Towards Maturity: L&D needs to play digital catch-up

As technology dominates our lives as consumers, how far have learning and development teams come in making the most of it to deliver learning outcomes? Roisin Woolnough reports on the latest benchmarking report from Towards Maturity.

HR is still talking about achieving an agile learning culture but isn't achieving it, according to the latest benchmarking report from Towards Maturity.

"HR has the vision but we are still not working smart," says Laura Overton, founder and managing director at Towards Maturity. "There are pockets of excellence that are storming ahead but most of us are sticking to what we know."

The report, called 'L&D: where are we now?' is the first of two Towards Maturity reports highlighting the 2017-18 benchmarking findings.

This is a longitudinal study focusing on the current state of L&D, surveying over 700 L&D leaders from 53 countries, with 56% of participants being from the UK.

The second report, due out in January 2018, will take a more forward-looking approach. Building on the findings set out in the first report, it will outline how L&D needs to transform to meet current and future needs.

Letting go of past behaviours

One of the main messages in the second report, according to Overton, is that L&D has to do things differently, even when that means letting go of policies and behaviours that yielded success in the past.

"Past success can be a barrier to future success," she says. "When we stick with what we know, it holds us back from the future."

For example, the November report shows that face-to-face learning still dominates, accounting for 55% of all formal training.

L&D knows that face-to-face learning has had its heyday, but it has been slow to properly embrace learning technologies.

The report indicates that e-learning is making inroads, however. Just under a third (32%) of formal learning is now supported by technology to some extent.

Compliance training is an area that makes very good use of technology - 73% of organisations use technology for formal compliance-related or mandatory training.

Soft skills and technology

There is less take-up of learning technologies with regards to soft skills learning programmes.

The report found that 47% of communication skills are e-enabled with learning technologies, 43% of teamworking skills, 36% of problem solving skills and 32% of innovation and creativity skills.

However, the figures also show that take-up has increased rapidly since 2016, with big increases in using e-learning technologies for leadership and management skills (28%), problem solving (26%), communication and collaboration (22%) and team working (21%).

Blended learning is taking root, with 23% of organisations offering a blend of face-to-face and online learning and 78% planning to increase this over the next two years.

A fractionally smaller number (22%) are offering all of their formal learning just online, with 72% planning to increase this over the next two years.

However, as Towards Maturity's past and current research shows, L&D is very good at aspiring to the future and recognising what needs to happen. It is less good at turning those aspirations into a reality.

Delivering real results

"Why aren't things changing?" asks Overton. "It could be down to skills, the skills that are essential for L&D teams. These are things like stakeholder engagement, technology skills, developing content, performance consulting, collaboration, data analytics…"

What the Towards Maturity research shows is that a high proportion of L&D people acknowledge that these skills are a high priority (and they said the same thing in last year's benchmarking report) but there is very little actual movement towards developing them.

Nine out of 10 organisations participating in the research recognised the need for skills such as the ones Overton mentioned, but only 30% have audited their L&D staff against the required skills set.

What are the top L&D skills that organisations have now?

  • classroom/face-to-face learning (85%)
  • learning management (73%)
  • coaching and mentoring (63%)
  • teaching and assessment (62%)
  • project management (58%)

And what top L&D skills do organisations want to develop now?

  •  facilitating collaboration (75%)
  • data analytics (70%)
  • digital content development (66%)
  • webinar delivery (65%)
  • technology/infrastructure (60%)

Digital budgets

Despite the recognition that learning technologies are very important, only 22% of organisational training budgets are being spent on learning technologies.

There is an average spend of £681 per employee on overall training. Over two-thirds of organisations (69%) expect to increase their spending on technology in the next two years.

However, Towards Maturity reminds us that a substantial number have anticipated an increased spend on technology in each of the last five reports, but that spending has actually remained static.

The top technologies being used today are:

  • e-learning (89%)
  • learning management systems (89%)
  • live online learning (89%)
  • communication tools (79%)
  • surveys (78%)
  • mobile devices (74%)
  • internal/enterprise-wide information services (73%)
  • job aids (70%)
  • video (70%)
  • online assessment (68%)

The report demonstrates that mobile learning is yet to take off. Although mobile devices are the sixth most used technology (74%), the reality is that only 16% of organisations using mobile devices are using apps that specifically support performance at the point of need.

Fear factor

Why is the implementation of new technologies so slow? Overton says L&D blames outside factors, with the cost of set-up, development and maintenance cited as the number one barrier by 66% of respondents.

This was followed by employees lacking the skills to manage their own learning (65%), a reluctance on the part of line managers to encourage new ways of learning (58%) and a lack of skills among L&D staff to implement and then manage technology-enabled learning (53%).

Overton thinks fear is a strong contributory factor. "We are playing it safe. There's a fear of failure and of not knowing if it will work so people are sticking with the tools that they know."

This is despite the fact that the Towards Maturity Benchmark Index shows that when L&D and organisations are prepared to do things differently, they reap the benefits.

Overton says the benefits reported by the top performing 10% of participating organisations show that investing in skills and pursuing an agile learning culture yields strong benefits.

"The number of benefits that the top 10% are achieving is considerably higher and the number of barriers reported go down." Clearly, the rest of L&D needs to catch up.