Next Gen Learning: Choosing the right development opportunities for your employees

September 14th, 2021

The times, they are a-changin’

In recent months, we’ve been working with a few organizations on their internal L&D existential crisis. We have looked at where they focus, how they allocate resources, what tech they invest in, how they talk about learning, what buy-in they have from leaders, and what types of activities they engage in.

And it’s been eye opening. It no longer surprises us that, when it comes to L&D functions, change has been so slow. The systems and processes, mindsets, technology, leadership expectations, and business expectations in most orgs keep L&D functions stuck doing the same old things in the same old ways.

But what we’ve seen has also given us hope. Now is an ideal time to change the rules. Now is the perfect time to stop doing things the way they’ve always been done and find something better.


In the many conversations with both leaders and learning tech vendors over the last 3 years, we have noticed that more forward-thinking L&D functions look at employee development differently. Instead of paying attention to output—courses, curricula, and the like—they pay attention to the conditions—the right environment, the right prompts, the right motivations, the right culture—to enable workforces to continually gain new knowledge and skills.

This focus on conditions has led us to create RedThread’s Learning Framework, shown below. We use this framework to describe how L&D functions should be thinking about employee development.

Figure 1: RedThread Learning Framework | Source: RedThread Research, 2019.

Specifically, L&D functions should pay attention to 8 areas when making decisions about what they offer and how they offer it:

Front-end (experiences):

  • Plan: How are we enabling our people to understand their career options and what it’ll take from a development standpoint in order to get there?
  • Discover: How are we enabling our people to find the types of opportunities and content that will take them in the direction they’d like their career to go?
  • Consume: How are we enabling our people to access and consume content?
  • Experiment: How are we enabling our people to practice new skills?
  • Connect: How are we enabling our people to connect with each other and learn from each other?
  • Perform: How are we enabling our people to perform better on the job and learn while doing it?

Back-end (admin):

  • Manage & Create: How are we tracking and managing our resources, our content, and our employees and their development goals?
  • Analyze: How do we gather and use data to improve our own systems and processes, help the overall business make better decisions, and provide employees with data that will help them develop?

To date, it has helped us gather and share some great insights on learning technology and how to use it to enable the right conditions, as well as how to think through possible learning metrics.

We are planning several studies that will help orgs apply this idea of conditions. In all, we imagine the following studies:

What’s next: Choosing the right development methods

As for pretty much every function, the pandemic has been hard on L&D. The orderly, carefully crafted learning of the past 15 years has been replaced by ad hoc, fly by the seat of your pants, low-production-cost, in-the-flow-of-work learning opportunities that, in our opinion, have changed the way L&D functions will work forever.

And in our humble opinion, it was exactly the shakabuku that L&D needed. Frankly, L&D functions can no longer afford their waterfall development methods, their focus on the course, or their ROI measurements; they don’t keep up, let alone help orgs get ahead, and, as the pandemic taught us, they definitely don’t adapt well. We need to move on.

It isn’t as if we haven’t been talking about various learning methods for a while now. Jane Hart regularly conducts a simple survey asking practitioners the tools they feel are most important for learning. The top 10 are rarely specifically learning tech. Instead, they hint at the fact that employees learn everywhere, not just where the L&D function thinks they should.

But the pandemic has sparked new ways of working, leading, and learning, and orgs that want to move away from the course as their main building block for learning have a unique opportunity to do so.

This study will address learning methods—those that are up and coming as well as those that are tried and true. Our goal is to put a picture together of how orgs are learning and what is most effective. We also want to broaden the definition of “learning” and help orgs use all of the arrows in their quiver to create conditions conducive to continual learning and growth.

Specifically, this study will explore:

  • What do L&D functions consider “learning,” and how is this “learning” enabled?
  • What are L&D functions, orgs, and employees responsible for when it comes to development?
  • How are L&D functions deciding what developmental opportunities to provide?
  • How do learning methods align to RedThread’s current Learning Framework, and how does the framework need to be modified?

Our hope is that this study will work hand in hand with the learning tech ecosystem work we have done. Not all learning happens in the classroom, but it doesn’t all happen in tech either. We’d like to help L&D functions understand how to build a comprehensive view of what employee development means in their orgs.

As with most of our studies, you can expect:

  1. An in-depth literature review
  2. L&D learning methods roundtable
  3. Interviews
  4. Infographic of high-level findings
  5. Final report

We would love your participation. If your org is doing some unique things, or even if you have some interesting ideas, please reach out! We would love to include you in the roundtable and interview you.

Dani Johnson Redthread Research
Dani Johnson
Co-Founder & Principal Analyst