Training & Learning

The 3 Biggest Training Challenges Holding L&D Back (and How to Overcome Them)

I spend a lot of time exchanging with fellow L&D leaders. Recently, many of them describe feeling completely lost at sea.

They feel like all eyes are on them, especially after all the disruptions and uncertainty of 2020, but they are too overwhelmed and under-resourced to live up to their boss’s expectations - and their own.

If this sounds familiar to you, you’re not alone. In a recent Training Industry survey, 65% of L&D professionals said they had a vision for impactful learning programs within their organizations. However, only 34% believe they can feasibly execute that vision.

Here, we’ll break down the three most pertinent training challenges holding back even the most talented L&D teams. We’ll also discuss how you can begin to dismantle those blockers, reclaim your time and expertise, and deliver great learning programs within your organization.

Training challenge #1: Business teams utilize their own makeshift learning over L&D programs

First, the good news: Data shows that employees are eager to learn. According to a LinkedIn survey of over 3,300 professionals, 74% of employees claim they want to learn during their spare time. Ninety-four percent also claimed that they would be more likely to remain at a company if it invested in their learning.

But wanting to learn more doesn’t mean wanting more L&D, at least in the traditional sense. Employees often prefer informal channels over L&D programs when they need information: According to Harvard Business Review, 55% of employees will turn to a coworker before checking a learning platform (or Googling the answer).

“Why go through the hoops of (boring and outdated) corporate training when I could just ask the person next to me or send a message on Slack?”

But when knowledge is transferred from one employee to another in private, that information is siloed. According to the Panopto Workplace Knowledge and Productivity Report, 42% of the knowledge that powers a business lives (and leaves) with individual employees.

Because of this, you may find yourself working with limited and outdated company knowledge. You want to make the most valuable and pertinent information available on a learning platform, but it’s buried in emails, private messages, and fleeting conversations.

As a result, 72% of employees struggle to find the info they need on company learning platforms. Then, they write off the learning platform as unhelpful, continue asking one another instead, and the cycle continues.

How can you make learning platforms more appealing?

The challenge is to make the learning platform the place to find the most valuable and up-to-date knowledge. The solution isn’t to break employees’ habit of learning from one another; the solution is to leverage that habit. You can do that with Collaborative Learning.

Collaborative Learning encourages naturally occurring peer-to-peer learning. It takes this learning and makes it public, organized, and easier to govern and share.

According to Emerald Works’ Back to the Future Report, 71% of high-impact learning cultures involve learners at the design stage: Learner needs should dictate the content on a learning platform, not the other way around.

The solution isn’t to break employees’ habit of learning from one another; the solution is to leverage it.

On a Collaborative Learning platform, employees can create course content in a matter of minutes to answer a peer’s question or create a tutorial to explain a core process to onboard new hires. If a question hasn’t been answered, employees can request new content or react to an existing course to bump training needs as they come up. It’s as easy as Slacking a coworker, “Hey, quick question for you!”

This ease of use is a big reason why Collaborative Learning platforms have such a high course completion rate. In fact, this kind of self-directed learning helps organizations boost their rates to 91% on average.

Collaborative learning

Related: The L&D Case for Peer Training: 3 Unignorable Reasons to Make the Switch

Training challenge #2: L&D teams are overwhelmed and under-equipped

Throughout the history of corporate training, the L&D department = the teacher, and employees = the learners. The two parties would gather in a classroom once a week for a 30-minute lesson and then get back to work.

But in the past couple of years, that model has been turned on its head: The classroom has been swapped out for screens, learners have become teachers, and learning happens at a faster pace in small spurts throughout the work day. This welcome change creates new opportunities for learning - but it also places new demands on L&D teams.

In many organizations, the L&D function hasn’t yet shifted to meet this new demand. These days, thanks to constant digital transformation, shifting business needs, and a pressing demand for reskilling and upskilling, acting as a sole teacher for entire business is a Sisyphean task.

Currently, 45% of learning professionals spend at least half of their week working to keep up with training requests. It takes L&D 130+ hours to create a single hour of traditional eLearning, and because L&D might not have technical expertise, much of that time is spent chasing down information that in-house experts know like the back of their hand.

The result? A bottleneck effect. L&D can’t keep up, and learners decide L&D is too slow and irrelevant to be helpful.

“Everything L&D pumps out is too general and outdated. Why is someone from HR sending me tips about Java, anyway?”

Employees end up ignoring L&D content altogether and turning to informal channels to teach one another instead (as described above).

How can you keep up with the pace of business?

Establish a decentralized content-creation system to speed up content creation, allow SMEs to teach business teams directly, and eliminate the bottleneck effect. Check out our blog post on peer training to learn more on how it works.

Once you’ve stepped off the hamster wheel of content creation, you can attend to everything else that goes into facilitating healthy learning ecosystems. To facilitate, encourage, and scale learning in your organization, you can:

  • Partner with other teams to launch joint learning initiatives
  • Recruit individuals from each department as company learning champions to promote engagement
  • Facilitate bottom-up training need analyses to understand your organization’s most pressing skill gaps
  • Measure the ROI of learning initiatives to check your progress and advocate for higher budgets

These days, some of the best teachers and instructors live within business teams. However, they don’t have the perspective or expertise to create deeply meaningful learning ecosystems—that is the (new) role of L&D.

Related: Learning Ecosystems Don’t Just Happen Organically, Here are 3 Steps to Build One

Training challenge #3: Learning doesn’t align with big-picture business needs

L&D departments have a lot of responsibility on their shoulders, especially with COVID-19. Now, 80% of CEOs consider skill gaps a threat to their organizations, and since the pandemic, deep skills gaps relating to new technologies and processes are popping up left and right.

Despite that enormous responsibility, L&D doesn’t always have the high-level strategic vantage it would take to identify—let alone address—those skills gaps. While other business leaders create long-term strategic roadmaps, L&D often works on the fly, responding to needs as they pop up.

“L&D staff must shed reactive, lengthy practices and become far more proactive and nimble,” says Julie Winkle Giulioni, an author and speaker specializing in organizational learning and leadership. “In the contemporary environment, once a training need has emerged, the organization and its employees are already falling behind.”

How can you become a proactive strategist?

Reshaping the perception of L&D among employees, executives, and the L&D team itself will go a long way toward positioning you as a proactive strategist.

First, adopt a long-haul mindset. Stepping into this new role requires creating mission statements and strategic roadmaps, as well as aligning with overall company strategy.

Sort all potential projects into a strategic framework. Choose a few overarching goals for L&D (based on larger organizational needs), and ensure every project that receives L&D hours aligns with one of those goals. If a project doesn’t, it might be a sign that your efforts aren’t aligned with larger organizational needs.

Here’s an example of what those big-picture frameworks can look like:

L&D framework

Second, start the process of shifting the perception of L&D among your employees. You want to be seen as learning facilitators and drivers of growth and development, instead of course creators and administrative taskmasters. Let them know you’re there to create an environment and toolset that helps them grow, learn, and develop.

In my recent interview with Jeremy Lane, director of L&D at electronic components distributor TTI, we discussed some tips to shift the perception (and, by extension, the function) of L&D within an organization.

  1. Launch an L&D rebrand. Business teams don’t want training police—they want learning experts who can help them develop their skills and level up.
  2. Don’t expect immediate results. Shifting perceptions happens over the course of months (even years), not overnight.
  3. Own up to previous shortcomings. Acknowledging what wasn’t working (and why) goes a long way toward finding a solution.

For a longer conversation improving the reputation of L&D, check out the full interview: How to Change the Way Your Teams Think About L&D.

Of course, a key part of upgrading L&D’s function is to gain budget and buy-in at the executive level. You can demonstrate strategic initiatives by:

  • Clearly explaining how the L&D roadmap aims to improve operations and culture
  • Highlighting the positive ROI of successful learning programs
  • Hosting a frank conversation with executive leadership about how your goals, mindset, and approach have shifted

Related: Need to Defend Your 2021 Training Budget? Here are the Best Arguments

L&D needs a shakeup to shift from a cost center to a driver of growth

From all my exchanges with all these L&D leaders, it’s clear that today’s major training challenges result from an outdated mindset about the function of L&D. Corporate training needs have fundamentally transformed, and to resolve these three training challenges, L&D must transform, too.

In our blog post 3 Factors That Are Changing Corporate Training in 2020 & How to Adapt, we explored three ways that corporate training needs have shifted:

  1. There are new expectations for deeper reskilling and upskilling
  2. The pace of (remote) work and learning has accelerated
  3. There has been a shift away from top-down learning structures

We’re currently in a (sometimes painful) adjustment period, where L&D teams operate with an old mentality (and limited resources) that don’t align with this new paradigm. Even the most talented instructional designers might not see the impact they once did.

As a result, you may feel out of your depth and completely ignored by the people you’re trying to help. It may be frustrating, but it’s widespread and temporary.

In a matter of years, L&D teams will offer less of a support function and more of a strategic leadership role. With a Collaborative Learning methodology, business teams can handle the nuts and bolts of learning content on their own, freeing up L&D teams to focus on enabling learning and fulfilling larger organizational needs instead.

It’s similar to the evolution from customer support to customer success. Rather than responding to problems, L&D will spend more time thinking about driving long-term engagement, growth, and success.

Want to learn more about this transformation? Check out our ebook, 4 Steps to Transform into a Learning Organization, or book a demo with one of our learning specialists.

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