5 Predictions for Corporate Learning in 2017

12/07/2016 11:58 am ET Updated Dec 07, 2016

Reading about current trends isn’t enough to chart a course for success; you also need to have an eye toward the future. As you’re strategizing about new products, markets, campaigns, and so on, you should also think about ensuring your workforce is up to the task and where they’ll need to up-skill.

As we look into the crystal ball, here are some trends we expect to shape how companies deliver learning & development (L&D) to their teams in 2017.

Prediction #1: Learning & development will become a strategic business asset

For too long, learning & development has been viewed as an offshoot of the HR function, pushing out mandatory compliance training and ineffective, one-size-fits-all tutorials. 2017 will be the year more companies of all sizes wake up to the reality that learning and development programs can be true differentiators that deliver competitive advantage. Technology is changing the nature of just about every job out there, and smart companies have already recognized they can stay ahead of the curve with effective L&D programs to ensure their workers continue to have the right skill sets.

It will take a new kind of L&D leader to champion this new thinking around corporate learning and sell it up to the C-suite. Some companies will appoint chief learning officers for the first time while others will elevate this role to be more closely aligned with business needs. To be effective, the new breed of Chief Learning Officer (CLO) will need to demonstrate how L&D programs make a positive impact on the bottom line and where companies should invest.

Prediction #2: Organizations will finally value knowledge over completion

Employers have been complaining that college grads aren’t equipped with the right skills to be successful in the working world. They’ve realized that a diploma only signals completion of a four-year program, not how well grads understood what they supposedly studied.

Now, it’s dawning on employers that the same can be said of corporate training: it focuses on checking off a box, not measuring learning effectiveness. Given the importance of continuous skills development in the 21st-century workplace (see prediction #1), companies in 2017 will finally focus on metrics that assess whether an employee has actually learned and how they’re putting their new knowledge to use. Part of this will entail moving away from multi-day training sessions and voluminous coursework and toward bite-size, on-demand lessons that deliver information and skills workers can apply in the moment they’re needed.

Organizations will hold the CLO and L&D team accountable for fostering an effective learning environment and delivering outcomes that drive business results.

Prediction #3: Companies will give soft skills their due

Robots and technology won’t eliminate every job, but they’ll change many of them, and companies are recognizing it’s more important than ever to have the best human talent in areas that won’t be automated.

Hiring managers will stop scanning resumes for keywords that speak to hard skills and will, instead, be looking for professionals who know how to think critically, work effectively with others, make decisions, and adapt to changing business conditions without missing a beat.

One of the most desirable traits cited among employers is the ability (and willingness) to learn and stretch beyond a static job description. Companies benefit from having workers they can shift into different roles—the kind of workers who pursue learning to keep their hard skills current but also strive to maintain soft skills they can leverage in any position.

And workers benefit too. Having a so-called growth mindset will position professionals to thrive even as new digital tools are introduced and new skills are expected of them.

Prediction #4: The business world will get serious about VR

Virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) are still closer to the bleeding edge than the mainstream when it comes to business applications. These technologies are complex, expensive, and require specialized knowledge to build and implement. But VR and AR are moving out of the realm of hobbyists, and more companies are starting to pay attention.

For L&D, real-world application of VR is probably a few years off, but leaders will begin imagining how these technologies will enhance the corporate learning experience in new and exciting ways. For example, at some point (probably sooner than we expect), we’ll see immersive VR environments for training people in hands-on jobs like manufacturing and construction. Companies need to keep an eye on the VR space and be ready to act when the dust settles and the market chooses winners.

Prediction #5: Corporate learning will get personal

When workers first started using their smartphones for business purposes, IT departments freaked out. Citing security and operational concerns, companies tried to ban employees from using personal devices for work. Look around your office, and you’ll see how management clearly lost that battle.

Now, we’re seeing a similar phenomenon in L&D, with companies accepting they can’t force workers to consume training content when, where, and how management dictates. Millennials, now the largest generation in the U.S. workforce, want to engage with learning content the same way they consume any other content today: online, self-paced, video-based, interactive, and available on any device.

For L&D professionals, curation and personalization will be their bread and butter in 2017. The same training will no longer be assigned to entire teams. Instead, employees will control their own learning experiences, and L&D will serve as guides and facilitators. HR and managers will need to work harder to understand employees’ career goals and interests and collaborate with L&D to ensure people feel empowered to pursue learning that helps them reach their goals, not what the company demands.

Those are our learning & development predictions for 2017. Company leaders engage in their own prognosticating when they create their yearly plans, making educated assumptions about what they’ll be able to accomplish under current business conditions. At this time of the year, it’s also critical to factor in the resources and skills you’ll need to execute successfully against those goals. Effective L&D programs are foundational in preparing your workforce for next year’s big plans.

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