$365 billion dollars. That’s how much organizations are spending worldwide on training and development. That number continues to grow each year as more organizations invest in learning solutions to improve performance, adapt to changing technologies and provide professional development opportunities for their teams.
Since 2008, when the recession caused many companies to pull back on training initiatives, spending has crept steadily back up, and is currently at the highest level in history. Each year, Training Industry Conference & Expo, an association of learning and development professionals, holds a conference to examine the state of the practice and to try to predict where the trends will take us next.
This year’s conference, held in Raleigh, North Carolina over three days in late June, set a record for attendance. Covering topics ranging from gamification and AI to leading a multigenerational workforce, the program addressed a wide range of issues that are of interest and concern to L&D leaders.
The keynotes and panels addressed high level trends, including a robust discussion around the future of training. Like every other field, the learning and development industry is grappling with the impact of technology, including AI and VR, on the learning process. There was broad agreement that VR holds strong potential that is already being used to immerse learners in situations which allows them to more directly apply new skills in a safe space. This technology is being used by emergency responders to train firefighters and other professionals without having to expose them to dangerous situations until they have mastered basic skills.
Another topic of interest is the increasing strategic alignment of L&D within the enterprise. Similar to the rise of the CIO in the last decade, training has gone from being a reactive department, often associated with compliance and functionally situated under HR, to being a strategic element of the business. As organizations increasingly recognize the role of learning and development as part of overall talent strategy, it has given rise to a higher level of visibility for learning professionals. The Chief Learning Officer role has become common across the Fortune 500, and is increasingly becoming an important driver of differentiation and competitive advantage.
In addition to keynotes and workshops, TICE featured an expo hall with vendors ranging from learning outsourcing firms to technology platforms. As the demand for personalized learning continues to evolve, learning management systems are evolving with it, incorporating features such as personalized learning paths, social learning elements and learning program marketing tools. There were also a variety of vendors featuring gamification capabilities.
As positive as the overall conversation is about the state of the learning and development industry, challenges remain. It is still difficult to measure the real ROI of training programs. While the research is mixed, adult learning theory (as well as our own experience) tells us that one-day workshops and other point-in-time learning programs don’t truly move the needle on behavior change.
One of the most active discussions at TICE revolved around the use of blended learning, social learning and other technology tools to augment and enhance the learning experience, providing vehicles to not only deliver learning, but measure and reinforce as well. While there was a sense in past years that technology might represent an existential threat to learning professionals, the prevailing discussions in this year’s conference revolve around how technology can augment, inform, and enhance the value of the learning practice, not as a replacement for professionals, but as a welcome toolkit for improving outcomes.