Recession proof your learning provision


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Lessons from the latest research with employers that looks at learning innovation in tough economic climates

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Recession proof your learning provision

  1. 1. 26 Recession proof your learning provision Lessons from the latest research with employers that looks at learning innovation in tough economic climates By Laura Overton, MD Towards Maturity ‘These are harsh times and right now most businesses are focused on survival. So why bother with skills training?’ This is the challenge in the Alliance of Sector Skills Council’s latest ad campaign. And it is a good question to think about. Skills are high on the government agenda at the moment – the high profile focus on train to gain, apprenticeships and diplomas on poster boards and the television can’t be missed. But are skills uppermost in the thoughts of business leaders? It is clear that their focus is now on business efficiency; each cost item has to pull its weight. So what can we do to ensure that learning is adding value? Towards Maturity has just released Driving Business Benefits – a new suite of reports resulting from research with 300 organisations to find out how learning and development professionals are adjusting to business demands for Advance, © Saffron Interactive 2009 delivering more with less. The study is the third in a research series over the past four years looking at trends in the use of learning technologies1 in the workplace. We now have data on the experiences of over 700 organisations that have invested in learning technologies in the workplace. Over the years we have been keen to look beyond the hype to understand why some organisations are delivering more benefits from their learning technologies than others and what contributes to their success. 1 We defined the terms ‘e-learning’ and/or ‘learning technologies’ as: “the use of any technology across the learning process, including skills diagnostics, learning delivery, support, management (of learners and content ), informal and formal learning” 1
  2. 2. Are we spending on skills at the groups from both public and private sectors (ranging from health, education and public administration to IT, moment? finance and professional services). And there were some The bad news is that our research shows that a significant interesting differences in the motivation behind their number of businesses are seeing their overall learning ongoing investment in learning technologies: budgets decreasing (this trend is backed up by other research • Health are looking to improve induction that also highlights that travel budgets are dropping like processes, to develop a more qualified workforce and 2 stones!). to improve the quality of training • Public services are looking to improve the efficiency But the good news is that businesses are not necessarily of administration, to increase the reach of training looking to cut skills provision as a result. We found that three provision and to improve access out of five businesses expect to increase the allocation of • IT and telecoms are looking to provide a greater their budget to learning technologies moving into 2009. volume of learning, to respond faster to changing However, they are demanding much more from their business needs and to improve flexibility investment. • Finance are looking to help retain good staff, to develop a more qualified workforce and to improve Driving Business Benefit3 reflected a buoyant confidence in productivity the opportunities that learning technologies could bring in a • Education on the other hand are more likely to want downturn. 56% of employers in our study believed that the to improve flexibility of delivery, to help retain good credit crunch provided them the opportunity to deliver more staff and to develop a more qualified work force with less. But the report also highlights that the benefits will not just drop into our laps. We need to work harder than ever to make the benefits a reality and that is where good learning Having great expectations does not necessarily mean providers can really help. that organisations are realising the benefits of their investment. The number reporting actual benefits within Expectations in the current their organisation was encouraging. The most frequently reported benefits were flexibility and accessibility (good economic climate are news since that is what we were aiming for two years considerably higher ago) but there is some encouraging evidence for others Over the past two years, we have looked at what is driving looking to support their business case: organisations to invest in learning technologies. In 2007 the • 40% of the total sample reported improvements in top drivers for investment were mainly linked to improving the roll out of new products and services the delivery of learning and development – the top four were • 45% reported a reduction in the time to train to improve flexibility and access to learning (reported by just • 43% reported increased reach and consistency of under 80% of the group) and to reduce cost and improve learning offerings administration (by about 50% of the group). We found that as the businesses increased in their Advance, © Saffron Interactive 2009 Organisations are not just looking for improvements in maturity in using learning technologies, they consistently learning and development. Now more than ever they are reported an increase in business benefits, staff benefits looking to really add value to their business and to their staff. and engagement. For example, when comparing those established in their use of learning technologies against Our sector analysis report4 looked more closely at the drivers those who were more sporadic, we see that established and implementation strategies for seven significant industry users are: 2 3 2 4 ‘Driving Business Benefits Annex: Sector Perspectives’, March 2009, (download at
  3. 3. • Six times more likely to report improvements in quality at the point where we are really working our investments. of learning provision • Five times more likely to report improvements in It is not surprising that the research shows that some induction processes businesses are achieving more success than others. Many • Three times more likely to report improvements in have the desire to adapt their learning provision to this customer satisfaction tough economic climate but many are struggling. • Three times more likely to report that they are able to respond faster to business needs as a result of their use So what can we do to recession of learning technologies proof our learning and increase Given that less than 40% of organisations in this study the value of our investments? considered their use of learning technologies to be We analysed responses to over 100 statements relating established, there is room for improvement for many. to technology and implementation practice and found that the strongest correlations with success were not Are businesses prepared to take with technology but with implementation practice. This allowed us to identify six strands of behaviours that advantage of new opportunities? directly influenced results and were found to increase with 71% of our participants said that their internal training maturity: teams are willing to embrace new ways of working, so that is 1. Defining need – activities that help align the good news! But there are still barriers to overcome. implementation with both business and individual needs External factors such as costs and the lack of relevant 2. Learner context – activities that provide learners with content are less of a barrier to e-learning implementation choices and options that support their work life balance now than in 2007. However past poor experience of and working context e-learning has increased as a barrier and in fact the top 3. Work context – activities that understand and address three barriers are now all people related – reluctance by issues of IT infrastructure and managerial support staff to adopt new technologies came in at number one. 4. Building capability – activities that build the skills of But, worryingly, this was closely followed by two barriers learning and development professionals in strategy, that many have no real excuse for – a lack of knowledge informal learning, assessment, support and design about its potential use and implementation and a lack of 5. Ensuring engagement – marketing and skills amongst staff to implement and manage e-learning. communications activities that address the stakeholder requirements of learners, managers and learning and Only 45% agreed that they trained their trainers in how to development staff implement blended learning solutions and only 43% agreed 6. Demonstrating value – activities that involve that their face to face training courses actively exploited gathering feedback, measurement and ongoing the knowledge that a learner gained in e-learning. Less communication of results than a third agreed that they set measurable targets for Advance, © Saffron Interactive 2009 learning and e-learning. All of these factors and many more It’s not rocket science but our research certainly backs up were found to influence the success of e-learning in the common sense. To recession proof your learning provision, workplace. These figures may be acceptable in a general it is more important than ever to make sure it is relevant, sample of learning and development professionals but to develop flexible solutions to cope with changing this study was amongst those who had already invested in individual and work related contexts, to build skills that learning technologies. It is clear that we have the business help you use technologies appropriately so that what you case to support our spending in this area but we are not yet have goes further, and to manage change and make sure that you let everyone know the value you are adding! 3
  4. 4. Laura Overton has over two decades of experience helping organisations to improve the business impact of learning technologies in the workplace. She is the Managing Director of Towards Maturity – a not for profit organisation that provides research and online resources to help organisations deliver effective learning interventions at work. Laura is the co-author of ‘Driving Business Benefits’ (2009) and ‘Towards Maturity’ (2007) – two studies with over 500 organisations into effective e-learning practices in the workplace. She is also the author of ‘Linking Learning To Business’ – one of the first studies with both organisations and learners looking at good practice for successful implementations (January 2004). Laura is a founding ambassador for Next Generation Learning @ Work, a national initiative backed by Becta to promote the effective use of technology in learning, training and development in the workplace, colleges and schools. She works with government policy makers representing employer interests and has contributed to initiatives associated with the European Commission, the UK’s Learning and Skills Council (LSC) and Becta both in her current organisation and as a member of the original advisory board to the LSC. Laura is a Fellow of the Institute of IT Training and the British Institute of Learning and Development, is a popular industry commentator and has written over 70 articles and papers. More information about Laura and her work can be found on the following sites: • • • The full ‘Driving Business Benefit’ study with employers addresses the following areas: Gray’s Inn House • Building the business case • Trends in technologies and services 127 Clerkenwell Road • Implementation London • Barriers to success EC1R 5DB • Improving the impact t: 020 7092 8900 f: 020 7242 2757 The Driving Business Benefit Annex: Sector Perspectives looks at these themes from the e: perspectives of seven different sectors. Design by Marco Rotoli Both can be downloaded for free at ISSN: 1478-7641 © 2009 Saffron Interactive All rights reserved