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Learning Trends: What’s Hot & What’s Not

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Learning trends come and go, but what are the key ones to look out for? Which trends are here to stay and which are here today, gone tomorrow? What will have most impact on your organisation and your people? Academee’s Dr Jo Cheesman looks at the latest research and highlights some key points.


Business Is Booming, But Budgets are Bust
According to the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), British business is increasingly optimistic about future prospects. Recent CBI research also found that training is the most significant area for increased future investment, with a greater number of companies intending to invest in training over the coming year (19%) than in September 2005 (14%).

Well, let’s hope those good intentions become reality, because training budgets have actually dropped in the last year. The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD)’s 2006 survey of learning and development revealed that the average spend on learning and development per employee in 2006 was £469, a very significant fall of 23% since last year's survey.

The CIPD's study reinforces the findings of a March 2006 study by PricewaterhouseCoopers. This found that the amount of training European employees receive continues to drop, with the UK falling below the European average.

This is a trend to watch. A recent report from the National Audit Office (NAO) estimated that, on average, an 8% increase in the proportion of trained workers can lead to a 0.6% increase in UK productivity. However, too many organisations in the UK ignore the link between learning and organisational performance. Let’s just hope that more employers wake up to the benefits of learning, and that we really do see an upward trend in training investment.


The Formal Training Course is Dead
Informal learning is definitely a trend that’s here to stay. Bite-sized learning, on-the-job learning, mobile learning and elearning are just some of the key ways that learning is becoming more accessible, and increasingly integrated into everyday working life.

Only 17% of learning and development professionals responding to the CIPD’s 2006 survey of learning and development said that the formal training course takes priority in their organisation. The survey also found that 84% of organisations now encourage individuals to take more responsibility for their own learning and development.

This is an exciting trend, which brings many benefits. However, while individuals taking control of their own learning is a trend we should all encourage, we also need to bear in mind that these individuals need support from organisations. Informal learning needs to be smart, accessible and innovative.

Blended Learning
Blended learning has really come into its own and we are seeing a huge trend for integrating different forms of learning to provide real choice for learners. Rich, blended learning environments are giving learners greater control over their learning journeys and making learning more effective.

Great blended learning is about more than combining elearning with face to face learning. It is about integrating a range of learning methods, such as coaching, online learning tools and surveys, face to face workshops, assessments and collaborative activities. The trend for increasingly sophisticated blended learning solutions is set to continue.

Learning On The Hoof
Mobile learning is a very, very hot topic right now. A 2006 Kineo survey found that over 50% of learners use audio learning at least occasionally, both in formal and informal contexts. An MP3 player is the preferred means of accessing audio learning, and leadership and management development are the favoured topics.

Podcasts were also highlighted as one of the newest ways learners liked to receive information in initial research into corporate elearning published in May 2006 from Learning Light (LL).

This really is a trend to keep an eye on. Mobile learning has exploded into the marketplace and watching it develop will be fascinating.

Learning To Transform Organisations
Change remains a key challenge for most organisations. In today’s fast-paced environment, this trend can only continue. However, successful change is being jeopardised by a failure to put in place adequate learning to support it, according to the CIPD’s 2006 survey of learning and development.

Separate CIPD research also shows that major organisations can expect to undergo major restructuring, on average, every three years, and that 40% of these reorganisations fail to deliver on objectives.

With organisations under constant pressure to transform and evolve, it is crucial that learning professionals become involved at the initial planning stage of transformation programmes, and that learning engages employees in the change process.


Leadership Still In The Lead
Leadership continues to be one of the most prominent areas of organisational learning. This is unlikely to change: every organisation needs to develop successful leaders, especially as the pressure for organisational change increases.

The CIPD’s International Management Development guide 2006, based on qualitative research, highlights the need for multinational organisations to create a set of international leadership qualities, and demonstrates that developing leaders who can manage and are accepted across the globe is important to business success.

According to a 2006 Ashridge research report, Succeeding in Complexity, high levels of leadership competence and strong organisational support are crucial to the success of teams working in complex environments.

The key to successful leadership development is to go beyond competence development to really engage the hearts and minds of individuals and create real behavioural change.


Creating Coaching Cultures
Coaching is helping to transform organisational learning. It is no longer viewed as a specific intervention it is becoming ingrained into organisational life. Coaching cultures are becoming increasingly common.

The CIPD found that 79% of organisations now use coaching, 80% of those using coaching state that their organisation aspires to having a coaching culture and 75% state they are investing time and resources to achieve this aim. More and more employers are developing coaches within their own organisation, rather than relying on external coaching providers.

Although face to face coaching is still the norm, the trend for telephone and e-coaching is increasing.

Increasing Diversity and Inclusion
Diversity is a hot topic, but not quite as hot as it should be. Many HR staff are still not trained in recent diversity legislation, and the private sector is lagging behind the public sector in this area.

Recent research from the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) shows that awareness of new age discrimination legislation due to become operative in October 2006 is low. The DWP is encouraging employers to introduce training and procedures to ensure that they will not be in contravention of this legislation.

However, diversity training is not all about complying with legislation, and thankfully more organisations are putting learning programmes in place which go beyond legal compliance. We are seeing a growing trend for learning which catalyses real changes in attitudes in behaviour, resulting in more diverse organisational cultures.

And Finally … Evaluation
Evaluating the impact of learning is an ongoing issue. There is an increased awareness of the importance of evaluation, but it’s not quite the major issue it should be. Learning evaluation needs to go way beyond learners giving a training course marks out of ten. It needs to demonstrate the impact of learning on the organisation.

Recent Accenture research found that only 2% of those in charge of learning in organisations provide useful and measurable data such as productivity gains, revenue growth, net income growth, decreased employee turnover and overall industry recognition. Learning professionals need to get better at this.

If we don’t, we’re back where we started at the beginning of this article. We’ll see training budgets drop even further. Which is bad news for learning professionals, for learners, for organisations and for the economy. We’re the people who can influence these trends. Let’s do it.

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