The learning and development (L&D) field moves at a fast pace, as societal shifts and emerging technologies continue to impact the business of learning. In honor of Training Industry’s 15-year anniversary, we spoke with Ken Taylor, president and editor-in-chief at Training Industry, to reflect on what’s changed over the last decade and a half and what to expect in the future of the corporate training.

Listen to learn more on:

  • How learning technologies have evolved over the past 15 years.
  • Future learning and development trends to look out for.
  • The rise of accessible, on-demand learning.

Listen Now:

Complete the form below to view an animated video about this episode:

Additional Resources: 

The transcript for this episode follows: 

Speaker 1:

Welcome to the Business of Learning, the learning leader’s podcast from Training Industry.

Taryn Oesch DeLong:

Hello and welcome to the Business of Learning. I’m Taryn Oesch DeLong, managing editor of digital content at Training Industry.

Sarah Gallo:

And I’m Sarah Gallo, an associate editor at Training industry. This episode of the Business of Learning is sponsored by GP Strategies.

Speaker:

GP Strategies enables people and organizations to perform at their highest potential. Creating a world where business excellence makes possibilities achievable. Subscribe to the GP Strategies podcast Performance Matters, where they interview industry experts and explore best practices and share innovative insights on topics like the one we’ll discuss today.

Taryn Oesch DeLong:

The learning and development field moves at a fast pace as societal shifts and emerging technologies continue to impact the business of learning. In honor of Training Industry’s 15 year anniversary and as we’re getting closer to the end of the year, we’re speaking with Ken Taylor today, President and Editor-in-chief at Training Industry. We’re going to reflect on what’s changed over the last decade and a half, and what to expect in the future of the corporate training industry. Ken, thanks for speaking with us today.

Ken Taylor:

It’s great to be here. Thanks.

Sarah Gallo:

So, let’s start off by talking about one of the most influential factors on not only L&D, but on business at large over the past 15 years: emerging technologies. Ken, how have you seen learning technologies evolve over the years and what impact have they had on the training industry so far?

Ken Taylor:

Yeah. If you reflect back 15 years ago, we were just basically starting. I mean, we had basic features of an LMS, but I mean, the evolution there has been so unreal. It’s incorporated concepts like machine learning and artificial intelligence to really personalize the learning experience. It’s really been an incredible journey when it comes to how practical the application of technology is and how it’s integrated into the actual learning and development courses that are being delivered today. It’s almost like it was always there. It’s just natural now. If you think about it more broadly, the technologies are really helping us develop new experiences that allow the learner to really get into the detail of what they need to know and understand from the program, and then actually practice it and apply it in ways that were really not possible 15 years ago.

Sarah Gallo:

Yeah, it’s very exciting. I’ve also seen a rise in on-demand training through learning technologies like mobile learning and chatbots. And I think it’s important, too, when we’re looking at machine learning and AI, even though it can effectively personalize learning, if we’re not careful it can easily become biased and disrupt our broader diversity and inclusion efforts. I think, really, as we move into the future at work, it’s important to look at how technology is impacting learners from minority groups now and in the future as well.

Ken Taylor:

Yeah, well, it certainly gives the learner more of what they want, right? And that’s the one risk, or one of the risks of the advances in technology. I think if you’re careful and monitor the recommendations, I think they can be super useful.

Taryn Oesch DeLong:

Definitely great points, both of you. So, Ken, how do you think that the rise of learning technologies like video-based training platforms and mobile learning has led to a corresponding increase in virtual training methods?

Ken Taylor:

I think the reality of virtual training beyond what we’re going through right now with COVID was coming quite quickly because the economics of a virtual training program are a clear driver of them being the way learning and development is able to get training out to people at scale, without the cost associated with travel and facilities and moving instructors around. It just saves so much money for the company. The other thing that’s really cool about the new technologies is it actually allows you to do the modeling of behavior. You’re able to do a video [demonstration] of what the skill should look like or how to effectively communicate in a certain way, and that video [training technology has] become so inexpensive to develop. So, you’ve got a cost point coming down on a great technology that allows you to model behavior. I think that’s really been driving the shift also. And also, when you think broadly about learning and development, there are certain types of programs that are most effectively delivered with different modalities. Layers in the technology stack, like the learning experience layer, allow you to collect together a variety of experiences and assemble them as one course or one [learning] journey. And I think that’s the real exciting part about the use of technologies in corporate learning.

Sarah Gallo:

Definitely. I know Taryn and I have also seen an increase in remote learning, especially due to the coronavirus pandemic, of course. I mean, in our pulse survey we found that before the pandemic 41% of training was in person and 52% of it was virtual and now organizations have shifted, where only 22% of training is in person and 72% of it is virtual. So, we can definitely see that shift.

Ken Taylor:

Well, and it’s going to continue to shift, Sarah. I think that there was an initial move, right, where people just took the courses that they had, and they just made them virtual because that was the only way they could deliver them. But I think the heads of L&D are going back through and taking a second look at the courses that they transitioned completely to virtual. And they’re starting to break them down and take some pieces of them and move them to video or eLearning, where it’s really a knowledge transfer. And then, [they] are trying to keep the virtual sessions shorter and more interactive … maybe almost like an opportunity to practice as a group and to practice those things that you may have already learned watching a video or going through an eLearning program.

Taryn Oesch DeLong:

I’m excited to see what sticks after the pandemic’s over, what changes are permanent. And of course, we’ll go back to some in-person training, I’m sure, but it’ll be interesting to see what [shifts] now that people are seeing the benefits of virtual training and the efficiencies firsthand, what will stick around after this is over.

Ken Taylor:

Yeah. I mean, the business case is just so compelling that it’s going to be really hard to go back to the old ways, so to speak, but there are definitely situations where instructor-led, in-person training is really the only way to effectively deliver a program, and there are some programs that just will always be that way. So, I don’t anticipate it being gone away for very long, and I do expect it to come back in certain situations.

Sarah Gallo:

Yeah. All right. So, we’ve talked about innovative learning technologies and the rise of virtual training methods as major L&D trends. But Ken, what about our learners? How have you seen L&D cater to individual learner preferences over the past 15 years?

Ken Taylor:

That’s probably the biggest or most significant shift that we’ve seen. The learner’s preferences are actually becoming front and center now when organizations are choosing how to roll out a program. We found that learners have preferences and I think there’s been a lot of debate around learning styles, and I don’t think we want to go there, but what we’re saying and I think what we believe, is that learners enjoy programs when they have an experience in a modality that they prefer. And [that’s true] even if it’s only one experience in the context of the whole journey. So, why not make that available to them so that they consume the content that you want them to consume in a modality that they prefer? It just makes sense. They’re going to consume it quickly. They’re going to consume it in the way they want, and they’re much more likely to learn it if it was delivered to them in a format that they prefer. It just makes sense.

Taryn Oesch DeLong:

And one thing I learned, or we learned, from a research report we did a couple of years ago on learner preferences is that delivering training in a variety of modalities is the training manager’s best bet for creating experiences that resonate with learners because they’re more likely to meet more of those preferences. And I think it seems like organizations are doing that, at least to a certain extent, because I know we also have data showing that most organizations do deliver training in multiple modalities. I mean, with the shifts and advances in technologies, I think it’s just going to be easier to do that.

Ken Taylor:

I completely agree, Taryn, and I think the data has shown us that progressively over the years, and this is some data that we’ve been collecting for years and years now. [What we’ve found is] that when we asked training managers how many modalities are they going to include in [their next] program, we’ve seen that [the number of modalities they’re using is] progressively increasing over time. And again, it just makes sense that [when] learners experience some part of the program in a modality they prefer, their perception of the entire program is better. Well, we know that the primary type of tracking that training managers do is around whether or not the employee likes the training. And it’s a shame that is as advanced as many companies get with their measurement, but the point being, if they’re going to get better scores on their programs, then they’re much more likely to continue that trend.

Sarah Gallo:

Yeah. And Ken, that’s really something I experienced firsthand when I recently went through the CPTM program. As a learner, I definitely resonated with the program’s blended learning approach. I feel like the eLearning coupled with the videos and interactive knowledge checks and the VILT practicum really made the experience interactive and engaging, which is definitely important right now, when a lot of us are still working from home due to the pandemic.

Ken Taylor:

Well, when we designed the CPTM certification, our principal focus was to do the things that were the best practices available in the industry. I mean, we are [in the] training industry, that’s what we do all day. So, we really wanted to make sure that our program, our flagship program, took into consideration what we’d learned from the best training organizations around the world.

Taryn Oesch DeLong:

And speaking of what we’ve learned from great training organizations, over the years our research into what great training organizations do that sets them apart, has found that the most important thing that they do is they make sure that training is strategically aligned to business goals and results to really make that impact. So, I’d love to hear, Ken, do you have any advice on how to do that, how learning leaders can make learning accessible and engaging for learners while making sure that it achieves business impact?

Ken Taylor:

I think the current offers available to heads of L&D really allow through the various [course] libraries, whether they be a best-in-class library, like a Pluralsight, or a more general library, like a Skillsoft or companies like Udemy [and] Coursera, there are so many available catalogs of courseware out there, that I think it’s probably time for organizations to give up a little bit of control and allow the employee to learn those things that they think will actually help them in their job or their current role, or as they look to progress inside the organization. So, I think historically L&D has provided courses, and I think that there’s going to be more and more movement toward providing access to courses. And then, the employee’s manager and the employee together can make selections in terms of what courses may best suit their needs and improve their performance. There’s just such a high quality and broad availability through these platforms, and I think it’s time to relinquish a little control. I think the key thing though, coming back to your point around strategic alignment, is that not every single course immediately has to generate a business return. I think you can look over a longer time horizon to take into consideration that maybe developing, let’s take an example like digital skills or empathy or emotional intelligence,  there may not be a direct business impact today for the employee having gone through that training, but they may be more likely to have an impact over time as perhaps their role evolves or they get promoted to more senior positions. So, having learned those skills may ultimately provide a business return, just maybe over a little bit longer time horizon.

Sarah Gallo:

Definitely. That’s a great point as well. I know since I started covering the training industry, I’ve heard the term “learning culture” tossed around quite a bit. I think that today’s employees almost expect their organizations to provide access to continuous learning. I mean, we’ve seen that when writing case studies for trainingindustry.com about Amazon and Starbucks at Walmart, and they really do use L&D as a way to attract and retain their talent.

Ken Taylor:

I think those best-in-class companies really get that they’re trying to provide a holistic experience for the employee, whether that includes certain types of benefits to make them feel more comfortable in the work environment [or] whether it’s to provide them with more options in terms of their work structure, whether that be [allowing them to] work from home, drop-in workspaces, whether that be access to learning and development, they’re really looking holistically at the employee experience, and I think learning can be a big driver of a great employee experience.

Sarah Gallo:

For sure. Going off of that, Ken, do you have any tips for companies that maybe aren’t as large as Amazon or Starbucks and are looking to create this sort of learning culture within their company?

Ken Taylor:

Well, even a company as small as Training Industry can still foster development as part of the culture of the organization. And I think a conversation between managers and employees is really where learning and development gets started in smaller companies. If you’re the head of L&D in a small company, or maybe you’re responsible for all things HR in a smaller company, just remember there are tremendous resources out there that are not super expensive, that you can help employees and managers work together to put together little programs that will support the employee’s development.

Taryn Oesch DeLong:

Yeah. I think we’ve seen a huge rise in those types of really accessible, affordable, online learning opportunities that companies, even small companies, can tap into and give their learners access to really great content at a really affordable, accessible price point.

Ken Taylor:

Exactly. Whether it be LinkedIn Learning or several of the platforms that I mentioned before, and there’s also, I’ll call them more B2C-type platforms, business to consumer, where the price points might be $10 for a course. So, there is certainly plenty of availability out there.

Sarah Gallo:

Definitely. All right. So, we’ve talked about how accessible learning is clearly rising, but employees today are also dealing with not just a constantly changing business environment but a global health crisis. Ken, how are organizations leveraging L&D to take a more holistic approach to talent development as whole?

Ken Taylor:

Well, I think if we put it back in the context of that 15 year time horizon that we’ve started off with, since the start of Training Industry as a company, really, you’ve seen a strong move away from just the technical skills being managed by L&D in order to upskill or prepare employees to do their jobs, to a much more holistic look at what the employees’ skills needs [are]. So, beyond just the technical [skills], [when you] start to look at soft skills, and the definition of soft skills varies quite a bit, but really we’re talking about next generation type skills like emotional intelligence, creativity, strategic thinking, being Agile [and] understanding how to handle change, I mean, these are the kinds of skills that employees need in every organization, and I think the learning and development function has started to realize that that has to be part of the core curriculum. Whether you’re working in a finance department or in an advertising group where creativity may be a little bit different in terms of on how important it is to that particular job, it doesn’t matter … the company needs to foster those types of skills in order for the groups to work together.

Taryn Oesch DeLong:

One thing that’s been interesting for me to see is even before this year, when things like good leadership have been in the spotlight so much more, with the rise of artificial intelligence and automation has come also a focus on soft skills, which sounds counterintuitive because you need people to be able to manage the technology of automation or artificial intelligence, which is true, but so many organizations like the World Economic Forum [and] LinkedIn Learning are coming out with these lists of the most important skills in an increasingly automated workplace. And those soft skills are right at the top because some of those lower level skills are being automated, and so we need more humans to do those more human-focused jobs and tasks to interact with people and [do] all those things that machines can’t do now and probably won’t be able to do for a while. And so, that’s been something that I’ve found interesting, that dichotomy of we have more technology in the workplace and we need more human humans to work with it.

Ken Taylor:

And understanding the output from these systems and how they align to company goals, I mean, those are pretty high-order skills. And I think organizations are starting to realize that their employees need to be able to interpret, not compute. It’s almost that simple a change, right? It’s going away from actually doing the calculation to now understanding the result, and then applying that understanding to improve the performance of the organization. And I think that those are clearly higher-order skills that today’s workforces are in the process of developing.

Sarah Gallo:

I think soft skills, we can safely say are skills of the future at this point in time, for sure. But of course, I think we also need to remember that we’re living during unprecedented times right now and these skills do take time [to learn]. I think, really, we’re just all doing the best we can [right now] under the circumstances. And it really reminds me, Taryn, in an earlier episode we recorded on strategic alignment, when our speakers of AvidXchange mentioned that L&D leaders can’t expect themselves or their learners to be operating at 100% right now, and that’s okay. And like we said, all we can do is the best we can given the circumstances.

Ken Taylor:

Exactly. I mean, our pulse research really [found that] — and it was really [mentioned] in the comments that we received from heads of L&D — there’s really been an understanding that the employee is probably maxed out right now, given the external pressures [and] the things that are happening in their personal lives that are impacting their ability to perform their job. And all of that pressure coming on at the same time. L&D, I think, has become very realistic about what the expectations are in terms of how much employee’s time can be allocated towards developing new skills [during the COVID-19 pandemic]. I think the important thing is to make sure that those programs are available when the employee has time, and I think that comes back almost to our whole modality conversation that we had before. One of the things that’s so great now is we have the ability to have a program sit in a bunch of different modalities so that the employee can consume it the way they want. Well, that makes it super easy for them to do it offline or off [work] time, or perhaps in smaller bites when they do have a little bit of time. Thinking about flexibility and not expecting the employee to take one huge block of time now and go to a course for two days, I think is less realistic right now. And I think again, the flexibility to perhaps do a course over two weeks in 30-minute increments is probably in L&D’s best interest, but also in the employee’s best interest.

Taryn Oesch DeLong:

I think L&D was really the perfect people to respond this year. No one was prepared for this, but L&D was already kind of thinking this way, in how to adapt learning to be more flexible for the multitasking, busy, modern learner. And L&D people are also … I mean, they’re the people experts, right? They understand people the most, and so who better to help people respond to everything that 2020 brought [upon them], but also whatever happens next. I think L&D is perfectly positioned to lead the change, as we say in the CPTM program, in helping organizations help their people.

Ken Taylor:

Well, this whole notion of L&D being at the heart of change inside of a company was the main theme in our trends magazine this year, Training Industry Magazine, that just released. The key role that L&D plays in change management is at the forefront right now because organizations are changing just about the way they do everything to adapt to the current situation. So, it’s not surprising to me that L&D shines in a period of time like this.

Sarah Gallo:

Yeah, it’s really great to see. Right. So, to wrap things up today, let’s discuss one last L&D trend that we’ve seen on the rise, which is measurement tools. Ken, why don’t you break this one down for us. How have measurement tools evolved over the years and how has this impacted the way that we measure the impact of training?

Ken Taylor:

Well, if you go back 15 years ago, most of the measurement tools was an Excel spreadsheet and a collection of paper at the door at the end of the course. And I don’t even think …. There wasn’t even a SurveyMonkey in those days. So, what we have now is a pretty powerful suite of tools that allow us to measure the impact of training in a variety of ways. I think, Sarah, you mentioned some of the aspects of CPTM, but you have the ability now to build in-course testing, there are advanced programs that will actually [offer] almost a deep skills analysis, [for example], if you’re in a simulation-type program where you’re actually practicing skills. And all of this data can give us a really round view of how the employee has absorbed the new skill or the knowledge that we’ve asked them to learn, and then their ability to apply it. So, that’s the exciting part about measurement. I still think many organizations are just struggling to understand whether or not the employee liked the program. I think the market is a big one and people are all at different phases of maturity in terms of their measurement [techniques], but the tools are there now for us to measure not only that they’ve taken the training, which was the classic [way to measure training programs in the past, but] yeah, you’ve gone through the course, or maybe you passed the test, but more importantly, which questions on the test are the best indicator of future performance? And we have approaches and measurement tools that allow us to really get into the detail and understand specifically, what are the triggers of employee performance?

Taryn Oesch DeLong:

I see a lot of comparisons in the industry with marketing and the evolution that the marketing industry went through in this area and how it started really being able to track results and then prove their impact to the business and how that helps the function grow and evolve and make a better impact on the business. And people seem to think that training is undergoing the same kind of evolution, which is exciting to watch.

Ken Taylor:

There’s no question. If you think about really what a learning experience platform is, it’s essentially the elements of a website, right? And if you think about the engine behind it, a lot of similarities in those LXPs with marketing automation systems that sit behind websites. So yeah, I think there is definitely on the technology side, a bit of a convergence around those best practices that marketing has developed, the ability to serve personalized content, that’s the use of AI. We saw initial applications in e-commerce stores like in Amazon, it was, “Well, if you liked this, you might like this,” kind of recommendation. We’re seeing that as almost commonplace now in learning experience platforms [LXPs]. So, I do think there’s a lot of parallels between the two groups.

Sarah Gallo:

Yeah, for sure, for sure, measurement tools have definitely come a long way. I think it’s really great when you look at how they can also help L&D leaders position themselves as critical business assets, especially during times like these, when we’re in a major recession, I think it’s really great that we can prove our business value with these measurement tools today.

Ken Taylor:

It’s absolutely at a minimum that the new technologies and measurement tools will allow us to provide better programs and get organizations through the programs more quickly. And it’ll give us some techniques that we can use to encourage quick adoption of the programs. I think one of the biggest challenges is always to get the employee base through the program, especially if it has something to do with a significant change inside your organization, the technologies can really help us know who hasn’t been through. It can use marketing automation techniques to encourage them to continue. The LMSs available today pretty much all have the ability to monitor progress and encourage completion. So, I think a lot of those are very similar to leaving your shopping cart unattended and following up to make sure that you want to complete the purchase.

Taryn Oesch DeLong:

That’s a great comparison, especially as we enter the holiday season. All right. Well, Ken, thanks so much for speaking with us today on the Business of Learning as we reflected on the last 15 years of Training Industry and of the training industry and shed some light on what’s in store for the future. Before we wrap up, do you have any final takeaways you’d like to leave our listeners with?

Ken Taylor:

No, just [that] it’s been a great journey, and I can’t even imagine what the next 15 years are going to look like. Just to have such a fantastic tool set available to us now, I think only the imagination is holding us back at this point in terms of determining where we take the L&D function going forward.

Sarah Gallo:

Yep. It’s definitely exciting to watch. All right. Great. Well, Ken, again, thank you for joining us today on the Business of Learning.

Ken Taylor:

My pleasure.

Sarah Gallo:

To learn more about L&D trends, check out the show notes for this episode at trainingindustry.com/trainingindustrypodcast.

Taryn Oesch DeLong:

And if you enjoyed this episode, don’t forget to rate and review us on your favorite podcast app.

Sarah Gallo:

[Look out for] our next episode, which is also our season three finale. Make sure to follow the #TIpod to stay connected on all things the Business of Learning.

Speaker 4:

If you have feedback about this episode or would like to suggest a topic for a future program, email us at info@trainingindustry.com or use the Contact Us page at trainingindustry.com. Thanks for listening to the Training Industry podcast.

Share