As Learning & Development (L&D) professionals, we started last year full of optimism about the end of COVID and return to office. How should we be orienting ourselves this time as we move forward in 2023?
We can be fairly sure that what we offer will remain in strong demand. L&D remains a cornerstone of the enterprise IT ecosystem, already worth $370 billion and set for steady 2-3% annual growth; it looks set to top $400 billion within two years. The acceptance of hybrid working has solidified the idea of online training as the norm, with all the flexibility that allows, and e-learning is in itself a rapidly growing market that might be worth a quarter trillion dollars by 2027.
And as the impact of digital transformation and automation ripples through every industry, and trends like Metaverse start to open genuinely exciting new frontiers for interactive education, this seems to be a great part of HR to be in.
But nothing is ever perfect. Like or not, for all this good news, the sector for sure enters 2023 with some big questions still to answer. A continuing source of embarrassment for us all: the dogged problem of poor engagement and completion rates. It also turns out that all that pivoting to online education for Higher Education was not a universal success. There are worries that the focus on online learning in general education also risks excluding many candidates; and things that we thought would solve all these problems, like MOOCs, just didn’t work.
I hate to add to the gloom, but I don’t see how training professionals and CLOs alike can really move the needle for our organizations the way we want unless we face some realities about the way people really are and learn. And for me, a big myth we really need to bust once and for all is that B2B training would somehow be ‘saved’ by user-generated content.
Why Consumer Training Is Not a Useful Parallel for Business L&D
Remember (well, it is still going on!) when the idea was our super-enthused and committed Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) would do all our content work for us? Just like on YouTube, we’d see huge organic, accurate and entertaining digital training content getting pumped out on internal ‘Netflixes of Training’ that their colleagues would eagerly snap up.
So convinced by this golden dream that we bought the amazing ‘Learning Experience Platforms’ that the then well-VC funded ed tech suppliers built for us—convinced that once they were shown the easy-to-use editing and content creation frameworks we’d put into their hands, we’d see the end of the days when we had to source third party training material or external training help at all.
This wasn’t insanity. We’d all seen this happen in consumer/B2C. If I want to remember how to scramble eggs or learn an obscure grammar point or catch up on the latest discoveries in the history of Ancient Sumer, all I have to do is open up YouTube and away I go. I’m not the right demographic, but student TikTok is huge, and a massive, supportive online world is there that will help me on everything from exam technique to the real skinny on which Schools I want to go to.
And as all that wonderful material is free to me, and created by enthusiasts I trust, surely the same must be true for the world of business? Well, turns out, not so much. Only a tiny handful of SMEs ever offered to become the ‘bedroom creators’ we had all confidently planned for. A ‘YouTube for Education’ for sure sprang up, but no-one would ever go to an internal L&D portal for tips on creating pivot tables in Excel; they just go to YouTube.
What is it that we didn’t want to face up to here? As with so many things in business and life, it was human nature. There’s incentive for me to set up my camera and mic to do a brilliant online course on Teachable or Skillshare as a side-hustle or because I feel I have something to say; there’s little to zero incentive for me to try and find a few hours a week on my own time between back-to-back Zooms to help the company with assembling a 40-minute tutorial on the best ways to navigate the in-house holiday booking system.
I know this, as I was there; I showed these great tools to users I expected to be enthused, and they just weren’t. I think there’s a thread here between low engagement, the ‘meh’ impact of the MOOC, and the low penetration of the UGC-powered LXP, and it’s one we need to pick up and look at:
We’ve skimped on content. We made the bet that content was hard to produce and that we could kill two birds with one stone. With bottom-up generated content you would get content already made and engaging because, you know, “the people” did it. Well, that didn’t work so well. Good content is hard to produce. And no-one’s going to come and do it for us.
Time to Knuckle Down and Do Some Serious Reinvention Ourselves
The reality is that L&D has to step up to the plate and we have to invest time, IP and, yes, dollars into going back to the drawing board and figure out a way, as training experts, on how to source the compelling content that will actually work for our users.
We need to start by creating compelling content, investing some time, money, and pedagogy into it. Far too often, internal L&D content is pretty poor, and that is one of the reasons people are put off by it. Meanwhile, most L&D departments already complain that their content library is “too big” and that users get lost. Whether you buy it externally or build it yourself, it might be time to do less but better quality.
Masterclass paved the way on this, in a B2C way. I’m not sure you need Bob de Niro to teach you about what you need to know in the workplace, but you can still take the inspiration of good storytelling, nice pictures, and relevant experts interviewed in an engaging way. It costs time and money, but it is worth it.
As 2023 begins, it is likely that you wonder what ChatGPT and AI can do for you in L&D. They are good examples of things to avoid following the above arguments. They are amazingly powerful but make poor content far too easy to build. Don’t look for a tool to make your current content easier to build, look for a strategy to build a few pieces of content that people will actually remember. The ones they might talk about at the coffee machine.
Antoine Poincaré is Vice President of The Climate School, the e-learning arm of sustainable insurance company AXA Climate. Now a year old, The Climate School helps companies such as Microsoft, PwC, Schneider Electric, and Ubisoft upskill their staff on the transition to a more sustainable future.