As learning professionals, we know the importance of learning on employee engagement and turnover.  According to the National Research Business Institute, 23 percent of employees leave for lack of development opportunities and training. The costs associated with losing talent, including money, lost productivity, recruitment expenses and training investments, have been well documented.

As important as learning and development are, for today’s workforce it’s even more important to consider how they are accessing these opportunities.  By 2014, half the U.S. workforce will be comprised of Millennials. This generation plus the ones immediately before and after, Generations X and Z respectively, live and breathe technology. They are intimately connected to the Internet, and one another, through their electronic devices. And as such, these groups are continuously learning. They expect their employers to supply 24/7 access to resources, data and colleagues via internal systems. In fact, 52 percent of employees surveyed said that a company’s use of technology was a major factor when selecting an employer (Accenture, 2009). The simple fact is – the tech-savvy employees of today will not suffer through hard-to-use interfaces and lackluster media. Want to compete (and win) the talent war?  Get on board.  This may require a culture shift in your organization and an investment in technology – better platforms, enterprise solutions – but the return on investment cannot be ignored.

Employee engagement improves company performance. Alex Edmans, MIT Sloan School of Management, analyzed the financial performance of a portfolio of stocks selected by Fortune magazine as the “Best Companies to Work for in America” from 1998 to 2005. By the end of 2005, these stocks “earned average annual returns of 14 percent by the end of 2005, over double market return” (Karen Renk, The Incentive Marketing Association). This is just one example of very clear correlation between employee engagement and business success factors like financial performance and customer satisfaction. In fact, Harvard Business Review counts Learning Capacity as 1 of 5 human capital management (HCM) drivers that impact organizational performance. Core practices like training, learning management systems, career development, organizational (and leadership) support of learning, and embracing innovation all contribute to improved organizational performance.

In addition, workers who engage in workplace Internet leisure browsing are 9 percent more productive than those who don’t (Department of Management and Marketing at the University of Melbourne).  And they are adding to their knowledge base every day, which contributes to the company’s business objectives. According to Maria Azua, author of The Social Factor, the old adage “knowledge is power” has been replaced by “sharing knowledge is power.”  Never before have employers been able to harness the intellectual power of their workforce in real-time, regardless of geographic boundaries, and drive results in a whole new way. In addition to the brain power we’re able to tap into, the mobile nature of today’s workforce means good ideas are happening anytime, anywhere, 24/7 which allows business to keep up with the changing market and business climate.

E-learning systems support the needs of the new workforce and drive employee engagement in a number of ways:

  • 24/7 access to training materials. Educators can add and revise materials as business needs or trends change.  And employees may contribute to content themselves. It all adds up to continuous learning and an empowered workforce.
  • Familiarity with the platform(s). Your employees are already using these platforms outside of work. They understand the technology and have made it an integral part of their lives. Therefore they have increased expectations for the systems their employers are using.
  • Connection to subject matter experts. Employees can connect with SMEs to tap into their expertise.
  • Real-time collaboration and sharing of best practices. Real-time problem-solving and collaboration are one of the primary methods that businesses are using today to resolve issues. “Two heads are better than one; why recreate the wheel” – we now have the ability to really practice what we preach.
  • Personalized learning. Organizations can more easily tie learning goals to competencies, objectives and priorities.  Employees have the flexibility to learn at their own pace and investigate other areas of interest with ease.
  • Engaging content formats. Gaming, augmented reality, webinars, skyping, podcasts – as technology changes this list grows and enables us as learning professionals to capture our audiences attention in new and exciting ways.  Partnered with classroom learning our reach is better than ever before.
  • Freedom to fail. Fear of saying the wrong thing or making a mistake holds people back – now employees can learn in the privacy of their own office, home, coffee house, etc.
  • Greater efficiency and environmental consciousness. Employees take note of environmental awareness and prefer employers who take active measures to reduce their footprint. Decreased materials usage leads to decreased costs and greater employee retention.

The options are many and even if you don’t have a lot of resources, there are easy-to-implement tools that you can utilize to get started. Consider creating a SharePoint, Google docs or wiki site to share materials, create a leadership blog or develop a community-centric intranet that is focused on areas of interest like management best practices or new product development. All of these are simple, quick ways to begin your journey into e-learning.

For an interesting case study on the impact of e-learning systems on employee engagement, read Bill Ives’ fantastic series on Booz Allen’s enterprise knowledge sharing system Hello .