Reimagining learning and development

“The S&P 500 death rate is rising”, CLSA investment strategist Damian Kestel said in 2017. “A period of relative stability is ending. An increasing number of corporate leaders will lose control of their firm’s future.” This has never been as true as it is now. The length of time large-cap stocks have spent in the benchmark index has been declining, from 33 years on average in 1985 to 20 years as of 1990. This will get even shorter in the future, shrinking to 14 years by 2026, according to forecasts.

This is evidenced by the increasing mortality rate of companies, heralded by the demise of corporate giants such as Nokia, Toys R’ Us, Sears, among others. We often hear these companies perished because they failed to innovate. But the root cause is they simply failed to learn.

Corporate learning is the new source of competitive advantage of organizations nowadays. With the complexities and unprecedented changes brought forth by the 4th Industrial Revolution and its attendant technologies such as artificial intelligence, big data, and quantum computing, among others, how effective and how efficient employees learn will be the single most important capability an organization can build and strive to sustain.

That’s why there’s an urgent need for corporate learning and development (L&D) to be transformed, reinvented, if not, reimagined to enable employees to learn better and faster. To do this, there are four factors corporate L&D needs to consider, namely the learner, format, systems, and content.

Learner. This is the first time we witness the convergence of the four generations in the workplace – Baby Boomers, which is dwindling in number but still comprise as much as 10 percent in many organizations; Generation X, which can reach more than 30 percent of organization; Millennials, which comprise more that 50 percent of organizations; and Generation Z, which account for more than 20 percent of many organizations.

Generally speaking, as we age, chemical imbalances in the brain become more pronounced which affects our cognitive activity. Hence, across generations, employees’ learning capacity depends on two factors – personalization and independence. Personalization is all about fitting the content and learning methodology to the individual learner, while independence is whether the individual learner needs the control or influence of others to learn, such as a trainer, coach, or other HR interventions.

Format. With the generational differences among learners, there’s a need to adopt the delivery format of the learning experience.

As Baby Boomers are the most senior cohort, their cognitive activity is the slowest. They require the highest degree of personalized learning and display the lowest degree of independence from others. The strategy for them is transformational learning, i.e. more personally-focused learning structure, classroom delivery, and in-class participation, reflection, and feedback to bring them more directly into the process. They are willing to adopt new approaches such as online learning, but should be supplemented with video content and classroom training.

Generation Z, on the other hand, is the most independent learner and require the least personalization amongt the generations. Microlearning is an effective approach where few-minute-long content is available online and on-demand.

Millennials easily learn the use of new concept or technology, but quickly lose interest. Hence, they favor highly personalized training on a self-directed schedule. They also prefer to access information on-demand, whenever and wherever they may happen to want it. But due to their short interest and attention span, online learning approaches should incorporate gamification, e.g. quests and missions with leader board and digital badges as rewards.

Generation X cohort is often noted as the most fiercely independent of the four groups; hence, the approach is self-directed learning that enable them to learn on their own schedule. But like Baby Boomers, their thinking and recall are slower; therefore, mental cues in training are important to help them recall, analyse, and synthesize.

Systems. With these differences on how learning is consumed and delivered to the four generations, systems likewise need to be varied but integrated. E-learning platforms adaptive to the pace of learners should have capabilities to provide microlearning i.e. short bursts of content, interactive, on-demand, video-capable, and mobile optimized. It should incorporate gamification to sustain the attention and interest of the younger generations.

But e-learning should be supplemented with classroom, face-to-face training for the older generations, as they require personalized attention by the trainer. Hence, a blended environment of online and offline learning is needed.

Content. This is where the L&D departments need much transformation. We often see companies employ the same content from the same traditional providers over and over again, such as communications, negotiations, and others, which do not incorporate future-ready digital skills.

The skills needed in the future, according to the World Economic Forum, should be a combination of hard technical skills, such as cloud, analytics, and coding, as well as soft skills such as complex problem solving, collaboration, communication, coaching and so on. The key is using content and classroom delivery approaches that incorporate hard and soft skills.

Reimagining L&D requires a new way of thinking on how to combine strategies and insights among these four factors. A company’s competitive advantage depends on it.

The author is President & CEO of Hungry Workhorse Consulting, a digital and culture transformation firm. He is the Chairman of the Information and Communications Technology Committee of the Financial Executives Institute of the Philippines. He teaches strategic management in the MBA Program of De La Salle University. The author may be emailed at