Optimistic Outlook: What’s Ahead for Learning and Development in 2019

Historically, organizational learning and development has been regarded as a cost center—all take and no ROI—and has been first in line when budgets need to be cut. In recent years, however, attitudes have changed. Business leaders are starting to grasp L&D’s immense value to organizational and individual success.

Consider the results of a recent survey by Chief Learning Officer magazine: 65 percent of chief learning officers (CLOs) say their outlook for L&D in 2019 is more optimistic than it was for 2018. In last year’s survey, 59 percent of CLOs reported feeling more optimistic about the year ahead.

Optimism is always a welcome sentiment, and it’s even more powerful when it’s accompanied by increased budgets. According to Gartner estimates, global IT spending will increase by 3.2 percent this year.

How might this L&D optimism play out in 2019? Here are three possibilities:

INCREASED QUALITY AND AVAILABILITY. Quality is a subjective term, but regarding how employees view learning quality, the definition is clear—it means learning that’s personalized, available anywhere and at any time, short and to the point, and relevant to their job. Above all, it’s learning that provides them with the skills they need, when they need them, to achieve and exceed organizational goals.

LinkedIn’s 2018 Workplace Learning Report shows that “not enough time” is the number one L&D issue for both business leaders and employees. Among employee learning preferences, according to the report:

• 68 percent of employees prefer to learn at work
• 58 percent want to learn at their own pace
• 49 percent prefer to learn at the point of need
• 94 percent of employees would stay at a company longer if it invested in their career

CLOSER ALIGNMENT WITH BUSINESS OBJECTIVES. In countless studies, researchers have found that learning is most effective when people know what kind of training is available to them, how they can access it, why they should sign up for a particular course, and, perhaps most importantly, how they can use what they’ve learned to be more efficient, productive and innovative in their jobs. “Learning for learning’s sake” isn’t enough to sustain today’s digital workforce.

Responses to the Chief Learning Officer survey support those findings—86 percent of learning leaders say they expect L&D to be more aligned with company business objectives in 2019.

INTEGRATION WITH OTHER TALENT MANAGEMENT FUNCTIONS. In digital business, nothing is static—career paths are not always linear, organizational goals shift often, and technology changes frequently. Organizations today need to be able to easily identify skills gaps and quickly close them—whether it’s through hiring and onboarding new employees or upskilling existing ones.

Organizations cannot expect employees to figure out what they need to know and where to learn it. By integrating L&D with talent management, for example, organizations can use artificial intelligence and data analysis to identify the skills needed for open positions, as well as capabilities existing employees need for advancement. In the CLO survey, 65 percent of respondents say they believe learning will be better integrated with other talent management functions in the coming year.

Corporate L&D was a bit late to the digital transformation game, but organizations have been working hard to catch up. Systems that have been in place for years are radically changing in a short span of time. Learning leaders are optimistic and have been experimenting with new approaches, tweaking the tried-and-true ones, and implementing technologies like artificial intelligence and machine learning. L&D has a long way to go, but science tells us optimism is contagious. Let’s hope 2019 delivers an outbreak.

Image: Jen Sweeney

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