Training Trends, Learning Outcomes, and Setting More Productive Goals

February 10, 2011

When we look at trends and predictions for workplace learning and performance (training) in pieces such as Training Industry, Inc. CEO and Founder Doug Harward’s recent article posted on TrainingIndustry.com, we find an intriguing combination of potentially positive changes and misdirected attention.

The positive elements include predictions that “total spending for training services” will increase by seven to nine percent in 2011; “the role of the learning leader” in organizations is changing for the better; “learning technologies are becoming social, collaborative, and virtual”; and “learning content will be transformed for easier consumption”—situations many of us have already been seeing or can, without too much thought, accept as likely.

Sources including the ASTD (American Society for Training & Development) “2010 State of the Industry Report” confirm that training remains a well funded industry in some ways even though many of us note and lament reductions in training budgets: “U.S. organizations spent $125.88 billion on employee learning and development  in 2009” (p. 5)—the year during which the data in the 2010 report was gathered. The eLearning Guild’s “Getting Started with e-Learning 2.0” and co-writers Tony Bingham and Marcia Conner, in their book The New Social Learning: A Guide to Transforming Organizations Through Social Media, provide support for the idea that social media tools are already making a positive difference in fostering learner-centric training. And interviews that Lori Reed and I conducted for our forthcoming book on trainers as leaders (Workplace Learning & Leadership) document the increasingly important roles workplace learning and performance professionals are assuming in developing, delivering, and evaluating effective learning opportunities.

One particularly interesting assertion among Harward’s predictions is that learning leaders are becoming solutions architects or learning architects—“someone who designs innovative approaches for employees to access knowledge, when they need it, in relevant chunks, no matter where they are.” This, he suggests, moves them/us closer to the role of consultant—a role which trainer-consultants including Peter Block (Flawless Consulting) and the late Gordon and Ronald Lippitt (The Consulting Process in Action—particularly Chapter 6) have abundantly described in their own work when they write of internal and external consultants (long-term employees as opposed to those hired for well defined projects with specific beginning and end points).

As was the case with Training Industry, Inc.’s report on “How to Promote the Value of Online Training Within Your Organization,” however, there is a bit of myopia among the predictions. The proposal that “metrics for learning will be based on content access, view, involvement, and downloads” rather than “how many students attended a program” doesn’t appear to provide a significant and positive change; furthermore, it ignores the larger issue to be addressed: is all this workplace learning leading to positive change for learners, organizations, and the customers and clients they serve? The unfortunate answer, as documented elsewhere, is an emphatic “no.”

More importantly, this proposed shift in focus misses the larger mark because it still makes no attempt to engage in the levels of assessment suggested in Donald Kirkpatrick’s Four Levels™ Evaluation Model, Robert Binkerhoff’s Telling Training’s Story: Evaluation Made Simple, Credible, and Effective, or Calhoun Wick, Roy Pollock, Andrew Jefferson, and Richard Flanagan’s The Six Disciplines of Breakthrough Learning: How to Turn Training and Development Into Business Results—those measurements of workplace learning and performance’s real results in terms of positive change.

There is much to admire in what Hayward writes. There is also obviously much room for seeking trends that, in his words, “will reshape the training industry” in a significant and sustainable way. All we have to do is keep our attention on the learners and those they serve. And set even more productive, measurable goals.


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

February 9, 2011

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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