2014 global human capital trends

Corporate learning redefined

Prepare for a revolution

March 7, 2014

It’s a new age for learning and development. Online content, MOOCs, collaboration tools, and social media now fuel a training model where employees own their skills and experts share knowledge freely.

Back in 1999, Cisco CEO John Chambers predicted that the Internet would transform education so completely it would “make email usage look like a rounding error.”1 While it took nearly 15 years, that day has finally arrived.

The explosive growth of online learning—from the pioneering Khan Academy and edX to Coursera and dozens of MOOCs (massive open online courses)—is democratizing education for millions by putting learners at the center of the education process.2 We estimate that more than 24 million people have tried online education, and most young employees today come to work ready and excited to build their job skills through online learning.

Yet, at a time when employees should be able to access training as easily as a YouTube video, most training and development organizations have not kept pace with advances in technology or the evolution toward employee-centered learning.

As figure 1 indicates, more than two-thirds (71 percent) of executives believe their companies are “weak” when it comes to using advanced media. Slightly more than six in ten say they are also “weak” in providing mobile and social learning (63 percent) and using MOOCs as development tools (67 percent).


The need to rationalize learning and development spending

Traditional employee training represents a $130 billion global market.3 While most organizations spend millions of dollars on training today, most are not sure exactly where this massive investment is spent or what results, if any, it delivers.

One of the biggest problems is the uncoordinated structure of learning and development itself. Our research and conversations with clients show a surprising lack of discipline and structure within the training function at many companies. Only 49 percent of organizations have a senior leader running the training function and fewer than 45 percent have a written business plan for learning.4

With little leadership or planning, it is not surprising that most companies see a lot of waste and redundancies. One chief learning officer told us the company had 7,000 courses listed in its training catalog and nearly 60 percent were duplicative. Rationalizing and consolidating these programs is clearly a crucial first step in creating a next-generation learning environment.

Continuous learning and the move from “push” training to “pull” learning

Historically, most training programs have followed a “push” model. An employee was invited to a training session in a classroom at a specified time, listened to a series of lectures, and was sent back to work. Content was pushed down to employees based on the training department’s schedule and success was measured by how many employees attended the class.

Today’s employees typically have different expectations of how to acquire and develop skills. Younger Millennial and Generation X workers expect training and support to be as readily and rapidly accessible as a Google search. In this “pull” model, learning and development is a continuous process, with training pulled seamlessly through computers or mobile devices anywhere, anytime. The training class schedule has been replaced by the mouse click and the screen tap.

As careers become longer and more diverse, the half-life of skills also becomes shorter and shorter, placing a premium on continuous training and development. Millennials can look forward to multi-chapter careers lasting 50 years, with career paths that cross many businesses and functions.

To address the new dynamics of the 21st-century employee, companies are replacing traditional training classrooms with a tapestry of easy-to-use learning approaches and resources. These new tools allow employees to continuously upgrade skills by incorporating learning into everyday work experience and progressing at their own rate.

Companies in Ireland, Spain, and Luxembourg report that they are successfully making the transition from traditional training to individual learning. While companies in China and Brazil understand this need, they appear less prepared to act (figure 2).

Figure 2

A new employee-employer contract offering tours of duty

Underlying this shift in the way people learn and acquire skills is what Reid Hoffman, founder of LinkedIn, calls the new “employee-employer contract.”5 Companies no longer provide employees a lifetime career. Instead, they offer “tours of duty”—assignments for a period of time that gives employees new skills, education, and a set of experiences that provide benefits over a lifetime.

Under this new contract, skills are acquired and developed rapidly. Employees become not only more capable, but more loyal to the organization. According to our research, employee development is one of the biggest drivers of retention and engagement.6 In other words, tours of duty create employees who are not only more capable, but also more engaged and motivated.

Reinvent learning and development by putting employees in charge

As employees become active drivers of the learning experience, HR’s role in the process becomes both more interesting and more critical.

Today’s effective learning and development organizations should strive to become facilitators of learning and curators of content, not just developers and deliverers of training programs. They bring to this task a deep understanding of the capabilities and skills companies need to successfully execute their business plans and achieve their performance goals.

Employees are asking—and being asked—to take responsibility for developing their skills continuously over the course of their careers. In a “pull” learning environment, workers take it upon themselves to find information, educate themselves, and share their own expertise. In fact, our research shows that creating this type of learning culture, where employees willingly share skills and knowledge, is now one of the most important factors in business success.7

Companies are experimenting with strategies that enable employees to share what they learn on the job—and they are getting positive results. BT, for instance, encouraged video sharing by field service agents over the last five years and found that customer service quality improved threefold.8

Lessons from the front lines


In fall 2007, employee engagement at Canadian-headquartered TELUS, a national telecommunications company, sat at 53 percent. Learning took place solely at formal training events and open leadership was a foreign concept to the company’s 40,000+ employees. Collaborative technologies were nowhere to be found, and customers scored the company low when asked if they would recommend TELUS to others.

Fast forward to fall 2013: 83 percent of employees are engaged and 73 percent of customers are likely to recommend TELUS.

How did this transformation happen? TELUS took many actions to drive change.

To foster a culture of learning, in 2009, the organization launched its Learning 2.0 model, which redefined learning as equal parts formal, informal, and social. Collaborative technologies—including video- and photo-sharing, blogs, micro-blogging, wikis, virtual worlds, gamification, and instant messaging—encouraged employee alignment and the adoption of the new learning model.

To properly benchmark and assess Learning 2.0, TELUS developed its own internal “return on performance” metric system. Between 2009 and 2013, team member return on performance increased from 62 percent to 75 percent, proving that effective learning can drive performance.

In 2010, the organization launched the TELUS Leadership Philosophy (TLP)—an enterprise-wide open and collaborative leadership framework that promotes consistency in performing, managing, and leading. TLP represented an important shift in leadership strategy. Today, all team members are encouraged to take the lead.

TLP is now embedded into recruitment, onboarding, learning, succession planning, and performance development. As a result, TELUS saw its leadership engagement rise to 82 percent by 2013.


A global diversified health and well-being company with thousands of employees in over 80 countries embarked on a series of strategic restructuring programs—including operations, corporate culture, and business processes—to meet a rapidly changing business environment. The company knew that this restructuring could likely succeed only if its learning function were reshaped as well, realigning it with the company’s new strategic business objectives.

The company’s goal was both ambitious and necessary: to transform a learning program scattered across different business units into an integrated, global learning function with measureable results and cost transparency.

The company’s “as-is” assessment identified significant opportunities to increase the quality of learning and development while generating savings of up to 15 percent on total learning spending. Thousands of older, often-unused offerings were eliminated; others were reassessed to determine their alignment with business strategy and ability to advance critical skills.

In the course of these changes, learning became more employee-centric and more mobile. Content is no longer prescribed for each employee. Instead, employees and their managers construct individualized programs based on career plans and performance goals.

By transforming corporate learning, the organization laid the foundation for a global corporate university. Today it offers specialized academies and shared services that are fully focused on building the critical capabilities the company needs around the world.

Where companies can start

How can organizations reengineer their learning strategy to address an explosion of content and a flipped model in which employees are more empowered to manage their careers? Starting points include:

  • Rationalize training: Know where the training budget is being spent and use this knowledge to rationalize training. Categorize training spending, identify areas of overlap, bring in a senior leader to accelerate the transition, and set up standard services for technology, content management, authoring tools, and other parts of the learning architecture.
  • Redesign training roles: Embrace leader-led training and subject-matter authored content and bring social and collaborative learning into every program offered.
  • Create content curators: Establish HR as curators of content and facilitators of experiences, not merely content archivists. Experiment with the fast-growing areas of employee-authored content, mobile learning, gaming, and other advanced learning techniques.
  • Standardize, simplify, and integrate learning technology: Employees want a single place to access content, share experiences, and find formal programs. Simple, integrated, mobile-enabled learning platforms drive adoption.
  • Assess your learning culture: Do your managers help develop people or just drive the numbers? Does your organization stop and reflect? Are your leaders open to bad news? Is employee development truly important and valued in your organization?

Originally published at Deloitte Insights

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