What’s learning worth? Quite a bit, as we see when we look to our ASTD (American Society for Training & Development) South Florida Chapter colleagues’ Champions of Learning event scheduled as part of ASTD’s nationwide celebration of Employee Learning Week (currently underway, from December 5-9).
An ASTD State of the Industry report shows that U.S. organizations spent $125 billion on employee learning and development as recently as two years ago, and organizations to be honored by South Florida Chapter members at their event on December 8 show another side of the coin: learning initiatives save significant amounts of money as well as push companies well past their own earning projections.
Starting from the premise that this is a week to highlight the strong connections between learning and producing positive results within organizations, South Florida Chapter members invited businesses, nonprofit organizations, and government agencies to submit descriptions of their learning successes with an eye toward impact on the organization, people, business results, and/or community. They also encouraged submissions that took creativity and relevance of the programs into consideration.
Those of us who served on the committee to judge the entries this year found plenty of lessons worth sharing. The companies and organizations, for example, shared a commitment to creating communities of learning. They connect personal development of employees to better business results, and evaluate these workplace learning and performance efforts to see how they can be improved to better serve their learners. And they take a creatively dynamic approach that sometimes includes a sense of playfulness but never loses sight of documenting serious results.
The specific stories bring this to a very human and inspiring level. The Broward County Public Schools Human Resource Developing eight-member training team serves its 20,000 participants through a program that results in learners enacting new strategies on the job. The City of Tamarac sought collaborative partners to produce learning opportunities it could not have produced by itself. The Institute of Organization Development makes a real difference, through its certification program for organization development professionals, by producing a program that helps more than 70 percent of its graduates achieve significant career boosts. Jarden Consumer Solutions and Titan America used corporate mergers as the starting point for innovative workplace learning and performance endeavors that have produced positive business results at a multinational level. Two Office Depot projects stand out as great examples of how learning is connected to business results—one that gives employees improved e-learning offerings and one that fosters growth among “high potential directors.” Santovenia Adult Day Care, Inc. takes a wonderfully playful approach—laughter yoga—to reducing stress among employees in a very stressful and challenging work environment.
In a set of endeavors that is consistently appealing and wide-ranging in approach, it’s hard to single out any one project as being better than others. The trainer-teacher-learner in me, however, was particularly enamored of the Home Depot project to upgrade its e-learning offerings by engaging learners through shorter, more dynamic sessions. To achieve their goal, the trainers themselves had to play the role of leaners: they couldn’t proceed with the project until they had explored and learned about a variety of tools they could incorporate into producing the lessons; they also had to learn how to better connect with their learners so they could “give them the tools, information and skills they needed to be successful on the job.” The task was completed with the best of instructional design models clearly in mind: defining a need, doing research to determine what technology would be most appropriate and affordable, designing interactive learning opportunities, using a variety of tools (video, music, audio, and clickable tabs) to produce something fun, interesting, and engaging, and evaluating the results. The payoff is a workplace learning and performance effort that saves time for employees through those shorter, more focused learning opportunities; produced payroll expense savings of $100,000; and provided “a dramatic reduction” in time spent on trouble-shooting issues.
It’s equally worth noting that the result of Jarden Consumer Solutions’ project, after 10 years of efforts, is “our organization has achieved outstanding results by exceeding forecasts” year after year; the City of Tamarac’s “Supervision in Government, in operation for more than eight years and involving collaboration among a variety of agencies in South Florida, is breathtakingly spectacular for its vision and its longevity; and Santovenia Adult Day Care’s laughter yoga leaves learners feeling more confident and positive at work, and leaves customers reporting greater levels of satisfaction than were previously documented.
Which should, of course make all of us smile as we celebrate learning successes this week with the champions who produce them around the world.