Mark Twain once famously wrote that "the difference between the
almost right word and the right word is the difference between
the lightning bug and the lightning." In some ways, the issues and
challenges facing the workplace learning and performance profession
seem to have multiplied to lightning status - they are much bigger
than imagined a generation ago.
"Organizations must expand the scope and purpose of the learning
function to focus first and foremost on developing deep expertise
within the company, as well as improving the organization's ability
to adapt in the face of constant change," suggests a report from
Bersin & Associates. According to High-Impact Learning
Practices, "These goals are over and above its operational and
tactical responsibilities. Training departments cannot simply exist
to solve human performance problems, nor are they often the best
source of such solutions. The internal currency of today's
companies is knowledge; the mandate of the modern learning
organization must be to stand as a center of excellence for the
creation, acquisition, and flow of knowledge in all its forms."
Since 2002, Bersin & Associates has studied the best practices
in the organization, management, and governance of corporate
learning and development. High on the list of concerns for chief
learning officers in 2009 are the concepts, myths, and realities of
informal learning, according to Josh Bersin, president of Bersin
& Associates. "We have reached the stage in the evolution of
training that the concepts of informal learning - three types:
on-demand, social and imbedded - are really mainstream," says
The report "attempts to paint a picture of a specific kind of
high-impact learning organization - one that has evolved to better
meet the challenges of today's changing business world. The
applicable measures and dimensions are the same. What is different,
however, is a shifting perspective on the role of the learning
function, a dedicated focus on the use of certain forward-looking
practices over other more traditional ones, and an associated
rearrangement of priorities and resources."
Most CLOs realize they have to change the way they are thinking
about the problem of training people. "Many people will say - and
this is nothing new - that we have always needed to look at the
impact and the delivery, but it has now become even more serious,"
says Bersin. "Many of the tools developed over the past 10 years,
such as e-learning, are now falling into something that is not
quite obsolescence, but they are considered to be not nearly as
useful as we once thought they were going to be."
One major change, Bersin suggests, is how "trivially easy" it has
become - either through technology or practice - to develop
content. "The challenge now is to quickly develop, produce, and put
context around your content," he says. "I hear constantly that this
is a critical issue.
"How then do I apply these approaches to very well-known problems?
How do I apply that to leadership development, or sales training,
manufacturing excellence programs, or a skills certification
Bersin adds: "I think we are going through a revolution in
corporate training. We get to go back and look at everything we
have been doing with a new approach."
LMS Issues Grow
Also frustrating for CLOs is the learning management system issue. "No one is happy with their LMS," says Bersin. "For the most part, they feel the LMS has become something like legacy mainframes. The systems don't participate very well in the world of informal learning or social learning. And there isn't a lot they can do about it. The LMS vendors haven't figured out a solution or been able to build the next generation of LMSs yet. So the CLOs are quite frustrated."
The current wave of improvements in the field are often free
applications that sit in front of, or adjacent to, the LMS. "The
LMSs are still doing their work. They are scheduling classes and
handling certifications," says Bersin, but not much else.
Lastly, Bersin asserts that CLOs who have been in the field for
quite a while are beginning to have doubts about the ADDIE
instructional design model. "They are wondering if that model still
works," he says. "A lot of companies are looking for a new model.
It's like the LMS issue: the other model is not dead, but it hasn't
adapted to what the problems look like today. The issue in
developing training now is one of understanding the role and all of
the information needs of the learner."
Subtle and Informal
The modern high-impact learning organization recognizes that most
learning takes place in subtle and informal ways, according to the
report. "The content, technology, and formal design processes
currently in use do not always fit into the knowledge pathways that
take place in the organization itself. So, in response, modern
learning organizations are rethinking their perspectives,
processes, and approach to best support the natural flow of
"Corporate learning is entering a new era - one of social,
collaborative, and talent-driven learning. Today's workers still
need formal training that is built around specific problems and
talent needs; however, they also need the availability of a
'learning environment' in which they can find information,
collaborate, and build their own learning plans. The learning
organization must go beyond the disciplines of building content for
use online - it must provide context and pathways through which
people can learn. We must help the organization to be both better
learners and better creators of learning."