Train to Retain: How Technology Can Deliver World Class Learning and Development for Your Business

Learning and development technology at work

As the skills gap continues to be challenging, developing comprehensive learning and development (L&D) programs are essential to retaining a highly skilled workforce.

As enterprises look towards their post-pandemic futures, how they support their workforces will be paramount. Having a culture of learning is also a commercial imperative. In their report, Leo Learning state: “No longer simply a nice-to-have or a do-it-when-we-have-time, L&D is increasingly seen as a business-critical function. In organisations willing to tap into the potential of learning, the rewards are being measured, in a fully online context, through hard evidence and seen in improved performance, sales, and staff retention.”

The delivery of skills and learning has also rapidly evolved. As mass remote working became the norm, the online delivery of training and education massively expanded. As workforces adapted to their new working environment, which included more flexibility, workers could see the advantages of using the online training resources available and how this could integrate with their unique flexible working day. Indeed, according to Kallidus, over half (53%) of workers see digital learning as essential to maintain the flexible working processes they want to keep.

And structured learning is essential: According to research from LinkedIn, an incredible 94% of employees would stay with their company that prioritises their career development.

Also, new research from Avado investigated office workers’ experiences with people teams. The report identified three critical areas of improvement, some of which were catalysts for what is currently known as the ‘Great Resignation’. These included: learning and development, fostering relationships between managers and employees, and encouraging positive work culture.

As one of the most cited reasons for resignation, the research demonstrated that a lack of learning and development opportunities has become common across the UK workforce. Research suggests that 16 to 24-year-olds are the most affected – 26% said they would resign due to the need to gain more future-oriented skills. Similarly, almost a quarter of those from ethnically diverse backgrounds attributed their intention to leave to a lack of development opportunities. As the two demographics with the highest proportion of intended resignations, the report finds a lack of learning and development opportunities as the primary catalyst.

Dean Corbett, chief people officer at Avado, said: “For those aged 16 to 24, the value of developing future-focused skills is evident, to the extent where a large portion of people in this demographic would consider leaving their role if upskilling in areas like data analysis wasn’t offered. As a people leader, it remains a priority to get young, diverse and moldable talent into the workforce. But as HR departments consider how to embed a learning culture within their organisation, they must account for all levels of the business, from interns to the C-suite. Learning is an invaluable tool for people and businesses alike.”

The new normal of learning

For businesses now managing remote mass working, workforces that want more flexibility in their working hours and demand changes to how their work/life balance is managed, are also driving how L&D is developed for them and how this training is delivered.

Speaking to Silicon UK, Alvaro Vives, Assistant Manager for the RIPE NCC’s Learning and Development department, outlined how the pandemic impacted their L&D programs: “At the RIPE NCC, we moved from holding mostly in-person training courses with a few webinars and limited e-learning content to offering all our training material as webinars and adding to our e-learning courses.”

Alvaro continued: “This meant that we had to put in a lot of work to adapt content to a webinar format and to fit everything into two-hour sessions as people get fed up online more quickly – but this also led us to focus on improving our processes such as project management, data processing and visualisation. At the same time, in-person training courses do offer more interaction than online courses, and that remains a challenge.”

Learning is also taking some of its cues from the advances made in CX (Customer Experience) and EX (Employee Experience), as L&D should not be just a deliverable service but a positive and valuable experience in its own right. In addition, the creation of learning experience platforms is taking shape.

And businesses are looking inward for the experts they may already have to impart their knowledge to their colleagues. For example, Deloitte found that companies with developed L&D initiatives and teams used 16% less instructor-led training than businesses that used traditional training methods.

“Traditionally, you have instructional designers that would create these polished courses to try to be engaging,” explained Marko Gargenta, former founder of Twitter University and now CEO of PlusPlus. “Unfortunately, the world is changing rapidly (especially the tech world). Companies are looking to empower their subject-matter experts (SMEs) to create less polished yet suitable content vs waiting for professional instructional designers to polish it off. The reality is that the polished content is likely out of date by the time it’s launched.”

Marko Gargenta, CEO of PlusPlus.
Marko Gargenta, CEO of PlusPlus.

An increase in the use of UCC (User-Generated Content) can supplement the formal training materials that workers have access to. Already we are seeing how asynchronous communication is being used as businesses continue to use virtual communications channels.

Here, a curated approach to learning is fast shaping how L&D is created for each employee, as paying attention to the needs of the individual with bespoke personalised courses and other education is rapidly becoming the norm. One respondent to the Leo Learning survey described their approach:

“We currently have a “Netflix model” of learning. There’s a lot of content, which is great, and it’s all searchable and organised into playlists. But the next step is to move to a “YouTube model” of learning, where anyone can upload content and we can knowledge-share at scale.”

This innovative approach supports how business structure and process have been irrevocably changed due to the pandemic. Being able to deliver these multi-faceted learning experiences at a distance is also critical to build into a program of L&D. However, PlusPlus’ Marko Gargenta, warns: “We’ve seen our customers – such as Salesforce, Netflix, LinkedIn and Airbnb – attempt to move much content to self-paced asynchronous learning only to see that they lost the human touch. And, in the work-from-home day and age, the human connection is more important than ever.”

New skills, new tech

LXPs (Learning Development Platforms) have been maturing over the last few years, fuelled by the rapid expansion of AI tools. And learning has become bite-sized with a clear trend towards shorter, more focused learning programs and modules that fit into employees’ new style working days.

A central question is how has the pandemic impacted the kind of L&D now being used by workers and the tools and channels used to deliver their training?

BT’s Leadership, Learning, Talent and Diversity Director, Wendy James, outline their company’s approach: “Modernising our IT practices has meant increasing our investment in upskilling employees to work with new technology. At BT, we have pivoted to more online learning through platforms, including Pluralsight, to provide employees with 24/7 access to on-demand programmes – some of which could even be taken during a 10-minute break.

Wendy James, Director, Leadership, Learning, Talent and Diversity.
Wendy James, Director, Leadership, Learning, Talent and Diversity.

“There has been a multitude of benefits to the kind of L&D we now use at BT – 92% of people reported that Pluralsight had had a positive impact on the quality of their work, and 75% responded favourably about opportunities to learn and develop. Our technologists hold a lot of pride in what they do, so learning impact measurement was vital for us to ensure engagement. At BT, we measure success through ROI, improving year on year. This year, we reached £6.9m in ROI measured through productivity and time gains.”

Wendy concluded: “Learning across hybrid working environments during the pandemic also meant that we had to generate a culture of continuous learning, which could be integrated into the flow of work and life. To deliver this type of tailored, flexible learning, we adopted a just-in-time learning model, which provides relevant upskilling that can be delivered immediately. Crucially, employees also need to be able to put their learning into practice through online sandboxes and labs – allowing them to develop and practice new skills in a safe, provisioned environment through hands-on tasks.”

Of course, Meta would have us believe that an immersive business environment that includes learning experiences delivered by the latest VR technology is here. Indeed, this technology is capable, but the business case for learning on a day-to-day basis is far from commonplace across the business community. Technologies like VR are one to watch, but HRs have more than capable tools that do not need a fully three-dimensional environment to feel immersive.

“The Metaverse can have interesting implications for L&D,” says Sarah Marshall, Learning and Development Programme Manager of emerging tech talent management consultancy, Grayce. “Where we are currently missing aspects such as ‘watercooler conversations’, the Metaverse could help promote virtual learning environments to simulate real-life experience and try out new concepts. Through an immersive experience, the Metaverse can help bring abstract training concepts to life and help support the development of learning in a safe environment.

Sarah Marshall, Learning and Development Programme Manager, Grayce.
Sarah Marshall, Learning and Development Programme Manager, Grayce.

“Also, the Metaverse could also be used as a platform to help address difficult ethical situations, particularly regarding Equality, Diversity and Inclusion. Promoting wellbeing and resilience is an essential part of today’s L&D, and the Metaverse could become a safe space to replicate scenarios and aid in initiatives that develop empathy, compassion and collaboration in the workplace.”

RIPE NCC’s Alvaro Vives concluded: “The actual learning delivery hasn’t changed much in the last few years, but expectations and perceptions of both trainers and learners, their motivation to learn and the topics they want to learn about have evolved. From a technological perspective, I see more of a constant evolution rather than a revolution of any kind. Maybe the Metaverse, AI and 5G, together with cheaper and more accessible technology will bring a real change – and perhaps now that big players like Meta are involved, it will finally happen.”

With Don Mowbray, EMEA Lead, Technology and Development at Skillsoft, also stated: “Smart leaders, whether their role is in IT or not, are staying abreast of the latest trends, ongoing certifications, languages, and more through carefully curated learning channels that combine video learning, hands-on practice labs, virtual mentoring, and leading certification courses.

“Learning by doing is the key factor here. Businesses are increasingly empowering their teams with virtual practice, where tech skills can be almost instantly applied in a safe virtual environment, and intensive Bootcamps, for immersive, live, instructor-led experiences. By experimenting with live applications, learners retain valuable skills — and deliver maximum value to their organisation.”

L&D has had been moving through a period of change pre-pandemic, but as workforces have shifted to what will be permanent flexible remote working, and as business processes continue to evolve, training and skills development will increasingly rely upon technology to deliver this personalised bespoke learning.

Silicon UK Head-to-Head

Aisling Miller is head of product, Training and Learning at EcoOnline, a leading provider of Environmental, Health, Safety and Quality (EHSQ) software.

Aisling Miller is head of product, Training and Learning at EcoOnline
Aisling Miller is head of product, Training and Learning at EcoOnline.

Aisling has a PhD in Environmental Microbiology and spent years working in science education and communication before moving into software product management. Her background in biological and chemical safety and interest in education have all combined to help her lead the strategy for developing meaningful Training & Learning solutions that help businesses improve Health & Safety outcomes in the workplace.

Aisling’s also a qualified International Coach in Olympic Target Shooting with knowledge of developing National Training Systems in sport.

 How was the pandemic impacted the kind of L&D now being used by workers and the tools and channels used to deliver their training?

 “Lots of people scurried away to work out how to get training to people when the people couldn’t get to training. While digital tools such as Learning Management Systems (LMS) have been around for a long time, many companies are only now getting up to speed with what’s available.

 “However, there’s a new generation of senior leadership emerging, who are very confident using and implementing online learning tools. They’ve used digital learning throughout their careers with things like Udemy and Coursera, and even before while at college or university with tools like Moodle.

 “As with many things, it’s a mixed picture; some organisations are less mature learning-wise in terms of digital delivery, so universal adoption of online will be a gradual process. That said, there will always be need for real-world training.” 

What are the core challenges facing HRs with the creation and delivery of L&D programs?

“Frequently, HR teams that manage L&D programmes aren’t the ones that identify the specific training needs for technical elements, and responsibility for this identification often falls to line managers, specialists or health and safety professionals. A key challenge is how to efficiently make that identification with all the stakeholders.

 “However, regardless of where training or competency gaps are spotted, it’s important that there’s a clear strategy in place. Why are people learning? Sometimes, there’s a risk of training for the sake of training rather than to improve competence.

 “Organisations have a range of learning requirements, which will vary depending on the business. This ranges from leadership and soft skills development to improving technical, role-based competencies and improving craft skills, or meeting certification requirements, particularly those that reduce risk.

 “Health and safety training has to be audited and robust records kept, as this training provision may have to stand up in court. Was the person trained to do it safely, are they competent, was this knowledge revisited to keep it topped up?”

“We all know that knowledge decays when it’s not used, HR’s need to ensure that there’s a strategy to keep expertise fresh.”

 What does today’s L&D tech stack look like?

“It starts with the identification of requirements. What tools do you use to identify training needs? If, for example, you’re doing digital learning, you’ll need an LMS, ideally with multiple enrolment options, even better if you have a competence system. It’s fantastic if this is all in one platform. There’s a large spectrum of tools available, but the most important thing is to be clear about the objectives.”

 “Then you need to consider the content you’ll be delivering. Ask yourself: what is the mix between e-lessons, hybrid learning, physical workshops, webinars? Will you licence this content or create your own? If you’re creating this yourself, what will you outsource to agencies? Do you have access to instructional designers? These are all crucial queries to ensure you’re delivering relevant content with value for the recipient.

 “The next step after training delivery focuses on competency management. L&D is useless if there’s no assessment or continual reviews. You may need a stand-alone testing product; also, perhaps people will need to do supervised exams. If they’re at home, how will this test happen, can you be sure that it’s supervised? There are providers which support this type of thing. You’ll also need to manage all the records, creating an audit trail of who’s done what, when, expiry dates for certificates and so on.”

Can you point to any particularly innovative L&D technologies for platforms being used by businesses to deliver L&D?

“High-risk industries, such as aviation, marine, oil and gas exploration are already using VR where on-site training can’t happen. You don’t start training someone to fix oil rigs by bringing them out in a submarine! Increasingly, VR headsets are part of the training toolkit.

 “With VR, it’s best to be pragmatic outside these specific aspects. Remember it needs to be relevant to achieving your objectives. Ask yourself, does this add something to the situation? Often it actually adds little to the process apart from wow factor, so it’s always worth interrogating if the VR route increase or improves outcomes? If it doesn’t, is this expenditure worth it? Don’t forget, many people suffer from extreme motion sickness with VR, they would have to be provided with an alternative route for learning. Some other options are being used, such as Google Cardboard for basic, affordable VR, making it more scalable and cost-effective.

 “While AR for learning is still largely novel, there’s a move towards using it in on-the-job training and support. One approach is using a heads-up display as part of smart glasses or a smart helmet, enabling people see helpful information like instructions on maintaining or using machinery. The cameras on them also allow an instructor to see what the worker sees, and they can remotely coach them through tasks. This again is being used in high-risk industries where it’s not safe, it’s at height, or you can’t use your hands to take out a manual.

 “Gamification has received a lot of noise, however it’s got to be handled with care. Some jobs have compulsory training needs or requirements. If this is the case, then a high degree of gamification isn’t appropriate. However, you can introduce elements to make it more enjoyable, for example when a task is completed having an affirmation statement “Well done!” can be helpful. Yet points for logging in that type of thing is often unhelpful. People just want to get their compulsory training over and done, with the shortest route to completion.” 

 How will the Metaverse potentially transform L&D?

“Within a business context, the likelihood of benefitting from a general metaverse for required training is pretty low. However, there are areas of professional learning that could benefit from interacting with and learning from experts in other parts of the world, such as medical training. However, outside the workplace, the Metaverse already allows greater access to knowledge. A perfect example is The Uncensored Library built in Minecraft as a way to help people avoid press censorship under restrictive regimes.”

 What kind of technical skills are businesses teaching their workers via their L&D programs?

“We see a blend between digital tools and real-world practical training to establish technical skills. Digital learning provides extra tools to help people learn in ways that are easier to consume. There’s something fundamental to say about ‘trained v qualified v competent’. Do you care if someone is trained to do the work, qualified to do the work, or competent to do the work?

 “In the context of driving, do you feel safer in the car with someone who has done their 12 compulsory driving lessons (trained), or passed their driving test (qualified), or has driven 100,000km (experienced)? Would it matter if you knew they had ten collisions in that 100km where they were at fault (safety record)?

Building and maintaining competence in your workforce can be a challenging task, but it’s generally a combination of training, assessments, qualifications and experience.”