At our recent roundtable called Learning Methods: Which Ones Work, we brought together Learning and Development (L&D) leaders from various industries to talk about learning methods. Specifically, we wanted to understand the learning methods L&D functions are implementing and how they might have changed since the pandemic.
Before we began, we reminded everyone of the research RedThread did last year. We identified 66 learning methods employees are using and how those methods fit into the 6 behaviors in our employee development framework (see our final report Learning Methods: What to use, how to choose, and when to cut them loose). This framework illustrates how different learning methods enable different behaviors.
We focused on 4 of the 6 behaviors:
- Plan: includes methods that enable employees to plan their development
- Experiment: includes methods that enable employees to experiment with new knowledge and skills
- Connect: includes methods that enable employees to learn from each other
- Perform: includes methods that enable employees to learn while on the job
We chose these methods to push the conversation to those behaviors that L&D may find challenging or areas they are just starting to consider.
This roundtable generated several insights we thought were important. This readout shares our top 4 key takeaways.
Skills are an essential driver for helping employees plan their development
Learning leaders are actively thinking about skills—and with that, how to encourage and enable employees to build skills the organization needs. To do this, they're focusing on learning methods such as:
- Skills assessments. L&D is leveraging assessments to better understand the skills employees have and help them figure out how to fill them. As one L&D leader said,
“We’ve started to use skills assessments to fill skills gaps as we begin to think about what the future skills are."
- Individual development plans (IDPs). As organizations focus on individuals and personalization, IDPs appear to be getting new life. One leader said his organization had rebranded the IDP as a Growth Portfolio – a way to plan and record individuals' learning and development that can also show desired career path and competence.
- Career Coaching. L&D sees career coaching as a learning method to help employees build the skills they need. However, it can be a heavy lift for organizations to manage. For this reason, many roundtable participants confirm that their organizations do not rely heavily on career coaching when planning development (our data says 19% of employees).
Experiment methods are slowly gaining traction.
Roundtable participants noted that learning methods geared toward helping employees experiment with new knowledge and skills (job rotations, job shadowing, informational interviews, etc.) were becoming more common within their organizations.
“We’re trying to do more job rotations. We’re thinking about the skills of the future and how we bridge those gaps. Especially for new employees and HIPOs – how do we get them into those rotations?”
As L&D works to utilize these methods, many are facing 2 challenges:
- Systemic issues. L&D leaders find ”experiment“ methods challenging to manage and track. But they’re still making it work. One leader said her organization is trying to leverage its talent marketplace to enable employees to experiment with new knowledge and skills (e.g., scheduling informational interviews).
- Structural issues. Many participants also noted that the L&D function isn't the sole owner of many experiment methods. Because it is a shared responsibility in many cases, it’s sometimes unclear who's in charge and who is driving the initiatives, or it takes too much coordination. Others mentioned that their organizations don't yet have the structure to encourage experiments on a larger scale.
The pandemic left many employees feeling bereft of support and connection.
Before the pandemic, there was a big focus on self-service learning. After the pandemic, one of the themes appears to be connection in learning. Roundtable participants mentioned that they see connection in the following ways:
- Both internal and external connections. Organizations are looking for ways to help employees connect internally with other employees for learning but are also looking to connect them with experts on the outside. A participant noted that the top 2 most relied upon Connect methods, from RedThread Research’s learning survey data, focus on building networks outside of the organization (prof networks = 39% and social networks = 28%).
- Employees feel responsible for helping their peers learn. L&D leaders are observing that employees have a desire to learn from each other. For one L&D leader, a recent survey in their org found that 68% of employees felt accountable for contributing to the learning of others. They continued by saying,
"This was 20 percentage points above benchmark. This data influenced our strategy—how can we facilitate that natural strength of our learning culture?"
L&D leaders are trying to figure out how to support the shifts in connection. As one participant said,
“Do we want to support colleagues in creating external and internal connections or leverage collective knowledge in the organization by supporting connections among colleagues?”
Choices in how methods are implemented can affect how equitable learning opportunities are
The idea of learning equity or development equity resonated with roundtable participants. We weren't surprised to hear this, as more L&D functions are taking on responsibilities having to do with Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging.
Participants drew a connection between more personalized planning and offering more learning methods and a more equitable experience. One leader said,
“Everyone has an opportunity to grow. We’re making it easier for individuals to capture the strengths / skills they have and what they want to develop more of. So, let’s allow people to tell us what they’re good at and tailor the learning to that.”
Additionally, participants mentioned the need to tweak systems and processes related to access to learning methods. For example, online courses are often reserved for those with specific titles or in certain areas of the company. Instead, L&D functions should work to provide as much access as possible to as many as possible, cost permitting.
Thank you to all who participated and shared their experiences. We welcome your suggestions, thoughts, and feedback at [email protected].
Lauren is a research analyst at RedThread Research. She has experience in various HR roles where she’s contributed to onboarding, performance management, and employee engagement initiatives. She's passionate about using the intersection of data and storytelling to help make organizations better. She holds an MS in Industrial and Organizational Psychology from Baker College and a BS in International Business from Northeastern University.