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Employee Learning and Development: The need for a dedicated learning solution in changing times

In his masterpiece Future Shock, Alvin Toffler has noted how the most literate persons of 21st century will not be those who can read or write, but those who can “learn, unlearn and relearn.”

Something very profound is happening. We are witness to the changing times!

Learning is getting experiential. Jobs are getting more and more specialized. And success is being measured with expertise, not the years of experience.

Make no mistake. This is no paradigm shift. The change has rather been gradual, and we are still in the process of evolution. But when experts say today’s job market is as much about capabilities as it is about the products, they clearly see a change that is evident — all those Ivy League b-schools that once flaunted their traditional course catalogs are now switching from “courses” to specialized training modules based on real-life use cases. Check your spam mails again.

Organizations are smart enough to see through this shift — traditional course-based learning is on its way out, skill-based learning is creeping in! In the changing scenario, they realize that the need of the hour is a dedicated enterprise knowledge platform (by dedicated, you must read specialized). A generalized HCM with a learning module that is masquerading as a knowledge platform is no longer relevant!

The era of specialization is here – this is true of people and software systems as well!

If you are an HR professional, you will not look for a computer programmer today – you will look to hire a Ruby on Rails expert with 6-9 years of experience in Agile software development!

The reason why stalwart Seth Godin talks about “the end of the average worker” in today’s times is because people without specialized skills are finding it increasingly difficult to get jobs.

But should it be about that age-old generalization vs specialization debate? Not at all. It’s more about specialization as a natural culmination.

This is something Malcolm Gladwell so beautifully brought about in his bestseller Outliers. His popular 10,000 Hour Rule which many claim is the key to success in any field, holds that 10,000 hours of “deliberate practice” can turn anyone into a world-class expert in any field. What is fascinating in Gladwell’s theory is the observation that regardless of natural aptitude, one can metamorphose into a professional when the choice of skills becomes narrower and narrower in a particular domain. In other words, every generalist can turn into a specialist after a certain investment of time.

They should. Because, irrespective of their degrees, employees are often not job-ready at the time of onboarding. And this causes huge costs to be incurred by employers, knowing fully that attrition is a market reality.

Companies realize this. They have already started putting more focus on what they call as a process of “increasing specialization.” Research studies, after all, say specialists deliver 10x more productivity over generalists.

What is more interesting is that it’s not just the people who are getting specialized. Much in proportion, software are getting specialized as well (in future you will see them super-specialized).

This makes sense. Because all software at the end of the day are created for people.

And there is no more a single enterprise system monolith. The advent and advancement in the API-economy, which make integrations between bespoke applications easier and more formal, has further unleashed a flurry of specialized systems. The number of specialized applications that have mushroomed as a result is unprecedented.

Let’s take an example of a common business application – Google for Business. Previously, the typical enterprise office suite had just 4 applications – a word processor, a spreadsheet cruncher, a presentation creator and a chatting/communication software (the last two came later). Now, Google has disaggregated Hangouts into Chat and Meet, with the former taking care of real-time text communications and the latter taking care of video/audio communications. Further, Google now has a Website creator (for internal websites), a drawing application, a notes application, a Forms application and a separate Analytics application. This is despite the fact that you could embed charts on Docs and Sheets or take notes on Docs. These made-for-purpose applications do one thing really well.

Further, due to the API-economy, the ability to create add-ons to the Google for Business apps have created a new ecosystem of companies that do one super-specific thing very well. For example, I could build a company solving one problem for Word, which is making it easy to type mathematical equations on all devices.

So specialization is need of the hour, both for people as well as for enterprise software.

The landscape of learning platforms

Now, let’s bring this specialization argument to the world of learning platforms. Here is a simple landscape of learning platforms:

HCM with learning modulesEnterprise learning systems that later added other HCM modulesPure-play learning platforms
TalentLMSAdobe Captivate PrimeDocebo
Litmos LMSiSpring LearnDisprz

Do you see a pattern in the above table? We are talking about three categories of enterprise software related to learning. As we gradually move to the right, we see a phase wise shift from operational formalities to hands-on experience and from there to experiential learning.

Companies have started rewarding expertise and results, not positions. They also promote continuous learning and learning agility to keep their employees up-skilled and enabled every hour to take on the newer requirements in changing weather.

Accenture, for example, has introduced a 7-level capability model, where consultants are being evaluated and rewarded on the basis of an “internal demand” for their skills — a marked shift from the days of manager’s performance appraisals. Intel, another technology giant, has initiated a unique capability building program by continuously moving their best engineering talent all around the company to foster expertise-building among other employees. The idea is to build an agile infrastructure of deeper levels of skills with cross-functional readiness.

Are learning management systems passé? Is LMS nearing its logical end? These are tough questions, but the answer lies in moving beyond LMSes. Start from where your LMS ends, and go beyond. Go beyond administering learning to actually delivering it, measuring its efficacy in terms of achieving business impact. Tight integration with various MOOCs, real-time performance monitoring to identify skill gaps, and customizable learning portals with recommended courses based on machine learning will go a long way.

Learning is one of the least-used modules in HCM

This may come out as a shock, especially to those who think at organizational levels, learning is mission-critical. But the opposite is true.

At least, this is what the trends suggest. When selecting their options for an HCM, here are the essential modules companies are reviewing (read them in decreasing order of popularity):

  1. WorkForce Analytics
  2. Process Management
  3. Talent Management
  4. Payroll Administration
  5. Benefits Administration
  6. Time and Attendance
  7. Learning Management
  8. Succession Management

As you can see, learning is last but one in the list. It should be at the top.

Not that organizations underestimate the merits of learning. They have not yet been presented with the right picture in the right scheme of things.

Up until now, companies have remained in oblivion about how learning in the flow of work actually affects business ROIs. It does, on daily basis!

Your business productivity soars when you leverage learning to keep your workforce upskilled and trained up-to-the-minute with what we call as continuous learning. And there are companies that are already making hay. Specialized learning platforms have considerably higher share of learning, even if they are deployed in companies that have HCM. For instance, one of world’s largest utility vehicle manufacturer, that already had SuccessFactors HCM with them, recently decided to integrate Disprz learning solution atop their HCM architecture to give a major boost to learning as they realized the importance of depth over breadth in learning.

Capability development of people is strategic while everything else on HCM is operational

According to a study by LinkedIn, getting employees ready to make time for learning remains the biggest challenge when it comes to talent development. Most of your employees will complain that they are so busy with their routine and operational works that they rarely find time out to ‘learn’ something new. Learning & training was considered a luxury, not a necessity.

What can we do for them? First of all, digital and mobile content delivery becomes very critical. It also calls for blended content delivery — delivering training on multiple platforms, such as classroom, mobile and just-in-time (microlearning is an important diet for knowledge-hungry employees with time crunch). It’s also about personalization which in turn boosts active engagement.

In contrast, learning in HRMS platforms (talking about the classical ILTs) focuses mostly on compliance training and routine administrative management of instructor-led training like managing training room availability, training budgets and trainer calendars. Not on delivering skills.

Learning in HRMS is about courses; modern learning platforms should be about skills

We have clearly moved on from course-based learning to skill-based learning! Under the new paradigm, capability building (and staying continuously capable) is more important.

Big companies have already started focusing more on skills & capabilities over course-based qualifications and employee designations (as we saw in the Accenture and Intel cases).

The whole idea is to reward results (which comes today with expertise) over and above designated positions.

Another key point to note about modern learning platforms is that they come integrated with leading MOOCs like Coursera, edX, and FutureLearn. So the content they are providing their employees is highly curated content — it’s updated, relevant, and high on quality in terms of real ROI. Platforms like Disprz use AI bots to suggest what content an individual employee needs for their learning with Netflix-like recommendations.

Further, not all learning happens through courses. Learning happens on demand. For instance, I may know how to use Excel or Sheets, but I may not know how to create a “Sparkline”. Right now, Googling is the only option. But Googling gives you everything – there is a need for an enterprise learning search application that serves learning on demand. The simplest analogy is when you shop for a mobile accessory, you could search Google or you could search Amazon. But it is Amazon that gives you more relevant results. Learning should be no different – a sophisticated learning platform should be the point of call when searching for learning content and not Google. That’s what we have built at Disprz.

But, all employee data resides in HCM, right!!!?

The bottomline is this. HCM platforms typically have many modules — right from recruitment to employee benefits, leave management, and more — and Learning just happens to be one among them (now you know why it’s always about the specialization vs generalization debate)!

So while legacy LMSes were a useful addition to HR Tech, over time there was bound to be a call for a dedicated learning platform. Businesses that realize this sooner than later are better positioned to create a culture of learning.

Another food for thought is, do we really have to choose between learning and other modules while selecting our preferred HCM? There are two ways to look at the fact that learning ranked right at the bottom among organizational priorities. And somewhere, that also means companies view other modules are equally important to them.

Calls for a smarter solution — what if you had access to a modern, sophisticated learning platform that works hand-in-glove with your HCM!

After all, we are living in the age of APIs, systemic integrations and what not! Modern strategic learning platforms come integrated with seamless data flow functionalities with open data ecosystems where all the data can be pulled from the HCM and pushed back.

7 features on learning software that justifies a specialized switch to a specialized learning platform (think on one each day of the week)!

  • Dedicated, strategic and on-demand learning

So It’s only now that organizations are realizing their HRMS/HCM platforms have up until now handled only routine tasks: from recruiting to talent management to managing retirements. These tasks are mostly administration related — they are important, but not strategic.

And this is where legacy HCM solutions failed. They lacked such strategic modules that could have direct impact on performance with learning and performance management.

In simple words, you can no more rely on traditional HCM platforms where learning is just one out of the many activities. No, do not insult the culture of learning that way. You need a dedicated and specialized learning platform as part of your business strategy that delivers learning just-in-time (in the format learners prefer to learn).

  • Content authoring 

Today, enterprises need specific content to be authored in the latest bite-sized format and want to ditch their SCORM packages approach. They need a learning platform which combines content authoring with delivery and this is one area legacy learning management systems lag behind.

  • Massive open online course (MOOC) integrations

Today, the best content comes from MOOCs. While your enterprise LMS may have MOOC integrations, most of the times they will come integrated with only the big three — Coursera, edX and Udemy.

That is usually done to show to the market that the LMS is product-wise complete (while clearly it’s not). You would rather need a dedicated learning solution that is willing to integrate with specialized MOOCs since each come with customized learning objectives. Don’t rely on just the big three.

  • Content from the open web 

High-performing companies want their learners to search within their Digital World and not in Google for anything related to learning.

Specialized learning platforms like Disprz provide natural-language-processing search that crawls internal organizational sources, MOOCs, and also the websites on the internet for the best content altogether. A feature no HCM platform provides.

  • Learning Analytics

No LMS in the world provides a single window into learning analytics across all learning experiences. This is another challenge.

Just imparting learning lessons are not of much use unless you are able to track what is working and what is what. Are your learners able to grasp their lessons. If yes, to what extent? If no, at what point exactly they slipped through and got disengaged?

A strategic learning platform would ideally provide advanced skill analytics across all learning experiences with in-depth insights. Some even use machine learning and artificial intelligence to deliver impact analytics.

  • AI-based recommendation engine

How about intelligent bots recommending you what to learn! When your organization has over thousands of courses and learning experiences at the disposal, don’t you need a state-of-the-art recommender system, something which only dedicated learning platforms have in their kitty.

  • Manager-driven, journey-based competency development 

The specialized learning platforms enable skill development as a collaborative activity between each employee and their managers, where each employee has to craft their 12-month professional development experience month-by-month combining learning from different sources as well as other educational experiences.

You are not going to see such customized 30-60-90 days learning journeys on legacy HCMs.

It can make or break your business!

Don’t postpone or delay a key strategic initiative in place of an administrative initiative. This could mean disaster for your company. Even if you have a legacy HCM software in place, you still need a strategic learning platform atop it to make your learning & engagement initiatives complete.

Don’t you want to present content to learners in a “Netflix-like” interface with AI-powered recommendations? Don’t you want to give your learners the flexibility of choice to learn the way they want to learn: articles, podcasts, micro-learning modules, flashcards, videos, and more? Don’t you want personalize journeys or learning tracks for your individual learners so that your training content leads to a productive learning outcome? Don’t you want to assess the learning outcomes and identify individual skill gaps which can be easily corrected? Don’t you want to help them help themselves by engaging them into specially created social forums and internal chat rooms for constant learning and development?

If the answer to most of the questions above is an overwhelming ‘yes,’ you need a specialized enterprise learning platform that offers personalized learner experience to employees (these specialised learning platforms were called LMSes before and now they are culminating into what are called Learning Experience Platforms or LXP.

Upgrade your learning management system model several notches higher, in sync with need of the hour, providing your employees a strategically thought-through dedicated learning solution to foster continuous learning for everyday growth. You need a specialized learning platform to translate learning into behavior.

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