Reports from the Field: ASTD and the State of the Training Industry

One of the most comprehensive and well researched annual reports on the state of the workplace learning and performance (training) industry recently offered encouraging news: executives and business leaders continue to see employee learning and development as a “key to survival, recovery, and future growth,” ASTD (American Society for Training & Development) Research Associate Laleh Patel writes in the “2010 State of the Industry Report” (p. 6).

Having examined the tendency for many to see e-learning in terms of how much money it saves and having reviewed the eLearning Guild’s exploration of how social media tools are being used to contribute to the efficacy of online learning, we find a complementary broader viewpoint of what is happening in the entire training industry through that ASTD report documenting employers’ “solid commitment to learning” (p. 9).

There are plenty of facts, figures, and statistics to show that “[a]lthough organizations grappled with some of the worst economic conditions in several decades, business leaders continued to dedicate substantial resources to employer learning” while the survey itself was underway (p. 5). The research also suggests that “the average percentage of learning hours available through technology…rebounded…reaching 36.5 percent, its highest level since ASTD began collecting data on the use of technology for this report 14 years ago” (p. 6).

And while it’s easy to become buried under all the information and ensuing caveats—expenditures on learning on a per-employee basis, for example, increased (p. 9), but that may partially have been the result of training budget reductions not matching the reduction in the number of employees who remained in the workplace (p. 11).

When we finally resurface from our immersion in this rich source of data, we are left with a keen awareness of some promising trends. Companies recognized by ASTD as the best in terms of providing first-rate workplace learning and performance opportunities—winners of ASTD’s annual BEST Awards—for example, “incorporate more than one week of learning activities into their schedules throughout the year” (p. 9)—a fine response to what many of us hear from administrators in organizations that still act as if encouraging learning in the workplace takes employees away from what they “should be doing,” as if learning were not part of all employers’ and employees’ work. The most lauded companies also displayed “the greatest reliance on (live) instructor-led delivery” (p. 16), which includes classroom as well as online learning opportunities.

The report, in summarizing what earns an organization a BEST Award, sets some interesting benchmarks for anyone interested in workplace learning and performance. Those BEST organizations “have visible support from senior executives and involve leaders as teachers”; “[p]rovide a broad range of internal and external, formal, and other learning opportunities, including knowledge-sharing, coaching, and mentoring”; and “[d]emonstrate effectiveness by monitoring individual and organizational performance indicators and linking changes to training and non-training activities intended to improve performance” (p. 20).

In other words, they care. As should we all.

N.B.—More information on 2010 BEST Award Winners is available online, and ASTD members have free access to the October 2010 T+D magazine articles describing what each winner did to earn the award.

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