Earlier this month, I had the opportunity to step outside my typical role of user researcher and act as a participant during a user interview. During the session, I was fortunate enough to speak with Taylor Blake, CPO of LearnIn. If you’re not aware of LearnIn, you should be!  It was recently founded by popular learning platform Degreed co-founders, David Blake and Eric Sharp. Their mission is to transform corporate learning by creating the first skilling-up-as-a-service platform.

During the interview, Taylor asked me to explain why corporate learning programs fail. In the moment, my brain went HAYWIRE! There were too many reasons to list. After the session, I took some time to craft a consolidated list of themes and trends I’ve heard from fellow practitioners and during hundreds of interviews with corporate learners and leaders over the past 10 years. The themes outlined below are focused on parts of the learning experience lifecycle. It includes everything from learning strategy, in-course program experience to post-course experience.

I know that these topics may stir the pot for many. I also do not claim to have all of the solutions for the opportunities outlined. Rather, it is my deep belief that in order to collectively improve the current state of corporate learning experiences, we must become first express an awareness of where we currently are.

Whether you’re in curriculum design, sales, marketing, or product for a corporate learning program; these themes should resonate deeply with you.

LEARNING STRATEGY

Learning is not aligned with the rest of the business: Each company’s DNA and organizational structure is different. Because of this, the learning and development function can have many homes within a company. In a service/centralized models, this means learning being driven by HR, in embedded models, it might be driven by a manager in a business unit, or in hybrid models; it might be a mix of both. When following the centralized approach; learning leaders can often have the feeling of being disconnected from the rest of the business and performance problems taking place.

Learning programs not being outcome driven: This was a theme that frequently appeared in interviews with business leaders during my time at Pluralsight and now at edX. By our very nature, learning practitioners have our own unique career and learning journeys that have led us to where we are today. Some have formal training in L&D and others may not. This can lead to difficulties in having strategic conversations about learning outcomes with stakeholders inside of our organizations.

Difficulty in proving ROI/ learning outcomes: Due to Learning Practitioners not identifying ROI/Learning outcomes at the outset of creating learning programs, they’re unable to measure success after the fact. Many learning orgs will use ADDIE model when designing learning programs and the Kirkpatrick model when evaluating the success of learning programs. However, in many conversations with learning practitioners; I simply hear metrics around engagement and attendance being mentioned as success indicators.

Learning programs are often seen as an HR benefit: Learning inside corporate organizations is typically positioned in a few ways: 1) an HR benefit 2) a tool used to drive a culture of learning 3) a tool that enables learners to develop their skills and drive performance. When the company positions only around point 1, it usually leads to failure of adoption by learners themselves. 

Learning being used as the incorrect solution to solve a performance problem: Learning can be used to solve performance problems that include knowledge or skills gaps. All other performance problems such as data, tools, incentives, capacity, and motivation must be solved using other solutions. Check out Gilbert’s Behavioral Engineering Model for more information.

COURSE + PROGRAM DESIGN

Learning programs are not created with an understanding of the core audience or the performance problem occurring: Learning practitioners inside of organizations often requests to create training with little to no additional context. It might come phrased as “We need training about XYZ”. This combined with limited time and support can cause practitioners to be reactive and fulfill requests rather than diving into the deeper performance problems occurring.

Learning is not designed for how people learn: This means not including the most up to date practices for andragogy, how adults learn.

IN-COURSE/PROGRAM EXPERIENCE

Lack of support and enablement for learners: This includes everything from mentoring, coaching and support of employees before, during, and after learning programs. As well as providing in the moment personalized feedback/support.

Insufficient search and discovery experience for learning content: This was a major opportunity area during my time at Pluralsight and has been a theme in my current role. Learners and organizations need a way to search and discover content from large catalogs of content (thousands of courses) to meet their needs. 

Ability to adapt content to meet learner and organizations needs: Once organizations and learners identify content that meet their needs, they want it personalized in some way. This was a key theme during my time working at data products at Pluralsight.

Content not relevant to meet learner, company, and market demands: This includes content not fitting into the wider landscape of skills and roles needed in the industry, organization, and role. This impacts learners ability to discover content, decision to engage, and ability to apply what they’ve learned.

Content not up to date: Due to the pace of digital transformation, especially with technology content; it is almost impossible to keep hundreds or thousands of courses up to date and relevant.

Finally, there are a number of external factors that can influence a learners ability to continue in a course or program once enrolled including factors such as: time, money, life events, and motivation.

POST COURSE/PROGRAM EXPERIENCE

Not support after program completion: Oftentimes there can be no further communication, resources, or support once learners complete a course or program. This can lead learners to feeling on their own and unable to apply what they learned when back on the job.

Do you have any thoughts on why corporate learning programs fail? Post them in the comments below.

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