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5 Learning & Development (L&D) Challenges & Priorities for 2020

End of the year is a good time to reflect and prepare ourselves for the challenges that come next. As industries get disrupted with new technologies, Learning & Development (L&D) professionals need to find ways to keep the organisation and its employees relevant and effective. As we enter the next decade, here’s a quick look at some of the challenges that we can expect coming our way as L&D professionals in the coming year and beyond. 

1. Managing the Upskilling Challenge

One of the big challenges in 2020, and likely the next decade is going to be managing the growing gap between the skills needed for the organisation to be successful and skills available with the employees at the organisation. As entire industries are being disrupted with new technologies such as Artificial Intelligence (AI), Machine Learning, Internet of Things (IOT), Robotic Process Automation (RPA), Blockchain, etc., the need for organisations to adapt quickly to stay relevant has become a key business priority, and not just an L&D priority.

As per a recent IBM study, more than 120 million workers in the world’s 12 largest economies may need to be retrained or re-skilled in the next 3 years as a result of intelligent/AI enabled automation. 

Given the rate of technological change and its regulatory, operational, and business model impact, many organizations are struggling to identify and map out the core skills and competencies needed for them to succeed, and build a learning strategy based on the defined skills and competencies. L&D teams will need to build a Competency Map and provide structured learning paths to achieve such competencies. 

This is easier said than done. There are massive cost implications in terms of curating, procuring or building learning content that meets the needs of the organisation. It is easy to say that we need employees to be well-versed with “Artificial Intelligence” but it is another thing to find relevant and effective content on Artificial Intelligence and how it impacts a mid-sized logistics company in South East Asia, and how they can leverage AI. 

As technology is evolving fast to make us more effective and productive, and at a rate that threatens to automate several processes, potentially making significant portions of the workforce redundant, there is, as it rightly needs to be, a renewed focus on soft skills and behavioral skills, including the “human” element of leadership, communication, collaboration, creativity, etc. which are thankfully yet to be automated. 

There is also a huge time investment that the organisation needs to be willing to make to allow for this upskilling program to work and bear fruit. While leveraging digital learning and online/mobile learning platforms are key to this transition, it is not going to be enough, without addressing the cost, time and learning culture challenges. 

2. Shifting from Just-in-case to Just-in-time Learning

One of the key challenges that L&D teams face is with the effectiveness of the training programs. How do we know that what we have covered in the classroom training workshop will be used or be remembered by the participants? Today that challenge can be addressed by building a mobile-ready learning experience with the ability to search for content, and get content pushed to the users when needed. 

Mobile learning is important to drive better usage and adoption of learning, but it also becomes critical to drive the effectiveness of training by allowing users to get the relevant training information when they need it the most. This becomes very handy for sales enablement or the mobile workforce within the organisation that needs access to information at their fingertips, and are not desk bound to be able to access it over a laptop/PC.

In a leading financial services organisation, sales teams are enabled with Teamie, a social & mobile learning platform, and that allows them to search for a specific product or topic area on their phone using the Teamie App, before they walk into a customer meeting, making them more effective in their work. This is a classic example of Just-in-time learning that allows users to go back to content or find relevant content or even discussions (which is user-generated content within the organisation) about a particular topic. 

3. Personalising the Learning Experience 

The macro trend of the consumerization of IT in the enterprise world means that employees except enterprise systems to be as personalised as their consumer apps. As millenials form a substantial portion of the workforce in most organisations, the challenge of keeping them engaged in the training process becomes further amplified. 

L&D teams need to: 

  1. Structure their courses in bite-sized chunks that allow for micro-credentialing, 
  2. Allow for flexibility in choosing what to learn and how to learn (face-to-face or mobile/online), and 
  3. Build content that is easy to consume and uses video rather than text, and have interactivity rather than static content
  4. Set learning targets and gaps to meet, and allow the employee to track their progress

Employees need to have certain courses that are mandatory due to compliance or operational reasons, but they also need to be able to see a catalogue of learning/training modules and choose what they want to learn and build their own learning journey. Organisations on the other hand, need to build that flexibility but still be able to track if the employee’s training targets are being met or not. 

4. Marketing L&D 

The constant challenge for any training manager or L&D professional has been getting employees engaged in the training and learning process. Employees are so caught up with their jobs and the urgent tasks at hand, that the need to upskill while being critical takes a backseat.

In today’s world, learning has to be an ongoing exercise, not a once-a-year workshop on a topic. This means that employees need to be in constant touch with the learning process and see it as part of their employee experience. Building an engaged learning community is a challenge on its own, and will be an added responsibility for L&D teams. L&D managers in 2020 will need to learn how to market their training programs and much like digital marketers, they will need to build engagement strategies to keep their employees engaged in the learning process. 

As per a recent LinkedIn Learning report, Talent developers are spending only 15% of their time marketing learning programs to increase engagement. 

Organisations will need to employ tools that can build engagement, while delivering learning programs, and rewarding them for their participation. The need to move beyond a basic Training Management System (TMS) or Learning Management System (LMS) is important for L&D teams to navigate through this journey. Using collaborative learning platforms, L&D teams will need to plan for how and how often they engage with users online, give them an opportunity to share, comment and participate in learning conversations at their own time and pace, and how they intersperse the engagement with face-to-face workshops and chats for higher impact. 

L&D teams need to recognise the online participation to be as important as the offline, and need to budget for rewards for online engagement, as they sometimes do for offline training sessions, and also build initiatives that are online only. The intention is to build a good culture of learning at the organisation. 

5. Making Online Learning Rich & Effective

The shift to online learning is more than just delivering a SCORM package via your LMS or worse, simply uploading a document on SharePoint or similar application for employees to read at their own time and pace. While some might argue that most public online courses (MOOCs as they are called) today are just a collection of files and videos, then why can’t enterprises do the same. The challenge is in completion rates of most MOOCs is around the 10%-15% mark. For most enterprises, that is not a completion rate that they would be happy with, and hence the need to make online learning rich and effective is imperative.

One of the key elements that makes classroom training sessions or workshops effective is the discussion and collaboration that happens during the sessions. Online learning needs to allow for the same rich conversation to happen, and the sharing of ideas and questions to flow from the participants as they learn the same concepts and challenge each other. Collaborative Learning is critical to make online learning effective

Engagement is built when users feel connected with the system, and when it adds real value to them. One way to do this is by allowing users to share/ask or to just even see the conversation and learn from the community, while they can also access the learning resources and complete their training obligations. 

A good example of building engagement is showcased by Institute for HR Professionals (IHRP),  who started using Teamie with a vision to build a learning community of HR professionals. By enabling & encouraging their members to share ideas and ask questions, it has become an active space filled with questions, ideas and best practices about HR related issues,  with several members asking questions and commenting with their inputs to the questions, and sharing their practices and ideas. Instead of a static learning site with resources being shared, the collaborative aspect is what drives users to come back and learn from the new discussions happening in the community. 

However, collaboration alone would not work, if the learning is not easily accessible, and if relevant learning notifications are not being pushed to the user. Through the mobile apps, users can jump into and search for what’s relevant to them, and get push notifications with important updates or whenever someone responds to a question that they are interested in. With about 1,000 posts, and over 3500 comments & replies in just 1 year, the engagement and ROI on such learning becomes easy to justify, and adds real value to the members and the organisation. 



In summary, L&D teams will need to assess the experience that they are currently offering to their stakeholders, and what they are expecting from them, given the time-starved and distraction-full lives that we all live. Upskilling the workforce will be the challenge of the next decade, and successful L&D teams will need to navigate this by identifying their competency needs & gaps, leveraging on technology to offer personalisation and flexibility, curating/building rich microlearning content and experiences, and most importantly, creating engaged learning communities that will lead to an effective learning culture in the organisation. 


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