The Challenges of Delivering Learning in Volatile Times

Did you know that company life spans are shrinking? I came across a study the other day showing that large corporations have a one-in-three chance of going out of business in the next five years. Why are so many companies not making it into middle, let alone, old age? There are all sorts of reasons, of course, but a common thread seems to be failure to adapt to an increasingly volatile and unpredictable business world. Ensuring that your employees are learning the skills needed to be successful in volatility is essential to the survival of the business.

Leveraging learning technologies to respond to change

Volatility is disrupting business models and operations. It is also challenging companies to find new ways of training and developing their employees. The need to respond to rapid change is driving a trend for shorter, more accessible training, facilitated by new learning technologies. What’s known as “micro-learning” is often delivered via mobile devices, allowing employees to consume bite-sized content whenever they have a spare minute or two and wherever they happen to be.

IT and telecoms companies are among those that have benefited from leveraging technology to deliver learning. Faced with acute talent shortages and the need to extend learning to remote workers, companies in this sector were early adopters of mobile learning technologies. Benchmarking data from Towards Maturity shows that their use of these technologies has paid off, resulting in improved productivity, knowledge sharing and employee satisfaction.

Across all sectors, learning technologies are also helping to engage employees, both by encouraging informal social learning and making it easier to tailor learning to individuals’ needs and interests.

Overcoming the barriers

All of this should be good news for L&D professionals, who now have the chance to make a real contribution to business success by developing new approaches to learning. But the reality is that many lack the capabilities to seize this opportunity. One influential study found that just 35% of L&D staff have the skills for online training delivery, and a mere 20% for facilitating social and collaborative learning.

Many L&D teams also lack the agility to respond quickly to changing business needs. Tactics adopted by the most agile teams include using the latest software tools to identity skills gaps and performance needs. An efficient training administration system is another must for companies looking to roll out training when it will have the most impact, and deliver a consistent learning experience to a widely dispersed employee base. The best systems provide planning and tracking capabilities, as well as more basic functions, such as scheduling and session management.

Teaming up with the experts 

To achieve the necessary level of agility, many companies team up with external learning and development specialists. But multiple partners can present multiple problems, as the pharmaceutical industry has found to its cost. Research by Raytheon Professional Services shows that vendor management is a key concern for some of the industry’s global players.

Mergers and acquisitions have left these companies with large numbers of L&D partners, leading to duplication of effort and repetition of spend. So increasingly they are looking to replace all these suppliers with a single external partner able to operate across the organisation, understand the business and select the right learning solutions. This maximises efficiency and reduces cost. It could even contribute to these companies’ long-term survival in a volatile and uncertain world.


“Die Another Day: What Leaders Can Do About the Shrinking Life Expectancy of Corporations”, by Martin Reeves and Lisanne Pueschel, BCG, July 2015

Towards Maturity: 2015 Sector Benchmark Report: IT & Telecoms

Towards Maturity, supported by the CIPD: Preparing for the Future of Learning 2016: A Changing perspective for L&D leaders