Employee Learning Week: ASTD, Champions, and Results to Celebrate

December 5, 2011

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.


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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