Traditionally, learning and development efforts were geared toward compliance and work preparedness. Though this is still true, there are increasingly new expectations placed on learning and development (L&D) teams. We want to see L&D initiatives incorporated into agile working environments, not as separate events. We want L&D functions that can respond to many spontaneous training needs due to significant restructuring of the organisation’s work processes, which impacts the capabilities required from employees (Schultz, 2021). Hybrid workplaces alter the learning landscape by posing new difficulties for learning and development (Baragwanath, n.d.). With employees now enjoying flexibility and autonomy, what does this mean for the future of L&D?
It is more important than ever to develop an all-encompassing strategy to ensure training outcomes are successfully met and employee satisfaction achieved (Dominguez, 2022). Although organisations may view this new landscape as daunting, it is a very exciting time if you see L&D as a multidisciplinary landscape to innovate and transform.
In a hybrid world of work, implementing an L&D strategy is reliant on whether the organisation embodies an organisational culture of continuous learning, with an L&D framework that can stimulate team learning and measure outcomes against business objectives (Nugent, 2022). A hybrid structure necessitates new material as well as more fluid and flexible training delivery choices (Paul, 2021). Below are some vital indicators of how the L&D landscape is changing and some useful guidelines for organisations that wish to cultivate a learning culture within their organisation to support the future of learning and development.
1.Learning and development must be embedded in the organisational culture
To achieve a continuous learning culture, there has to be an alignment between the organisation’s strategy, talent management, and learning agenda. Learning and development must be embedded in the organisation’s strategy to ensure that it is not seen as a segmented function in the business. To achieve this, it is important that the L&D function is accepted as a multidisciplinary function that holds various key stakeholders accountable for the technology, strategy, processes and people (Nobels & Baele, 2022).
2.Flexibility and digitalisation
L&D in a hybrid work environment requires flexibility. As organisations have embraced blended ways of work, so too will they have to accept a blended approach to learning and development. Hybrid training may comprise participants attending physically and some virtually. It may also include different methods such as live and pre-recorded sessions. It is important that the right technologies are in place to aid the learning of all employees, whether in person or virtual. These technologies provide a great opportunity for organisations to use the data gathered to draw insights around engagement (Dominguez, 2022).
Hybrid learning and development initiatives alleviate the stress of logistical issues as well as venue and travel cost. However, there is a cost that must be considered which is the absence of human interaction. The opportunity to collaborate and learn from co-workers as you solve problems together is key to experiencing the organisational culture (Nugent, 2022). Therefore, engagement needs to be at the forefront during the learning journey. It is important that L&D stakeholders design and implement content and learning activities that are adaptable to both in-person and virtual students. Employee engagement can be supported through check-ins and check-outs, quizzes on certain touchpoints, and monitoring energy levels (Dominguez, 2022).
4.Training must be fit for the purpose
Organisations must remember that the way training is delivered is of utmost importance. Although we can acknowledge that the skills gap is still considered a pressing matter, learning and development must consider that the workforce has a limited amount of time to devote to learning. L&D must make learning more accessible and prioritise certain learning interventions over others. L&D must consider how learning can be integrated into work to ensure that the workforce and business can grow as much as possible amidst limited time and hybrid ways of working. L&D must no longer be seen as transactional but rather transformational and fit for business purposes. This can be achieved by balancing initiatives steered by the organisation and training endeavors that benefit individual employees in a personal and professional capacity (Nobels & Baele, 2022)
5.Learning and development as a strategic partner in the organisation
Historically, departments such as L&D, human resources, and legal were viewed as support functions. As a result, they are perceived to be cost departments as opposed to profit centers (Hawkins, 2015). L&D is often one of the support functions in a business where it may be difficult to measure its direct impact on business performance. Well-developed L&D strategies include key performance indicators to assess progress toward preset learning and development target goals. It is important that KPIs demonstrate how learning and development strategy contributes to business performance (Nobels & Baele, 2022). L&D must be aligned to the rest of the business systems and processes that serve and enable the organisation’s strategy (Hawkins, 2015).
Key things that organisations can remember regarding the future of L&D:
- Learning should be felt and not necessarily seen.
- People engage with learning if their leaders engage with learning.
- Learning and development content should be concise and impactful.
- Key stakeholders in the learning and development function must be concerned with obtaining answers to the following questions: Is this L&D initiative fit for purpose? Is it combating the challenges learners are facing? Does it add value?
L&D plays a critical role in the organisation and there is no doubt that this function will continue to face challenges in the present and future. The future of learning and development will depend on whether organisations can build a culture of continuous learning. This will require a considerable amount of transformation. With the notion of upskilling and reskilling, organisations must now consider learning as part of their business strategy and not merely a retention tool.
University of the Western Cape