Editor’s Note: This is part one of a three-part series. The first segment discusses how learning organizations need to better integrate learning capabilities within business operations in order to strengthen their value proposition.

Many companies still struggle elevating the quality of their learning strategies. And with corporate commitment to reduce costs during economic uncertainties, corporate learning investments are being threatened.

Against the risk of succumbing to cost saving measures, learning organizations should be making a case for expanding their influence and more tightly integrating their learning capabilities with operations. Organizational design, knowledge management, peer collaboration and performance support need to be part of a learning mandate if learning teams are to create holistic learning systems. Learning strategies must enable people to learn as they go, at work, and not in sessions. They must focus on knowledge flow instead of developing and administering learning products. And they must correlate learning investment to business outcome – learning leadership must promote a new vision.

Moving 70 percent of all learning to on-the-job 

According to the American Society of Training and Development’s 2013 State of the Industry Report, corporations allocate approximately 70 percent of their learning investment to general skill building programs including executive development, managerial and supervisory skills, customer services, compliance, IT and systems training, interpersonal skills and orientation. Much of this training is non-contextual, delivered well ahead or far too late of when workers want or need it. The lack of perceived relevance, at the time of training, limits learning and so such instruction would be more effective if delivered at the point of need.

It reasons that courses, such as compliance, using trigger and response instructional strategies, evidenced by multiple-choice or right or wrong assessments, can be replaced by creating environments that provide appropriate prompts and feedback to drive behavior. Through strategies which include contextual help, help-desks, business process workflows, case-based apps and so on, companies can deliver on-the-job training that results in immediately actionable output. Task complexity, however, may warrant other types of support strategies. When activities are conducted within a wide range of conditions and without predictable outcomes, such as what might be expected from leadership, finance, legal and sales teams, then organizations would need to turn to workplace design that include knowledge management systems, collaborative platforms and cognitive tools so workers can identify a need, mine and connect information, make interpretations and construct appropriate solutions.

Embedding learning professionals within operating teams to grow performance consulting capabilities

NelsonHall reports that executives increasingly look to shared services and outsourcing as means of controlling costs.  Such solutions, in themselves, reduce spend, but do not guarantee more operational output, sales, or innovation that learning and development departments strive to achieve. Further, centralized learning teams operate outside of operations; and dedicated line-of-business teams often contend with competing enterprise and operational reporting lines. The resulting perception is that learning remains disconnected from business.

Instead, a network of learning professionals should be distributed and embedded within operational teams to advocate for ideal learning conditions when business decisions are being made that affects the way people work. Some learning organizations already employ learning relationship managers to lessen the distinction between learning teams and their internal clients. However, all but learning executives should have direct reporting lines within the operational teams they serve, drawing on performance support standards established by a corporate community of practice.

Evaluate learning by measuring business outcomes

According to a joint report between the American Society of Training and Development and the Institute for Corporate Productivity (i4cp), less than half of organizations measure the return on learning investments and only one-third use business outcomes to inform the development of learning strategy. With the move to informal learning, assessing learning impact seems even more improbable.

Learning organizations can now include analytics, not just reporting, as part of their tool set. The World Economic Forum’s publication, Online Education, cites analytics as a significant advancement to improving training. Big data can be used to identify cause-and-effect patterns that will drive future design by attributing specific types of learning patterns to business results. For example, building a profile of top sales performers that includes what, when, where, how and why they use information and tools, helps learning teams engineer contextually situated learning environments, while driving system usage.

The current pressures placed on learning teams in the pursuit of competitive advantage will certainly drive learning transformation.

Part Two of this three-part series discusses how technologies (playing a role in offsetting pressures on learning teams) enable tightly integrated learning systems.