Tech broke the workforce – can tech fix it? Report from the Think Tank

By John Helmer

If it is really true that we live in a VUCA world then technology change is one of the key forces that has produced it. Digital technology is a major driver of change in the workforce – not just through the new tools and affordances it provides, which people need to be trained to get the best from, but also though the way it disrupts markets, collapses time and geography, reshaping organisations in the process and challenging established ways of doing things.

Luckily, digital technology doesn’t just cause problems for L&D. It also provides powerful tools to help solve those problems. But doing digital learning effectively is hard – as we discovered in the first of our reports from this Think Tank. Part of the reason why it is hard is that when you start using digital to do a job, it seems to have an inbuilt tendency to change the nature of that job. Which itself throws up problems.

So is technology more of an enabler for L&D or a problem? We asked the question two ways. Firstly, we put it to a wide sample of L&D professionals at the Learning Technologies Exhibition.

Chart showing survey result: 80% say tech enables learning

The vast majority, it is clear, see technology in a positive light. Which raises the question of why, according to Towards Maturity’s research, such a relatively small number of L&D people seem to be really expert in deploying it effectively?

To drill into this question further, we posed it to an invited group of L&D leaders in a ‘Think Tank’ facilitated discussion conducted under Chatham House rules.

Delegates were from organisations including Lloyds Banking Group, Mærsk, MOD, Pragma, Towards Maturity, Trafigura, TUI, and Vodafone.

The result was up a frank, no-holds-barred discussion from which one point emerged very clearly. When you bring digital technology to bear on learning challenges, it changes the way you have to think about learning – and this is not a change that happened in 1998 and has remained fixed in stone ever since, though certain themes have persistent. Change is constant in this space, and liable to remain so for the foreseeable future. Here’s what they had to say.

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6 signs that the L&D function is about to get a global warm-up

By Ken Ross

Every L&D professional working in a large company understands the importance of building skills in geographically dispersed teams, but in the real world, for change to occur, a requirement has to be both important and urgent.

In our latest insight paper, The Challenges of Building Skills in Geographically Dispersed Teams (and how to overcome them), created in collaboration with Towards Maturity, one of the things we asked L&D professionals to think about was the external business pressures most likely to trigger demand for global training solutions.

Based on our paper’s findings, here is our hotlist of the six critical pain points that most often cause L&D to have to think global.

1. The company you work in is about to merge or be acquired?

The challenges of managing the L&D function in a company that’s going through a merger or acquisition are well documented: what’s new is the increased probability that L&D professionals will need to face them.

Last year global M&A activity in Europe rose 55% from 2013. This year the pace is expected to accelerate.

As the economy picks up, learning leaders are becoming mindful of the global pressures that M&A activity will inevitably bring. They know that the biggest deals are likely to occur within the telecoms and communications industry and they understand that the primary motivator for these deals will be to acquire intellectual property and/or talent.

It’s no wonder then, that when our new study asked L&D professionals to consider the external business factors most likely to prompt demand for geographically dispersed training solutions, mergers and acquisitions was the first answer they gave.

2. Increased commercial pressures are stressing out the workforce

The days when L&D professionals could argue that the workforce training solutions they produce should be beyond the scrutiny of ‘bean counters’ are over. Today almost 50% of employers say they measure ROI on all their learning and development programmes.

Unprecedented commercial pressures are putting L&D under real scrutiny and as a result, L&D professionals are learning how to talk business. The most fluent of them have developed a convincing pitch: first they highlight the negative effects that increased commercial pressures have on the business (documents like the CIPD’s Building the Business Case for Managing Stress in the Workplace help them do this) then they make the business case for new training solutions designed to meet the needs of the modern, geographically dispersed workforce.

3. People in the business start complaining about “silos”

When companies develop faster than the L&D systems that underpin them a tribal mentality can set in quickly. Contributors to our study often felt that frustrations caused by a lack of coordination across teams was what ignited appeals for global training improvements. When breaking down silos was the catalyst for new training solutions, most L&D professionals participating in our study said facilitating knowledge and skills transfer across the business was their prime objective.

4. Red tape stops you taking on new talent

New figures just released by the London Chambers of Commerce tell us that over the past three months, 54% of firms have experienced difficulties when they’ve tried to recruit staff from overseas.

When growing companies start looking for talent further afield, shifting immigration policies and the differences in the employment laws and that exist in the UK versus other countries around the world, can be the touchpaper that ignites fresh demand for geographically dispersed L&D systems.

For the L&D professionals contributing to our new study, it’s the promise that new, cross-border friendly L&D systems will allow slicker skills transfer across the global operation that holds appeal.

5. Diverse education systems make finding the skills you need harder

The Economist Intelligence Unit lists understanding the subtleties of workers’ qualifications as one the major challenges facing companies as they grow internationally for L&D professionals.

With home-grown talent in key skills such as science and engineering in short supply in the UK, being able to leverage the diversity of a global workforce should represent an opportunity to balance the mix of skills available across the organisation. But the world’s education systems are not standardised, and frustrations arise when L&D professionals struggle to assess the international talent they have.

6. Your IT systems are about to be upgraded

Complaints about inadequate legacy IT systems are not new. Whether it be due to the M&A activities mentioned previously, non-standard platforms within specific teams (e.g. a design team that prefers working on Macs when everyone else is using PCs), or the fact that certain territories lag behind in terms of internet connectivity and infrastructure, the lack of standardisation of IT is a major bugbear.

80% of L&D professionals say that IT will play a major role in the support systems they roll out internationally, so when the company-wide IT upgrade gets approval, greenlighting new L&D support systems is often the long awaited next natural step.

The pain points that force L&D to ‘think global’ is just one topic covered in this valuable new report, which also contains new, specially commissioned research from benchmarking practice Towards Maturity on best practice in this area. Available now, the insight paper has been created especially for L&D professionals who want to nail the challenges of building skills in geographically dispersed teams.

This important new research:

  • Highlights pain points and critical areas of demand
  • Gives a five-step game plan
  • Details six best practice strategies in action

Download your copy now


Can you guess how old these learners are?

By John Helmer

As a learning and development professional, how sensitive are you to the needs and preferences or different age groups when it comes to learning? Can you guess the age group of these learners, for instance:Graphic showing different age groups

  • They prefer writing with pen and paper to typing, and find they learn better this way
  • They don’t use search engines or websites where content is unmoderated, they use apps where they trust the content and the authors
  • They never learn on a smartphone because it is too distracting. They use tablets and “if I want to learn something I don’t just turn my phone off, I put it in a different part of the building”
  • The biggest factors in online engagement are aesthetics and usability
  • The biggest causes of disengagement are instructions and too much text

Generations X and Y, Millennials, Silver Surfers … generalisations and neat labels are regularly used to segment and define audiences. Though there is often conflicting messaging about who qualifies for each group, this nonetheless has its place as a useful classification, and taken as a rule of thumb can simplify complex needs down to manageable levels – but how many of the commonly held assumptions that are made about each group actually hold true?

We decided to hold a workshop to find out more about how one group in particular like to learn. We asked them questions, they told us about their experiences of learning, and then they reviewed some of our work and gave us feedback.

The insights surprised us and judging from the reaction we’ve had when telling people some of the headlines we are not alone in this.

This is what we found – can you guess the group?

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Four tips for designing learning without SMEs

By Carole Bower


Missing person posterTraditionally, designing learning materials in the workplace context has relied on organisational subject matter expertise, with the job of extracting content from Subject Matter Expert (SME) falling to the learning designer. This has often been a challenging process. But just lately that challenge got even stickier.

Because SMEs are disappearing.

In today’s frenetic business climate, getting sufficient access to SME resource has become much harder to achieve, since these valued experts are invariably too busy to support the design team in the traditional way.

In many instances, too, we find that the SME doesn’t actually sit within the client business and their expertise needs to be bought in, so their time comes with a real cost attached to it (at Lumessse we have had this experience with subjects as diverse as marketing, team effectiveness and cloud computing).

So given that the change isn’t likely to be reversed anytime soon, how can we make the best of the situation and still produced engaging, effective learning?

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