadership qualities - haven’t really changed over time. The skills that are required today would have been equally appreciated yesterday. Dramatic changes, however, have occurred over the past 40 years, in the way that these skills are delivered and how learning technology has been used to support the process.

In today’s organisations, learning has become much more accessible. Employees don’t have to take three days out of the office to attend a development programme; now, they can learn whenever and wherever is most convenient for them.

What our survey really shows is that organisations are using a combination of different approaches to deliver timeless skills that they believe will underpin improvement. As new technologies evolve, new opportunities to achieve this goal arise. The challenges for L&D are to keep up with these changes and to find new and more effective ways to bring the essential skills to life.

Fundamentally, these challenges are altering the role of L&D. In our survey, 56% of L&D practitioners said the most important aspect of their job is to be a facilitator; 24% cited content manager or curator; 15% said subject matter expert and only 5% see their main role as an instructor.

One thing that L&D teams are not short of is choice. Today, there are so many options for putting learning points across to people. However, in recent years, one particular option has transcended the different delivery approaches. That’s video. In the L&D community, it’s more popular than ever. A key advantage of video is that it allows complex ideas, particularly ones around soft skills behaviour, to be put across in a short space of time. It’s also helpful for organisations who are looking to implement learning around a 70/20/10 model and want to offer more informal learning options. 82% of L&D teams are now using video in their learning, predominantly as part of classroom-based courses but also for short pieces of bite-size learning, as a standalone resource and for informal learning. A growing number are also starting to create their own video content.

The increase in learning activity is good news for the L&D community, good news for employees and good news for organisations that want drive performance improvements through L&D. The only question is whether L&D practitioners can cope with the extra workload...

Martin Addison is CEO of Video Arts. A free infographic and white paper on the survey findings are available here

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