The issues that really matter to L&D professionals
A major predicament facing every L&D leader is staying abreast of the latest trends and technologies that impact their profession. Or will.
Thankfully there’s no shortage of research available, some much better than others to be sure, but the torrent of new information is rather overwhelming. For instance, a recent Google search on the term “L&D research” notched up more than 560,000 hits - a fair bit to sift through to find the nugget or two of gold that’s relevant to your workforce’s unique learning needs.
Personally, I have found two sources of insights extremely valuable:
- Donald H. Taylor’s annual L&D Global Sentiment Survey which tracks what L&D professionals in more than 50 countries believe will be hot in the year ahead
- Research by Cegos’s Jeremy Blain into 5 Drivers Essential for Success in the 2020s Workplace which distils feedback from over 1,500 senior business, HR and learning leaders across Asia Pacific, North America and Europe.
I’ve also discovered the best information is perhaps what you’re told by people who are at the pointy end of the L&D industry - Client Managers whose job it is to find a learning need and then to fill it with the most effective solution.
A quick vox populi of MCI Solutions Learning Team asking “What are clients asking for?” yielded answers that fell into two broad categories: the subject matter MCI Solutions clients want to provide to their employees, and the “how to” issues keeping clients awake at night.
“My employees need to learn more about…”
In the first instance, it’s leadership, leadership and leadership.
Linda Huskinson, one of MCI Solutions' longest-serving Client Managers, puts it succinctly: “Almost every client I speak with understands that to be successful they need to support their frontline managers. They know it’s the line managers, office managers and call centre supervisors who are most responsible for the organisation’s success or failure because they’re the ones who oversee, guide, motivate and lead the people who actually do the work.”
And the research backs Linda up. According to a recent study of 300 HR managers, weak leadership on the front lines is a huge reason why organisations struggle.
“My clients are asking for help to improve the interpersonal skills of frontline managers,” Linda says. “Thankfully we have a wide range of leadership courses for managers whether they need refresher courses or have been given new responsibilities. Our one-day Leadership Essentials course is very popular, as are our Managing People and Coaching Conversations courses.”
Other hot learning subjects Linda is being asked about include a perennially popular course, Finance for Non-Finance Managers, as well as managing change, writing skills, customer service and sales training, and how to build high-performing teams.
How teams work is also important to the clients of Katrina Tew who says leadership training and building great teams pop up in every conversation she has with L&D managers.
“So does problem solving, critical thinking and every form of communication, from writing and presenting to negotiating - all those things that help people work together in a smarter, more effective manner,” Katrina adds.
Again, this is supported by the research, such as Jeremy Blain’s latest Cegos study which found that the top three leadership skills needed by organisations are the abilities to manage change, build collaboration and resolve conflicts.
Attitudes and aptitude
Katrina, a millennial with a degree in psychology and education from Bristol’s University of the West of England, continues: “I see the focus shifting from the cognitive, or knowledge, and the psychomotor, or skills, to the affective domain.
“Employees’ attitudes are increasingly important to my clients, and there’s a real emphasis on developing personal resilience, dealing with change, cultivating happiness to promote health, and well-being to enhance performance,” says Katrina.
Resilience is also a hot learning topic for Client Manager Tim Knott, whose client list spans organisations from global banks and universities to start-ups.
“Interesting conversations I’ve been having recently with my clients can be summarised as looking at well-being and happiness in the workplace, which involves mitigating stress, building resilience and ultimately improving productivity.
“Be it through coaches and well-being champions or new break-out areas to improve the workspace, the concept that ‘A happier workforce is a better workforce’ is very prevalent in those discussions,” Tim says.
Another person at MCI Solutions' coalface is IT Solutions Consultant Kiril Grasevski, who is soon to notch up 21 years in the industry.
“I’m getting strong interest for Excel, specifically helping employees learn how to master Pivot tables,” he says.
“On the one hand, Pivot tables have been around for years but as more clients are exposed to them and see how powerful they are for data analysis, yet how simple they are to create, the more the appetite is growing. Our 90-minute online Pivot tables course is great for employees who are time poor, and because it’s delivered live by a MCI Solutions trainer, it’s proving very popular.”
“I’m losing sleep over…”
The success of MCI Solutions' virtual classroom courses leads us to the second half of the fast-changing training landscape: how to deliver the knowledge that today’s workers need.
Here, the list of topics on the minds of L&D leaders seems to be growing longer each day with the “usual suspects” being how to introduce and manage blended learning, and transitioning to self-driven learning in addition to virtual classrooms.
Others are emerging trends that are growing in importance day by day as evidenced in the global research of Messrs. Taylor and Blain. First and foremost among them is the need for shorter learning interventions - bite-sized, micro and just-in-time.
Whether that’s reading an article in between meetings or looking up a reference guide before taking on a task, the demand for just-in-time learning is alive and kicking.
“Micro learning in all its forms is a very hot topic, and our own research has proven this,” says Mereoni. As does research from Donald H. Taylor, who found that micro learning was number five on the hit list of L&D topics around the world.
Echoing her sentiments is fellow MCI Solutions Client Manager Timothy Halsey, who says not a day goes by that his clients aren’t talking about “thinking small”.
“Bite-size content, or learning content that fits within devices with smaller screens, means employees can work and learn on any platform and switch back and forth from mobile device to desktop as they need.
“Size does matter. From explainer tutorial videos that last no more than 10 minutes to short, ‘snackable’ content, it’s about content that’s easy for learners to consume and quickly grasp,” Tim explains. “It’s definitely a trend that’s here to stay.”
Another issue is the need to deliver learning content that’s personalised, customised and adaptive. Linda Huskinson points out nearly all MCI Solutions' group training now includes some degree of customisation, something found in Taylor’s global survey to be second only to social/collaborative learning as the hottest 2017 trend.
Empowering collaborative learning
Speaking of social/collaborative learning, Tim Halsey says that’s a subject also top-of-mind with his clients. But Kiril Grasevski, however, takes a different perspective.
“Collaboration is the term on everyone’s lips but it’s the platforms that makes collaboration possible - cloud-based apps and services, specifically Office 365 and SharePoint online - that are challenging L&D teams. I’m often hearing about the struggles organisational leaders are having with the broader cultural and mindset shifts needed to get the most out of collaboration and teamwork using technology,” Kiril explains.
“In short, while deploying Office 365 may be a simple switch-it-on, plug-and-play scenario, we are hearing that the second phase - culture change - is a much bigger challenge, but with bigger rewards when done right.”
Technology is also impacting how learning content is accessed, curated and tracked - yet another of Donald H. Taylor’s hot trends in 2017. Mereoni Vuki explains:
“Organisations I speak with want to be on the front foot for how learning is delivered and consumed. They need a solid framework that makes learning more and more accessible, and are moving away from the traditional LMS to platforms and apps that track when items like video, articles, snippets or whatever are being viewed by employees - and that also allow for the release of that content at any moment it’s needed by the employee,” says Mereoni.
Reflecting many of the findings in global research from both Taylor and Blain, other L&D issues reported by MCI Solutions' Learning Team include the need to digitise existing learning as clients shift from classroom interventions to online, self-paced, blended learning and the always-topical 70:20:10 approach.
MCI Solutions Learning Team deals with clients in different sized organisations, wide ranging environments and with many different learner needs. And while many of the issues they hear from customers overlap and dovetail with findings from Taylor and Cegos research - like linking learning outcomes to evidence-based results and for L&D to consult more deeply into the business - one subject is common to each.
Linda Huskinson explains it best:
“My client contacts are super busy and working in broad roles. They are time poor. They don’t always have time for phone calls and it’s even harder to get face-to-face meetings with them. Plus, many are suffering budget cuts. So all of my clients are looking to us as a time saver, but even more, they’re looking to us for hands-on assistance.”
Not a day goes by that MCI Solutions clients, regardless of size or business need, do not ask for help from MCI Solutions' Learning and Change Solutions team.
“A major Australian telecommunications company realised they had a huge training rollout looming — but not enough trainers,” says MCI Solutions' sales and marketing director Charles Masuku. “Another client in financial services had a time-critical business imperative to train people on a new product, but had no instructional designers to develop the course or project managers to see the learning program through to completion.
“Areas like those is where increasingly we’re being to provide specialists who can fit in quickly and help clients get their jobs done,” he says, “and it covers the entire spectrum of L&D tasks from conducting learning needs analyses and building development plans to instructional and eLearning design, project management, documentation, facilitation - you name it.”
The best research you can do is to talk to people
While it may be true that research into what’s hot and what’s not in the L&D space is important, I think a lyric from Bob Dylan’s Subterranean Homesick Blues sums it up well: You don't need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows.
“Trends, hot topics and the next big things may come and go, but everyone we speak with says the same thing - that they need to increase the performance and productivity of people,” Charles says.
“How we achieve that may vary according to the skill improvements they need and their operating environment, but at the end of the day the goal remains the same.”
If you’d like more information about the research from Donald H. Taylor or Cegos’s Jeremy Blain and how it impacts your organisation, call us on 1300 768 550 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org to have a chat with your MCI Solutions Learning Team.