Dancing robots, generative AI, and a focus on integrating skills into your learning strategy were all featured at Learning Technologies 2023.
While we can write the dancing robots off as crowd-drawing distractions (along with the poor souls wearing full Stormtrooper and tiger outfits), it’s fair to say generative AI will be here to stay. Everyone talked about it, but how widely will L&D embrace it, and does anyone truly understand its impact yet?
We attended a mix of talks at the conference and the expo hall. Here’s a summary of the themes that caught our attention.
1) Skills, learning, and business impact metrics: 3 key ingredients for an ideal L&D workflow
The first conference talk that really grabbed our attention was by Patrick Veenhoff, senior data education architect at Swiss Re.
Patrick explored the importance of a comprehensive skills strategy in a high-risk sector, starting with familiar themes on how to get an overview of your organization’s skilling requirements and current state of play (e.g., skills versus competencies, competency evaluation, the importance of frameworks and taxonomies, etc.).
This talk, however, set itself apart from the others because it explored the cultural shift required to adopt a data-led approach to evaluate program success. The democratization of data (i.e., accessible reports that present data in a user-friendly format) can drive stakeholder buy-in across the business.
It can also further accelerate adoption rates of the learning program itself, offering insights that offer pragmatic improvements to your learning programs. For example, leaders could assess metrics such as “impact per training module over time / by department.”
Mapping your skills against business metrics at the outset can set you up to achieve meaningful insights over time. Learning pathways develop patterns that become clearer when data is aggregated, and multiple programs have been completed. This can create powerful insights into both learner behavior and content usage.
Our takeaway: Increasingly, we see a pathway whereby skills strategy helps you pinpoint your gaps, which identifies learning pathway needs. These subsequent learning outcomes should be measured by organizational impact, offering a rounded journey that shows how the skills gaps have been remedied.
This is a message we fully endorse and discussed in our own expo presentation (“How to Integrate Skills Data into Learning Strategy”) with Watershed’s Bill Conran and Matt Donovan from GP Strategies.
2) However you map your skills, it’s an evolving process.
Understanding the skills you have in your business is the first crucial step in identifying and remedying any gaps. This step is essential for any organization to gain a competitive advantage, whatever sector you work in.
While many conference sessions covered this broad concept—albeit with nuances in meaning and approach (i.e., frameworks, taxonomies, ontologies, etc.)—one consistent theme shone through. It's an evolving process, so don’t expect this to be a one-off job.
You’ve already mapped your current skills? Any gaps then become new training requirements. And once those gaps are met and mapped (which certainly won’t happen overnight), those new skills need to be documented, mapped, and tracked.
And because your skill demand is likely to evolve, your mapping process must too. So understanding the current state of play requires a robust, embedded process to ensure your skill mapping stays up to date.
Curious to find out more? Check the webinar we ran with our friends at Degreed, Turn Your Skills Data into Meaningful Insights.
3) Generative AI is here to stay; will L&D embrace it?
Donald Clark says it’s the number one area learning designers should upskill in. Bill Gates said it’s the biggest revolution since his own operating systems launched. ChatGPT hit 1 million users in five days and 100 million users within three months.
AI’s impact on learning is unknown, as it’s still fresh out of the box and rapidly evolving. So it was no surprise that it was the most popular subject discussed during the expo. However, perceptions varied according to the speaker, and many talks we attended ended on increased efficiency in workflows and personalized learning experiences.
We couldn’t help but think that the excitement of the technology itself has renewed emphasis on pre-existing themes, such as personalization—hardly a new topic for L&D. That’s not to understate the monumental possibilities that lie ahead.
Predictive and prescriptive learning has long been the end goal for many and is the final step in Watershed’s learning analytics maturity model. LMS algorithms can already suggest content for users, aiding them in their moment of need. And auto-tagged content can help you catalog and assess the effectiveness of vast content libraries (See the impact this had at Novartis), further enhancing search functionality.
You also can measure social sentiment (see here for more on Watershed’s approach to sentiment analysis), auto-translate videos, and, if you have the data sitting behind you, perhaps let AI have a crack at turning your learning data into insights for you.
Our takeaway: AI depends on reliable banks of data built over time to be effective, so even if you are not using AI yet, capturing and centralizing your learning ecosystem data now is an essential step. This quote by Karie Willyerd in our Measuring the Business Impact of Learning in 2023 report sums it up nicely:
“The onset of generative AI applies additional pressure on organizations to offer modern learning experiences. Leveraged properly, AI will be able to identify skills gaps more rapidly than ever before, informing learning strategy. But it all starts with one critical component–data.”
4) L&D’s role in educating and persuading stakeholders is not to be underestimated.
Learning leaders commonly face the challenge of educating stakeholders and getting their buy-in for projects. This was a theme we discussed in our blog post from last year’s event, and it remains high on the agenda.
Whether that’s proving the business impact of your learning or tracking the progress of a new learning program, L&D has to speak in terms that the wider business understands.
We saw two very different examples of this; Cheryl Gerhardt and Asi Dgani from London Stock Exchange Group discussed how a merger of two companies with clashing cultures required a measurable outcome the business related to. At the end of a long journey, they had development pathways that allowed their employees to clearly identify and bridge the skills gaps required to progress into the next role of their choice.
This approach culminated in a KPI that measured the ratio of talent mobility, which other areas of the business understood and bought into once they saw initial success (e.g., “Finance now wants 70% of their department enrolled onto development plans.”).
The importance of L&D understanding business needs also arose during Brittany Sage Brown from Kraft Heinz’s talk on sustainability. Their program to upskill their global procurement team’s capabilities impacted 400 of their staff, and momentum on this project snowballed when key decision makers “got their hands dirty” with practical examples from the program.
This exposure helped propel the project so extensively that it became a strategic goal at the board level, culminating in the creation of a Procurement Masters Program.
Our takeaway: Getting key influencers across the business to buy into your learning programs and demonstrating success through metrics that leadership cares about can be vital to the success of a learning program.
See our blog post: Why L&D Needs a Budget for Learning Measurement (and How to Get One)
5) The growing demands of sustainability and L&D’s role
Now this may not touch on learning analytics, but the talks on sustainability were thought-provoking and hard to ignore. As a topic, it’s now in its second year on the LT conference agenda, and we expect to hear more around it as the world adapts to climate change.
The opportunity that businesses have to promote sustainability on a global scale outstrips the capability and desire of many governments, said Tess Robinson from LearningAge Solutions Ltd. The relevance of this statement resonated when Kraft Heinz shared their story of how they used learning to embed sustainable practices into their $15 billion procurement program.
Climate change can be a touchy subject; for many, it can be confusing and divisive and offer parallel feelings to those experienced during the pandemic—such as feeling out of control or helpless, which can impact our overall mental health.
The parallels with the pandemic made us think about how employee well-being came high on one of our client’s agendas during the crisis. They discovered an unmet employee demand for topics on well-being when they delved into the search topics across their learning ecosystem data. As a result, they quickly addressed the need by ensuring relevant content was available and accessible.
Within any organization, the learning function can facilitate a safe space to have difficult discussions and lead the way when it comes to nurturing cultural shifts. The power of storytelling through various mediums and modes is an area where modern learning divisions excel, and Kraft Heinz talked us through their blended approach.
We’re interested to hear how this story develops. People are changing their perceptions of the importance of sustainability and increasingly embracing what this means for their own lives.
And businesses will take note, as “people'' include both employees and customers alike. So does L&D have a bigger role in driving this conversation than we may imagine?
A busy year of events for the Watershed team
2023 has been a busy year for the Watershed team; we’ve attended the Brandon Hall Excellence Awards, Degreed’s excellent LENS event, and loved meeting new and familiar faces at LTUK.
Next up, we’ll be heading to ATD, where Watershed’s Bill Conran will be co-presenting with Tammy Rutherford from Rustici on the topic “Tending to Your Ecosystem: Unifying Content and Data Across Systems” on Wednesday, May 24th at 10:30 a.m. PST.
About the author
Having worked in almost every job going in marketing, Ash loves the diversity and variation of challenges marketing handles. From acknowledging pain points to genuine, straightforward messaging, there’s a lot to be said and many ways to say it!
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