Turbulent market conditions, technological advances, employee expectations, dispersed and multi-generational teams… These complex factors are transforming what learning must deliver, and how.
Generic learning content will no longer suffice. Learning must create value, and offer compelling experiences, to deliver the skills businesses need today and tomorrow.
This was the context for our recent Future of Learning roundtable. Experts from KPMG and Microsoft, and learning leaders from across the public and private sector, came together to explore how to:
- produce content that meets current and future needs
- optimise hybrid learning environments
- delivering learning in the flow of work
- embed a learning culture
- measure and monitor the impact of learning
- harness the potential of artificial intelligence (AI)
1. Five pressing priorities
Louise Scott-Worrall, KPMG’s UK Head of Connected Learning, began by setting out five critical objectives for leaders in today’s complex, fast-changing climate:
1. Deliver personalised, relevant content
This is perhaps the biggest challenge learning leaders face. How do you tailor learning content and experiences to the individual roles, needs, interests and career aspirations of potentially thousands of employees?
The breakthrough large-language models (LLMs) that AI underpins could be a game-changer in this respect.
Solutions like Microsoft CoPilot unlock business value by connecting LLMs to customer business data, designed with security, compliance and privacy in mind.
They understand the organisational context and can help you to adapt your learning content accordingly.
2. Build a learning culture
Businesses must be places where people want to learn and are equipped with the technology to do so on their terms. Culturally, learning must be considered as important as delivering work, and staff must be encouraged to carve time out for it. This must be led from the very top. As one roundtable attendee put it: “Culture is something nobody owns; but you can set the tone.”
3. Unleash the benefits of hybrid learning
Hybrid working – and learning – are the post-pandemic reality we live in.
From a learning perspective, this has benefits and drawbacks. Data shows that virtual learning is as effective as face-to-face training – while of course being less expensive. And it’s more inclusive of disabilities, neurological conditions, and different personality types.
However, keeping people engaged in a virtual learning session can be challenging. Trainees can be too easily interrupted by messages from colleagues and dragged into their everyday work while they’re supposed to be focused on learning.
To overcome these hurdles, virtual learning platforms and experiences must be designed to ensure that people stay ‘in the moment’.
4. Embed learning into the flow of work
We all have learning moments every day – without necessarily recognising them as such.
In the same way, formal learning needs to be a seamless part of our everyday work. Bite-sized, digital content can be designed to continually provide knowledge, so that we’re constantly learning, refreshing our skills, and staying relevant.
5. Measure the business impact
Demonstrating the effect that learning is having on the business is a perennial struggle.
Tracking the number of people trained only measures the inputs. Trainees’ feedback scores tell us nothing about the outcomes. And calculating ROI doesn’t work, as there are too many variables involved. Little wonder, then, that many organisations have simply stopped trying.
The key to effective measurement is to aggregate learning and performance data sources. For example, by monitoring your salespeople’s figures in the weeks and months after they’ve been through sales training.
Diagnose, build, manage
Achieving these five imperatives – at scale – takes significant time, effort, and resource. That’s why many firms go into partnerships with managed learning service providers.
At KPMG, we take organisations through a three-step approach that’s proven to transform learning:
1. Diagnose and plan: Understand your current state, technology, and experiences – ideally using an assessment tool like KPMG’s maturity matrix (see diagram). Develop a strategy and plan aligned to your organisations ambitions that includes a clear vision for skills and learning and an effective governance model to ensure relevancy for learners.
2. Build the required capability: Build an effective learning function to deliver operational excellence and enable value creation. This would include an energised skilled team in a clear functional structure. Efficient processes and smart automation that enables data collection and insightful analytics and ensures an engaging consumer grade experience for learners.
3. Manage learning end to end: Monitor the impact over time, continuously iterating the content and experiences you provide along the way.
2. Transforming learning culture
Microsoft’s Chief Learning Officer Simon Lambert, and Employee Experience (EX) Specialist Ben Gibbs, shared their insights on what makes learning transformation effective.
In their view, the key is to establish the four cornerstones of a learning culture:
- Behaviours – the actions, patterns and employees are expected to adopt in their everyday work. For example, leaders recognising that they’re not always the most informed person in the room; and learning by listening to the collective, rather than always making unilateral decisions.
- Systems – the processes, tools and working practices that encourage the right behaviours. For example, ensuring that the performance management system evaluates and rewards actions such as helping others to learn, and applying what you’ve learned from colleagues.
- Symbols – the rituals and language that signal that the firm is committed to learning. For example, dedicated learning days to help staff access the skills needed to advance their careers.
- Storytelling – the methods used to tell the firm’s learning story, such as events, meetings, and internal communications. For example, platforms for celebrating successes that have resulted from learning – and failures that people have taken the time to learn from.
Simon identified six key success factors for organisations looking to embed these factors so as to create a culture of learning:
1. Make time and space for learning. This must be role-modelled at the top of the organisation if it’s to take hold throughout.
2. Motivate people to share. Learners are the best teachers. Getting employees to share knowledge they’ve gained fosters a virtuous circle of learning.
3. Encourage staff to give, request and receive feedback. Again, it’s important that this happens at senior level to set the example for everyone else. Plus, asking how employees feel about learning provides valuable insight to act on.
4. Recognise the outcomes. How have people applied what they’ve learned? What were the results? Have their shared their knowledge, and what that knowledge helped them achieve, with others? Are people – including leaders – comfortable admitting to failure, supported when they do, and learning from it?
5. Measure progress. Monitoring the impact of culture change means listening to your people. What do your employee surveys say about satisfaction levels? Are internal promotions on the increase? Are attrition rates slowing? And so on.
6. Transform the experience. Find the right balance between face-to-face and virtual learning. Understand where each one works best and optimise the environment and experience for each format. Explore how to tap into people’s work habits, and their experiences of consumer tech and social media.
3. AI and the future of learning
The discussion turned to the role AI can play in delivering learning that’s tailored to individuals, and relevant to the organisation’s current and future skills needs.
Learning content will always need to be regularly revisited and refreshed. That’s especially true in fast-moving sectors like technology, where accreditations must be frequently updated; or banking, where business models are undergoing a fundamental shift.
At the same time, employees want their learning experiences to reflect the personalisation that consumer technology provides. That might mean offering Amazon-style recommendations, based on courses they’ve accessed previously.
Keeping up with all these demands requires big data and sophisticated analytics – which is where AI comes in. AI has enormous potential to deliver customised learning in the flow of work.
AI-powered learning solutions can be trained using data on the workforce, structure, roles, recruitment, performance, and diversity. That instils an understanding of employees’ jobs, skills requirements, career objectives, behaviours, and preferences – and where applicable, disabilities and neurological conditions.
From there, they can rapidly generate suitable learning content and experiences. And they can enable these to be quickly updated as requirements change and adjusted to diverse needs.
The key word here, however, is ‘enable’. AI isn’t a silver bullet; it must be harnessed as an enabler of learning.
AI tools can very quickly deliver about 90% of what you need. But human input, oversight and governance will be necessary to train them on the organisational context; and check that their output is technically accurate, unaffected by bias, and in line with business
Traditionally, organisations’ approach to learning has been to focus on the delivery end of the process. But the future looks very different.
Designing training for tomorrow’s learners will mean considering the whole journey: from business objectives; to role and employee profiling, resources, and technology’ through to the actual content and experience. Then beyond that, to measuring the impact, and iterating and improving your offering based on what you find.
That will demand an optimal combination of the next-generation technology that companies such as Microsoft provide; and the human expertise that learning service providers like KPMG bring to the table.