Hybrid work appears to be here for the long term, businesses need to develop new capabilities and skills within their workforce in order to drive success, and L&D functions need to understand how digital approaches, in-person learning, the DEI&B agenda, and agile structures all play their part in creating engaging learning experiences that deliver on organisational goals.
Indeed, with unpromising economic headwinds, talent acquisition difficulties and technological advancement dominating business agendas, the business reality is challenging and uncertain. However, L&D functions have already shown they can deliver in challenging environments. In 2023, they will need to build on lessons learned in the last couple of years, to create more adaptable, more business-aligned, more data-underpinned learning cultures in what will be another demanding 12 months.
Understanding L&D in 2023
In our latest survey, Learning & Development Impact Survey 2023: Benchmarking the changing role of L&D in achieving business success we asked 418 L&D, HR and talent professionals from a variety of different sectors and organisation sizes about the latest changes on the learning and development landscape.
The survey asked respondents about the changing business agenda, the evolving demand for skills, and how changes to working structures were shaping learning strategy. Questions focussed on budgetary realities, the role digitalisation, metrics and new delivery methods play, as well as asking what is topping the learning innovation agenda and where the big challenges are. We also asked what new skills and capabilities L&D is expected to deliver and if agile learning is playing a part.
With Covid-19 no longer a driving concern, L&D and HR practitioners used their survey responses to share how learning challenges had evolved over the last 12 months. Many are facing conundrums posed by hybrid work, learner fatigue, engagement and communication issues. They also need to get better measurements and data and the right balance of digital and in-person delivery approaches, as well as deal with uncertain financing.
Respondents also showed awareness of the learning strategy not being an end unto itself: understanding that it must deliver newly in-demand skills, contribute to the overall talent strategy, and to the overarching business goals. There will be an increased focus on how it delivers leadership skills and meets learners in the ways they want — driven, in part, by a growing understanding of the DEI&B agenda and understanding the benefits and drawbacks of different learning delivery methods.
Whilst there are challenges — such as the disconnect between the understanding of the benefits of measurement and agile learning and their implementation — 2023 survey responses show that there is a widespread understanding within the function of where to go next, how to evolve, why it needs to deliver, and the technology and approaches needed to do this.
Looking back at 2022
Whilst 2023 survey respondents are grappling with economic headwinds, how best to support long-term hybrid work structures and what the right best mix of technology, measurements and agility supports business goals, it’s worth reflecting on findings from the 2022 L&D Impact Survey before we dive in.
In 2022, budgetary concerns weren’t a top-of-mind L&D issue: many practitioners expected greater investment and post-pandemic confidence was seemingly high enough for a significant minority to kickstart the implementation of agile learning structures and review the effectiveness of the learning technology they used as a response to pandemic restrictions.
In fact, with 90% of respondents saying agile learning would be crucial to future success, L&D teams told us they were thinking about how to get leadership buy-in for and get past cultural reticence to, new learning strategies. Strategies which centred engagement and collaboration, in order for L&D to deliver against the business strategy and provide newly-prioritised soft skills.
New learning landscape and approaches
Firstly, 8 in 10 of those surveyed are working in hybrid structures. This rises to 92% using remote or hybrid for 1000-5000 person businesses.
Whilst this figure is similar to 2022 and is clearly a response to pandemic necessity, long-term hybrid work, coupled with budgetary worries, is forcing practitioners to reassess what their biggest challenges are. As such, respondents told us that top of mind is having to ensure that learning delivery doesn’t add to fatigue and is engaging, delivers the soft skills and leadership capabilities needed for business success, and is measurably aiding the talent and business strategy.
With a seven per cent year-on-year increase in the use of curated resources, as well as an almost double-digit increase in the use of facilitated learning, many practitioners are clearly working with expert partners to overcome these engagement issues. Indeed, as overcoming the challenges that hybrid working poses are a top concern for respondents, many are still experimenting with the right blend of cost-effective digital learning approaches to circumvent these and stay within budget.
Overcoming 2023 challenges
Despite clear challenges, it is positive that those surveyed understand what L&D must deliver. Our 2023 survey shows that learning functions are foremostly driven by the need to aid business transformation, talent acquisition, retention and onboarding, as well as capability development. Indeed, over eight in 10 respondents from 1000-5000 person businesses said that delivering for ongoing transformation was their top L&D strategy driver.
However, this delivery is happening on a VUCA landscape. Businesses are challenged by economic uncertainty and hybrid structures — coupled with learning practitioners' own engagement, budgetary, worth-showcasing and newly-prioritised skills-delivery issues — which is further complicated by the need for learning structures which can deliver amidst ongoing digital transformation. 50% of firms say they are still planning to do this and it means learning functions can’t stay still.
Yet whilst over half of the respondents think agile learning is extremely important — incumbent within this view is the belief it could be the right solution to keep delivering within so much uncertainty and change — fewer say they are implementing learning culture initiatives than in 2022 and there is a growth in the number of respondents trying to define what agile learning culture means.
One area for development is that L&D isn’t carrying out widespread measurement of the work it does. Despite 35% of respondents stating that measuring learning impact is very important, there was only a five per cent year-on-year growth in the number of respondents measuring learning outcomes.
To dive deeper into our report and explore the following topics, click below:
- The importance of measurement
- The skills conundrum
- Where next for L&D?
- The ongoing importance of agile learning cultures
- Technology and the future