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Astd State of the Industry Report: A Review

The ASTD State of the Industry Report has just come out, and it paints a measured picture of the American training and development world. It presents data relating to 2011 from three groups: ASTD BEST Award Winners, which represent organisations recognised by ASTD as showing a clear link between learning and performance; Fortune Global 500 companies, the top grossing companies in the world and the consolidated response, which includes all organisations which submitted data to the research. (Unless otherwise specified, the figures used here are those of the consolidated group.)

The report looks at what organisations are focusing their training on, and there’s no big surprise here. They’re focused on business practices and industry-specific content, much the same as last year. What’s perhaps more interesting are the subjects that are least covered by training: executive skills, basic skills and soft skills (both customer service and interpersonal skills).

This got me thinking – why do these subjects end up at the bottom of the training ladder? The small focus on executive development is explained in the report – companies only have a small group of executives so the amount of training is going to be proportionally less – but what about basic and soft skills? The optimist in me would like to think that, like the executives, only a small group of people need this training, but as a consumer witnessing poor customer service and people skills on a weekly basis, I’m not so sure. Perhaps it’s that organisations shy away from subjects that are difficult to train, or perhaps these subjects just aren’t seen as important, which would be a shame.

But it’s reassuring to see that organisations are committed to training on the whole. On average, US organisations spent $156.2 billion on learning and development in 2011, and while the overall spend per individual is decreasing ($1,182 down to $1,228), expenditure as a percentage of payroll is increasing (2.7% to 3.2%). The larger organisations in the Fortune 500 companies are getting the most out of their expenditure, spending $24 for every hour spent in training compared to the $85 spent by the consolidated group – the lesson here being on the economies of scale. One of the focuses of the report is measuring efficiencies – it looks at the ratio of L&D staff to training created, and also compares the number of hours created to those used.

As a learning technologies professional, I’m bound to ask while reading the report, “Is technology being used to support learners?” So I’m pleased to see that it’s showing a rise in popularity. In fact, the biggest changes in delivery methods from 2010 are the rise in technology-based training and the reduction in print-based self-paced training.

Plus, it’s nice to see the term e-learning being used to refer to all technology-based learning (as opposed to the very narrow e-learning = SCORM which we so often see). The report also breaks down the different forms of technology-based learning used throughout 2011. Self-paced online courses are the most popular form of e-learning, with instructor-led online courses coming in second. Noticeably, the ASTD BEST winners have the least face-to-face courses, and the highest use of technology (50% of formal hours of learning are technology based).

Mobile continues to gain popularity, with 1.4% of training being available via a mobile device (up from 0.4% in the 2010). Mobile offers so much potential to integrate training into the workplace via performance support, so it’s heartening to see its rise in use. The report suggests, as do I, that this will be the number to watch out for in next year’s report.

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