Even with year 2009's challenging economic environment, learning has not taken the drastic hit some pundits feared. In fact, in the past year I have heard more executives talk about the importance of keeping employees well-skilled and knowledgeable than ever before. Knowledgeable employees equate to greater business success. I've also seen CLOs and VPs for HR and Learning focus on making sure that learning experiences are in line with company's short and long term goals.

ASTD's (American Society for Training and Development) 2009 State of the Industry Report collects data from a variety of different size companies across many industries.  The following charts shows the spend of a sampling of companies in the US as a percentage of payroll (Figure 1) and learning expenditure per employee (Figure 2) over the last few years. Consolidated (black bars) refer to an aggregate of 301 organizations that responded to the survey; BMF (red bars) refer to Benchmark Forum organizations, a subset of 20 largest global companies; and BEST (gold bars) refer to the 39 organizations who have been recognized by ASTD for excellence in learning. Learning expenditure remain quite consistent especially in the consolidated group.
 Blog_fig 1 Blog_fig 2

What can we expect for 2010? Here are some thoughts:

  • Don't expect to see many new hires in learning even with an economic upturn. Rather, existing staff will have access to tools that will help them do more quickly and save money. Rapid eLearning is certainly an example of this. These template-based content authoring tools allow for fast content creation by subject matter experts, trainers or developers, most of whom have no programming skills. Many of these tools support simulations and role plays. Content developers are getting quite good at producing content quickly but still engaging to the learner. This single concept learning that is no more than 10 to 20 minutes long works well in today's fast-paced environment.
  • Expect more learning from video but not the high-end, carefully edited videos. It's the YouTube-type video that shows a process or procedure, often shot by employees with very little editing before it's tagged and placed in the learning content library for access by others. One company has sales people who attend workshops or events use Flip-type video cameras to record ways to use power hand tools for specific projects. These short videos help sales understand specific uses of the tools and makes them more effective in their discussions about these tools with potential customers.
  • Watch for podcasts and more formal Webinars to grow in use. Podcasts give employees important corporate information but also have an important place in learning. One financial organization uses podcasts extensively to present short pieces of learning that employees who are always on-the-go need to know to do their job. Webinar enrollments are growing but often over 50% listen to the recorded version and access slides for later use.
  • Provide a good search engine that enables users to find the content when they need it. As more employees take control of their own learning, they search for that one document or the single module of a lesson or the summary graphic that will help them in the work they are doing.
  • Make sure you also provide "people searching" capability, sometimes called expertise location.You may have this capability through an internal social network. First of all, the organization must have a culture of collaboration championed by an executive. Employee profiles must be kept updated. Employees search profiles for someone in the organization with specific skills or expertise like negotiation skills or a specific technical skill. Once they find the best person, employee can send an instant message, email, tweet, or have a phone conversation to get answers to their questions. Question and answer then become part of the database for others to benefit.• 
  • Bring virtual classroom capabilities to your organization. This live online instruction brings people together online to share and learn. The instructors need experience and training on best practices in engaging an audience that they can’t see and keeping a discussion going as appropriate. The growth of virtual classroom reflects the travel cutbacks and also cost of face-to-face facilities and the prep time and materials. Another advantage of virtual classroom is ability to access the recording to review material — much like accessing the recording of a Webinar after the live event.
  • Expect mobile learning to increase. There's been talk about learning from the handheld devices for years but I think we are close to realizing learning on-the-go. One issue is around a mobile standard for learning content. Each mobile device displays content differently and creating content for each device is unrealistic. Projects are under way that address this hurdle. The other question is about content appropriate for the handheld device. Certainly, a learner is not going to take a long in-depth course from a mobile device. Rather, assessments, simple graphical charts, and short pieces of learning without heavy text seem best suited for formal mobile learning.

Many of my expectations for 2010 are around informal learning initiated by the learner. But it's not just informal learning; formal learning will have its place for more in-depth content. Sometimes learning departments will choose face-to-face instruction because of team building or the nature of the content. Blended learning is still the favored approach making sure you choose the appropriate mode for different parts of the learning experience.