Moments of Need: Rethinking Learning & Development

Moments of Need: Rethinking Learning & Development

At most organizations, learning and development is a cost center function – a structural expense that’s built into operations without tangibly contributing to profit. 

Most large corporations feature learning and development departments, where specialists work year-round to develop and maintain various curricula and training programs. This structural standard is overhead-heavy, demanding ongoing salaried labor and costs associated with sustaining static learning systems. These systems, which are costly to uphold, are inevitably ineffective in meeting the ever-evolving learning and development needs of organizations and their employees.

Recent economic changes have led to broad layoffs in larger companies. For many business leaders, the training budget (including personnel) seems like a logical byline to cut. Maintaining a full learning and development department is costly, and training resources become outdated when organizational needs change.

There are many arguments for the importance of learning and development in organizational growth/health. This article won’t repeat the reasons that organizations should invest in training or present evidence for why it matters.

Instead, this article argues for a completely different approach to learning and development – one that responds to moments of need, both efficiently and affordably, instead of relying on big departments and bulky training systems. By shifting away from big structures, big teams, and big programs and focusing instead on learning and development that targets moments of need, organizations will streamline their resources to create cost-efficient solutions to training-related needs as they arise.

What are “moments of need”?

In this model, training resources are developed to address something specific that the employee needs to learn to apply, to solve, or to change. This approach to learning and development might be compared to an “à la carte” menu of training resources, which can replace the “fully operational kitchen” of learning and development built into each individual corporation.

Breaking down the cost of learning and development

Within the current standard of organizational learning and development (or the “fully operational kitchen” model), organizations of all sizes spent an average of $1207 on training per employee in 2022

According to this statistic, small businesses with 100 employees spent an average of $120,700 on learning and development in 2022. Mid-market enterprises (1500-2000 employees; annual revenue between $38.5 million and $1 billion) spent an average of $1.81 million – $2.41 million on learning and development in 2022. There’s no universal metric for measuring the effectiveness of organizational training, but common complaints in the learning and development sphere relate to relevance and currency. 

In a 2022 research report commissioned by the Society for Human Resource Management, 38% of employees expressed interest in training that is more relevant to their actual jobs, and 32% of employees want to be sure that what they’re learning is current, with 21% of employees reporting that training content is “out of date.” The cost/benefit dissonance in learning and development is one of the reasons that this sector is vulnerable to layoffs during times of economic change.

Creating training opportunities that respond to moments of need, both efficiently and affordably, is a critical alternative to the standard structures of organizational learning and development. 

These lean programs” take the place of the organizational bulk of big structures, big teams, and big programs, which are both costly and limited in their ability to swerve, adjust, accommodate, and create. 

Examples of “lean programs”

Artificial intelligence

AI integration is one of the most critical and dynamic areas for targeted training and development. An AI training program teaches employees how to learn with AI: how to strategically mobilize emergent technology to enhance their understanding of tasks and challenges as they unfold throughout their workday. This model of learning stands in contrast to traditional training programs, which exist outside of the daily workflow. 

Instead of learning about something and then returning to work, this kind of “lean program” weaves together new tools with ongoing work projects. This ensures relevance, practical application, and currency.

The new business version of ChatGPT is a real-time example of an AI resource for employees, who, with targeted learning and development, can mobilize and maximize its efficacy in their daily work activities.

Microlearning platforms and soft skills

We hear a lot about how Gen-Z workers are lacking in soft skills – communication, collaboration, leadership, workplace “etiquette,” and the ability to deal with complexity and ambiguity. Some journalists attribute this apparent deficit to the COVID-19 lockdowns, others to generational norms, and still others to changing corporate culture.

Regardless of the reasons behind this “soft skills crisis,” it’s being treated as a critical area for corporate learning and development, with Big 4 Consultants offering training opportunities for new employees to “fit in” at work.

A microlearning LMS would serve the delivery of a targeted “lean program” to support the development of soft skills. LMSs are relatively affordable, and many come with curated content, including programs related to soft skills training.

Agency-based learning and development

As organizations of all sizes continue to adapt to changing socioeconomic circumstances, reconfiguring learning and development practices presents an opportunity to increase effectiveness and decrease overhead. The shift towards needs-based organizational learning and development is a critical move for organizations of all sizes.

Commissioning an eLearning agency allows organizations to develop training solutions to needs as they arise. eLearning agencies are full-stack, staffed with diverse learning and development specialists, and experienced in designing and distributing targeted and effective learning content. They design high-quality learning materials that meet the emergent needs of an organization’s employees, and they disengage when those needs are met.

No salaries, no broad-strokes training structures, no outdated curricula, just solutions, tailored to the unique challenges faced by an organization and its employees. 

Learning and development are central to the operation of organizations of all sizes. Employees need and want to learn, grow, and advance in order to find meaning in their work. Thinking outside of the departmental model of learning and development and engaging a needs-based approach to training reduces cost and increases effectiveness. This shift is critical for employers and employees alike.