The Future Of Learning And Development: It's Learning's Turn

The Future Of Learning And Development: It's Learning's Turn
Summary: For too long, Learning and Development has been overlooked as a key partner because we lacked tools to show our impact. Just as marketing has shifted from an unquantifiable spend to an analytics-driven spend, for the future of Learning and Development to be bright corporate training needs to rise from a compliance-driven cost center and transform into a strategic imperative.

What Is The Future Of Learning And Development?

Discussing the future of Learning and Development (L&D), let’s face it: Validating training programs is difficult; especially since most learning happens outside formal training programs and Learning Management Systems. In fact, 86% of organizations say they don’t have the data they need to even get started when it comes to tracking informal learning (e.g., internet searches, mobile apps, and social interactions).*

These organizations aren’t getting the whole picture when it comes to their Learning and Development (L&D) and, as a result, have difficulty connecting learning to overall business impact. Needless to say, it’s time for a change. It’s time for learning to step up its game. And it’s time for Learning and Development professionals to take a seat at the executive leadership table.

Gaining Insight

We live in a knowledge-based economy, where talent is a company’s most precious asset. And if Learning and Development is responsible for improving the performance (i.e. the value) of that asset, how can we expect to get by without being able to make data-driven decisions? How can we make progress and show our impact without being able to quantify our results?

It’s not easy, right?

There’s good news, though. Technology continues to evolve and is providing unprecedented opportunities to track learning programs – which means we’re starting to get the insights that not only show, but also prove our impact.

Learning From Experience

Let’s look at the transition marketing has gone through during the last 20 years. Marketing campaigns were once often described as “spray and pray” because marketers had no real way to track and measure their efforts, which also meant they couldn’t show any impacts from their hard work. As a result, executives didn’t embrace marketing and they rarely took it seriously. Rather, they tolerated marketing because it was perceived a necessary part of business. In other words, marketing didn’t have a seat at the table.

Any of this sound familiar when it comes to your Learning and Development program?

Bridging The Data Divide

Marketing’s transition began with the emergence of new channels and resources that enabled marketers to not only reach more consumers, but also reach the right consumers. And comprehensive automation tools provided resources for social media marketing, content management, website analytics, and search engine optimization – all in one place.

These tools have opened up paradigm-changing avenues that continue to provide vast amounts of data that can be collected, analyzed, and optimized for maximum impact. And now, marketers truly understand which programs are effective for attracting new leads and converting sales.

Today, marketing is perceived in a whole new light. It drives organizational strategy and alignment. Entire companies are built around specialized marketing strategies, such as segmentation tactics and microtargeting. Marketers are using A/B experiments for continuous optimization, inbound marketing is a science unto itself, and reports show ROIs for every dollar spent on marketing.

Simply put, marketing has earned a seat at the table.

Breaking Barriers

The same trends that enabled marketing’s transition are now taking shape in the Learning and Development space. There’s been an explosion in new learning tools during the past few years, for both the consumer and the enterprise. Between MOOCs, games, simulations, social tools, bite-sized learning, and a host of other resources, we’re seeing a rate of innovation far greater than anything I’ve witnessed during my 17 years in this industry.

Furthermore, the challenge of gaining access to data is rapidly disappearing with the emergence of Tin Can/xAPI – the next de facto industry standard that makes data from all of these learning tools available in an easy-to-consume, interoperable format. And thanks to xAPI, learning analytics platforms are helping us efficiently aggregate and analyze extensive amounts of data from all of our training and learning programs.

We now have the data and information we need to understand learner behaviors and performance, which helps us gain the insights we need to validate the effectiveness of training programs. It also gives us the ability to prove the worth of our programs and their impact on business.

This is a really big deal, and the future of Learning and Development is indeed bright. We’re on the cusp of a big new wave of innovation and disruption in corporate Learning and Development. It’s time for us to take a seat at the table and help build up our most strategic assets!

NOTE: In addition to thanking my friends at Tribridge, who inspired my article, I’d like to invite anyone interested in discussing the future of Learning and Development and related technology to email me at [email protected] or tweet me at @mike_rustici.

* Sources: High-Impact Learning Measurement Study, Bersin by Deloitte, 2014

About the Author

As an innovative software developer turned entrepreneur, Mike Rustici has been defining the eLearning industry for nearly 20 years. After co-founding Rustici Software in 2002, Mike helped guide the first draft of the Tin Can API (xAPI) and invented the concept of a Learning Record Store (LRS) - revolutionizing the Learning and Development world. In 2013, he delivered on the promise of Tin Can with the creation of Watershed, the flagship LRS that bridges the gap between training and performance.

When Rustici Software was acquired by Learning Technologies Group (LTG) in 2016, Mike became the CEO of Watershed, where he continues to be an expert in the area of eLearning conformance as well as Learning and Development analytics. He’s also presented on a variety of topics, ranging from disruptive technology and performance improvement to company culture and business innovation.

Mike Rustici is the Keynote Speaker at LEARNTech Asia 2016, which will be held in Singapore at the Marina Bay Sands (16-18 November 2016). The topics he will be speaking on are: “The New Learning Ecosystem: Meeting Learners Where They Are” (Keynote); “Three Requirements of Best-In-Class Learning Departments” (Breakout Session; and “Seven Steps to Effectively Evaluate Learning Programs” (Workshop). For more information on the conference, please visit