Corporate Learning Is Broken. Here’s How We Fix It.

In the tech-driven economy, the world of boring, click-through training videos won’t suffice. Fortunately, there’s a better way to build a learning program.

Written by Duncan James
Published on Apr. 24, 2024
Corporate Learning Is Broken. Here’s How We Fix It.
Image: Shutterstock / Built In
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A hot take that shouldn’t be so controversial: In this AI-obsessed, tech-driven world, a business’s competitive advantage — and its ability to future-proof its operations — lies in its people. Particularly, success rests on the ability of those people to progress in their capabilities and collaborate. When every company has the same shiny tools upgrading at sci-fi speeds, businesses will suffer unless their talent learns to use that technology and convert those lessons to real-world value.

The problem? Corporate learning, in its current form, is broken. 

Professional learning has been trapped in antiquated models and siloed courses that ignore real-world collaboration for too long. Employees who want to grow are often forced to sit alone and click monotonously through long-winded videos with famously lackluster graphics. They spend time half-listening to droning voice overs and absorbing less than half of the information they hear.

In this environment, measuring the success of the modules against a business’s success — an increase in sales, boosted customer satisfaction, better brand awareness — is nearly impossible. Instead, the rubric hinges on arbitrary key performance indicators (KPIs), like completion rates and certificates earned, that matter only to learning teams.  

In parallel, more companies than ever are looking to digitally transform, upgrade, and grow. But the truth is, you can’t transform your company without first transforming your people. To do that, corporate learning as an industry needs to meaningfully improve by climbing out of its silo once and for all. Fundamental change begins with showing employees how to apply new skills together and in context with training that actually works. 

What Makes a Learning Program Effective?

  • Fosters cross-departmental collaboration.
  • Features input from learning and business experts.
  • Clearly drives business outcomes.
  • Features clearly applicable lessons for program participants.
  • Targeted toward participant learning styles and preferences.
  • Scalable across an entire organization.
  • Encourages accountability and ownership in participants.
  • Continuous and regularly updated.

More in Learning + DevelopmentDo Your Learning & Development Programs Work?

 

For Learning That Sticks, Collaboration Is Key 

Good workplace training must teach organizations, and not just their employees, how to modernize for successful, lasting change. It’s not news that alignment is key to building productive and successful work environments. Alignment is even more critical when a company is gearing up for significant digital upgrades and improvements. When upgrades come into play, whether of skills, technology, or infrastructure, everyone, from engineers to leadership to marketing and communications teams, must be on the same page.

Let’s look at two seemingly disparate teams as an example of why this is so important. While the technical team is building new tools — say an AI-powered recommendation algorithm — they may not be able to translate the core value the tool brings to the market into concise, non-technical language. To do so, marketing must thoroughly understand the value of its technological capabilities to communicate its benefits compellingly and in plain language to the preferred audience on the right channel(s). 

An agile, continuous integration and continuous delivery (CI/CD) world demands a culture of constant training. When marketing understands how the new recommendation algorithm works, they can explain it to potential customers in a clear and persuasive way. Doing so improves the chances that the transformation succeeds.

And while AI can draft a course, it lacks the humanity to foster real-world connections. As the technical side of the business advances, someone must be on tap to communicate the new procedures, nurture a dynamic learning environment, facilitate interdepartmental connections, and boost collaboration for innovation. Program success should be evaluated based on business outcomes like the aforementioned increase in sales, boosted customer satisfaction, or improved brand awareness, not just learning metrics. And the work doesn’t stop there; progress requires continuous improvement for better results.  

 

How to Identify Training That Works 

Nearly every business starting the process of a digital transformation underestimates how much training will be required to get staff accustomed to new and improved systems. In order to surmount this common problem, consider a few questions to consider before selecting a program or platform. 

Chief among them is, “Does the platform suit all departments within the organization?” The right solution should be technologically advanced and developed by world-class subject matter experts. Of course, a learning expert should be involved, but so should an industry expert who knows the ins-and-outs of your business. The platform itself should offer modular, customizable curriculums that cater to your organization’s specific goals. 

If you want to increase new product sales, for example, related trainings should help your people reach that goal. If you want to improve client relations, courses should equip teams with the tools they need to do that. Digital transformation is only as successful as the outcomes it drives. The same is true for learning platforms.

Not only does the subject matter of the training need to be on point, but the format does as well. An effective learning platform should conform to individual learners’ preferences, whether they like to learn sandbox-style or in a crowded master class. It should also be scalable, moving beyond those one-on-one environments to connect teams across departments in labs or workshops. This fosters collaboration, encouraging learners to take their new knowledge from a solo setting into their real working lives. Although this point may seem glaringly obvious, it’s actually shocking how few learning programs make this connection from module to method. 

 

Change Relies on Connected Employee Development 

When our old standbys (think banks, grocery stores, and pharmacies) go digital, there’s no question we have to make an adjustment as customers. But there’s also a huge learning curve for employees. 

Take loyalty programs, for example. Traditionally, a customer would receive a name-agnostic punch card (an untrackable, easily lost and/or faked piece of paper) or handwrite their information on a physical form that is later hand-keyed into a system (vulnerable to illegible writing). Digitizing this process has been transformative and critical to protecting a customer’s identity while allowing them to earn points and receive value-adding offers. Not only do retailers like Walgreens make those pre-existing processes more efficient, but they’ve also opened up new marketing and loyalty capabilities.

The digitization of loyalty programs is a great example of multiple teams using new technology to meet an end goal – in this case, enhanced customer loyalty and better user experience. It also demonstrates how and why those teams need to be on the same page throughout the transformation process. Engineers can build digital loyalty systems, but they need marketing teams to bring in metrics, branding, and insights to communicate and sell the system to the customers. In-store employees need to then encourage customers to sign up for digital accounts and coupons, and both tech and marketing functions drive the tactics they use.  

Educating a whole organization, versus a single person or team, about the new loyalty program and how it works, bridges traditional gaps in departmental knowledge before they have the chance to widen. The result: a smooth digital loyalty program that is clearly promoted and moves the organization toward its end goal – better customer experiences and increased loyalty. Continuous, connected, collaborative training ensures the cross-team alignment necessary to reach major goals like these. 

But what does it look like? Personal learning pathways creating a common baseline of knowledge. Collaborative workshops bringing teams together to test what they’ve learned in real-life scenarios they’ll encounter on the job. They foster a shared sense of accountability for driving outcomes and reaching goalposts. Further, customized, ongoing programs address new knowledge gaps as company goals shift before anyone has the chance to fall behind. 

A Culture of LearningWhat Is Continuous Learning and Why Is It Important?

 

Learn. To Change. 

With tools like generative AI impacting even the most archaic industries and a turbulent job market and economy, employee training has never been so necessary. Companies must take note and embrace training programs that meet their specific needs and allow individuals to learn on their own terms.

Employers today can’t just hand employees a new skill. They must show employees how to apply each new skill within the context of the broader digital transformation effort. There’s one constant in digital transformation: Talent is the beating heart of any organization. Taking the time to survey and select the right learning program helps ensure employees across teams, skill sets, and learning preferences are ready to meet the challenges of an ever-evolving world and, increasingly, that your business survives.

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