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Towards greater business agility (though you might need some help to get there!)

This post first appeared on the LINE blog on 11th January 2012.

John helmer ‘E-learning is not a panacea’: how many times have we seen these words in print? The statement has become a cliché. However, you will find it almost impossible to read the latest report from the benchmarking practice Towards Maturity without it popping into your head.

Because the evidence from the workface presented here, gathered over the past eight years and reflecting the experience of more than 1,800 learning professionals, shows that when it comes to technology-enabled learning, it ain’t what you do (to invoke another rather hoary old cliché) it’s the way that you do it. That’s what gets results.

Technology really can help you get better bottom-line benefits for the business from your learning and development activities, but it takes a bit of work to get there.

Maturity drives better bottom line benefits

Boosting Business Agility: Towards Maturity 2011-12 Benchmark Full Report continues the theme of previous years in linking maturity in the use of learning technologies directly to business results. In doing this, Towards Maturity performs a great service to an industry that has previously had some credibility problems, with little relevant research information in the public domain to show the efficacy of learning technologies in living up to their promise. The evidence is here now, and pretty difficult to ignore.

Organisations in the sample that quantified benefits reported on average:

  • 26% savings in the cost of training
  • 31% reduction in study time
  • 39% reduction in delivery time

At a time when learning and development departments are under pressure to get the most out of every pound spent, this will be welcome news to those who have adopted the route of technology-fuelled innovation as a way of dealing with the challenges thrown at them by the current business environment. It may even encourage a few who have previously been too cautious to dive in.

However, alongside this optimistic headline there is a slightly harder message as well to be found here: maturity doesn’t come overnight, or without a good deal of hard work.

A significant number of respondents still consider themselves ‘novices’ (that’s the absolute starter level of the scale along which the survey asks them to rate themselves) three years after having adopted. And when it comes to realising the benefits hoped for from adoption, ‘relatively few are actually achieving them’. Implementing new IT systems (69%) and better compliance (67%) are two areas where most of the sample seems to have had results, but more difficult to achieve are improving talent management (29%) increasing employee engagement (28%) and increasing ROI from training spend. In this sort of area, a more sophisticated type of goal perhaps, the disparity between newbies and mature users is really quite stark.

More mature organisations are achieving a greater number of benefits overall, more likely to achieve the benefits they seek and consistently reporting greater percentage improvement across all indicators.

Those in the top quartile of the Towards Maturity Index are at least three times as likely to report the following benefits as those in the bottom quartile:

  • 4 x more qualifications achieved by their staff
  • 3 x faster rollout of new IT systems
  • 3 x higher levels of staff satisfaction

They also report more than twice as high an improvement in customer satisfaction and their ability to change procedures and products (a measure of business agility).

Future predictions exaggerate the pace of adoption

Looking back at longitudinal trends, the report provides some evidence that people consistently overestimate the rate at which new technologies will be adopted. This might indicate a slight lack of reality about the difficulties of bringing about change in large organisations – and perhaps something of ‘panacea’ mindset when it comes to technology.

Those who have attended the Learning Technologies exhibition over the years, where the industry flocks to share experiences and ideas – and to get excited about the latest ‘next big thing’, be it Serious Games, Rapid, or Social Learning – will be well acquainted with this syndrome. Hype and inflated expectations whipped up at the show might give you the impression that everyone is on the very cusp of adopting. But what tends to follow is a perhaps more stately progress towards adoption. Often, as with Mobile Learning, things will tend to become real and mainstream only after the most avid trend-hounds have more or less forgotten about them.

Mobile Learning is an interesting case in point. It featured as a hot topic at trade shows for many years during which relatively little activity was actually taking place. Then suddenly, with a new generation of smartphones winning rapid user acceptance in the general population, it became real. We know from our own work at LINE that this is a particularly important area for organisations now, with many building serious infrastructures and learning architectures for mobile delivery of content at scale. However according to the report, the growth has been steady rather than runaway, and certainly not as rapid as was anticipated by last year’s sample. (see graph)

mobile device trends Towards Maturity

39% now offer mobile learning, though, and as we know from our own research the vast majority of organisations are either in the process of adopting or looking to adopt within the next few years.

Driving learning into the workplace

Of great interest to us at LINE, given the very active interest we have taken in 70/20/10, informal learning and the architectural approach to learning is the clear tendency shown in organisations, especially the more mature, to think in this way. This can be seen in a number of different threads throughout the report. Learning is moving closer to the workplace, with more embedding of learning in workflow. Organisations are using different content strategies, with more nuggetisation and less reliance on ‘The Course’, and a wider range of tools and modalities (trends that increase with greater maturity). At the same time, more and more learning is being driven into the line of business, with an increasing amount happening outside the remit of L&D.

A wider range of audiences are also being addressed – moving beyond training employees to providing learning for suppliers, partners, external agents and customers, for instance; showing technology’s ability to increase access to learning, in this case at all points along the value chain.

Conclusion

Towards Maturity’s big message from the report this year is about boosting business agility, the ability for organisations to move faster and more efficiently in response to changing priorities. As we face up to an uncertain year ahead, this can only be good news for those who are embracing change. But remember – it’s not what you do, it’s the way that you do it. Just make sure you have the right e-learning partner with you on the journey!