Technology drives or supports much of what we do in our daily lives. From personal devices to office equipment to transportation, it’s become all too easy to focus on the “how” instead of the “who” or “why.” Over the past couple of years, however, technology has increasingly shown us just how it can improve access for those people who need it to work to their benefit.

Take learning and development (L&D) experiences, for example. With the migration of so many programs online due to the COVID-19 pandemic, L&D has become a much more democratized landscape of opportunity. Employee expectations about continued access to such skill-enhancing, career-advancing experiences have risen as well, helping to spur what I call “the new learning economy.”

The concept focuses on organizational growth by way of growth of individuals. Specifically, the new learning economy is rooted in a desire for growth that can accommodate the increasing agility and adaptability required in the modern workplace and as leaders prepare to guide their organizations through a new period of economic uncertainty. How organizations are able to leverage technology to deliver high-quality leadership development in ways that are more impactful and equitable than ever before will play a large role in determining which organizations succeed in this challenging environment.

Prioritizing Equity in the Workplace

The goods and services of the new learning economy are, in fact, L&D experiences. Their “product promise” is to upskill, retrain or prepare employees for expanded roles, promotions or placement on a leadership track. My company’s own data confirms that product demand is high, from front-line managers to the C-suite. But what about the people who participate in this economic exchange?

Before the pandemic, leadership development opportunities were often provided to select participants in the form of exclusive, in-person learning experiences. The scarcity of objective processes for consideration of those participants often meant organizations lacked development equity — equitable access for underrepresented groups to career-enhancing development opportunities—which both undermined their diversity efforts and limited the pool of leaders with the skills necessary to lead effectively during turbulent times.

In the wake of The Great Resignation and the current economic environment, taking steps to ensure that all employees are seen, recognized and supported is important to building a sustainable, equitable culture that drives strong performance outcomes. In fact, The State of L&D in 2022 report states that 88% of L&D professionals said building a diverse, equitable, and inclusive workplace is the most important training goal. But meeting that goal goes beyond recognizing and addressing bias in current practices. It requires the right technology to help you select and scale experiences that benefit all stakeholders, contributing to a culture centered on the very human needs of acceptance, achievement, appreciation and advancement.

Designing for Positive Human Impact

L&D professionals are in great need of that support. As L&D initiatives have become more strategic and cross-functional, the programs and people running them are increasingly under pressure to deliver. Our own data indicates L&D ties with “more resources” in terms of what leaders say they need to succeed, and with resources being further constrained by current economic uncertainty, L&D will take on even more importance. Yet there are challenges in finding the right content, keeping it relevant, having the time and money to manage a program, and determining the right tools to support the needs of the organization and its learners.

Thinking within the framework of the new learning economy again, demand is good. Reportedly, 60% of employees are willing to pursue development opportunities on their own. The top reasons given? A love of learning (57%) and a means to advance their careers (54%).

Yet even with this data and an understanding of other stakeholder expectations, there are implementation considerations on the supply side. The number of digital training and leadership development programs has increased considerably over the past couple of years, but not all offer the same structure or supporting technology that will prove impactful.

The State of L&D report indicates 64% of employees are looking for an experiential approach to their development experiences. Real-world applicability makes it easier for employees to retain what they’ve learned and apply it in actual scenarios. This approach also benefits the organization by providing solutions to an existing challenge or innovations that contribute to its existing offering and future growth.

At a time when CFOs are closely scrutinizing expenses, an L&D platform with built-in, credible return on investment (ROI) metrics is absolutely critical. In addition, a platform that can scale throughout your organization while providing quality, relevant content from subject matter experts ensures you’re maximizing your organization’s investment in human capital. That includes promoting leadership diversity, incentivizing employees to help cultivate a culture that prioritizes an individual’s needs, and contributing to productivity, and thus, the bottom line.

Traditional economies don’t function without people, and the new learning economy in particular focuses on advancing the human experience. But creating sustainable workplaces with adaptive learning cultures requires the right tools. It’s the synergy between human experience and technological efficiency that holds the brightest promise for the best possible future of work.