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A new model for corporate learning

NO. 191
Karie Willyerd, Alwin Grünwald, Kerry Brown, Bernd Welz, and Polly Traylor
A New Model for
Corporate Learning
Yes, classrooms and whiteboards still have their place, but a new model
is emerging around them that is digital, social, mobile, and continuous.
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A slow but steady revolution is occurring in the world of learning. If you
have a child between the ages of 5 and 18 living at home, you’re probably
seeing it unfold every day. Want to confirm you got your math problem
correct? Just ask Siri. Need to understand how weather balloons work
for a science project? Check out The Weather Channel Kids Web site.
Forgot your homework assignment? Ask a friend to snap it and send it
on Instagram.
The future of learning is here and it’s digital, social, continuous, and
highly immersive. For companies, traditional training methods, such as
classrooms, are still relevant, but they are no longer the prime delivery
method for learning. They are slow to set up, are expensive, and consume
too many productive hours. Many companies are beginning to view the
classroom as a strategy for customized educational needs, such as
corporate strategy or branding.
Static online-learning tools, such as asynchronous simulations and
narrated slide decks, are not engaging enough to be effective as a
replacement for live training, however. Meanwhile, many employees are
unable to keep up with technological advances that affect their everyday
work processes. Because knowledge becomes obsolete so quickly, people
need continuous, always-on learning.
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CGI, a global IT consulting company with 68,000 employees, was struggling
with this very problem.1 Classroom training for consultants couldn’t
keep up with the education required to service clients with sophisticated
technology needs. CGI adopted a cloud-based learning platform to bridge
the gap. The system, which can be personalized to the learner, includes
video-based courses and online-learning rooms to foster social learning
opportunities with other students and instructors. CGI is now training 50%
more consultants, and learners are consuming 50% more training content
than in the past.
The move to continuous, on-demand learning is also saving CGI money
and enabling it to onboard new consultants faster. “It is a ‘moment of need’
reference tool that helps our employees in their day-to-day tasks,” says
Bernd Knobel, a director at CGI.
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NO. 191
Workforce and economic drivers for learning transformation
Learning needs are growing across all disciplines of content due to the speed of globalization, competition,
and new disruptive business practices. During the fallout from the 2008 global recession, companies scaled
back on organizational development, but that’s beginning to change as companies struggle to rebuild their
businesses, says Josef Bastian, a senior learning performance consultant with Alteris Group.
The same forces that drove CGI to abandon the classroom are being felt across industries. The main drivers
for change include:
Creating competitive advantage
Uber, Netflix, Amazon, Airbnb, Bloom Energy, and health insurer Oscar are among the companies considered
highly disruptive in their markets today. They achieved innovation and market share by looking ahead and
taking advantage of new technologies faster than competitors or in novel ways. Digital learning enables
companies to stay ahead of the curve. Companies need to understand the new technologies before they are
even available, so that they can understand the impact on the business and even invent new business models.
Closing the skills gap
We are now in an era that will rival the Industrial Age in terms of transformation. For example, a financial
analyst today needs to know how to work with Big Data, including how to ask the right questions and
how to use the related information systems. Jim Carroll, a speaker, consultant, and author on business
transformation, uses the automotive industry as one rubric for change. “You’ve got folks who are struggling
with all this new high-tech gear inside the car or the dashboard,” says Carroll. “And you look at a typical auto
dealer or the person manufacturing a car, and the knowledge they need to do their job today is infinitely
more complex than it was even 5 or 10 years ago.”
Retaining and motivating a new workforce
By 2025, Millennials will make up 75% of the workforce, according to the Brookings Institution.2 Various
studies have shown that Millennials crave learning and collaboration and will do whatever it takes to get the
information they need expediently. “I’ve got two sons who are 20 and 22 and they seem to learn in an entirely
new and different way,” Carroll says. “To borrow from Pink Floyd, it is short, sharp shocks of knowledge
ingested. They won’t sit down and read 50 pages of a textbook.” Sophisticated learning programs are one
way to keep this generation engaged. “Millennials will be an increasing challenge for companies to attract
and retain because of their high expectations,” says Bastian. “They’re not interested just in money but also
in a career path and the opportunity for diverse experiences.”
It’s risky to assume that your business isn’t in a prime spot for disruption (see “Corporate Learning Trends”).
Companies will need to adapt or suffer the consequence of a disengaged and unprepared workforce. An Oxford
Economics Workforce 2020 survey found that the top concern of employees is the risk of becoming obsolete;
nearly 40% of North American respondents said that their current skills will not be adequate in three years, and
only 41% of global respondents said that their companies are giving them opportunities to develop new skills.3
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Inquiry: A New Model for Corporate Learning
Corporate Learning Trends
Nearly 40% of North American
respondents said that their current job
skills will not be adequate in three years,
with the majority agreeing that the
need for technology skills, especially in
analytics and programming, will grow.4
Less than half (47%) of executives say they have a culture of
continuous learning. A similar percentage says that trouble finding
employees with base-level skills is affecting their workforce
Spending on technology education in the Americas will have a
compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 4.2% from 2014 to 2019,
with the highest growth in the United States for collaborative
applications (11.9% CAGR), followed by data management
applications (7.8%).6
The global e-learning market was worth US$24 billion in 2013,
with predicted growth of $31.6 billion by 2018.7
Of the $31.6 billion predicted worldwide spend on corporate
e-learning by 2018, $22.5 billion will be on content.8
A majority of chief learning officers (57%) say that learning
technology is a significant priority for spending.9
In 2014, 32.6% of training was delivered through e-learning
(asynchronous and synchronous); 30.4% took place in the
classroom, 18.9% was on the job, and 18.1% was “other,” which
includes video and text.10
E-learning is the preferred method for developing IT skills, said
34% of participants, compared with 29.2% for classroom training.
For developing business skills, an overwhelming 57.3% chose
classroom training.11
Evolution of learning: personal, social,
mobile, and continuous
Online courses have become a standard way to gain knowledge, and that’s shifting to even more interactive
learning through mobile, which is available anywhere and anytime. Like many large companies, SAP had created
a vast library over time of more than 50,000 training assets, which was cumbersome to navigate and manage.12
The curriculum was organized across regions, lines of business, and disciplines. As a result, mapping learning to
broader business goals was difficult.
To modernize its learning environment, SAP deployed a cloud-based learning
management system and a social collaboration tool. Today, more than 74,000
employees can create personalized training through a combination of online selfstudy that incorporates video and documentation, social learning tools for
exchanging ideas with other employees, and hands-on practice using SAP
applications in a sandbox environment.
Now the company is engaging four times more employees
in learning activities than it did with the older on-premise
learning management system (LMS). The new approach
is also creating between €35 million and €45 million
in increased operating profit with just a 1% increase in
engagement. Administrative costs have decreased by €600
per new content item added. Managers and employees alike
can create and access learning paths much more easily and
track progress from their personal pages. This integrated,
simple-to-use online-learning approach is an example of
how learning departments need to evolve to stay relevant.
Inquiry: A New Model for Corporate Learning
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NO. 191
There are several characteristics of digital
learning transformation:
Micro-learning. The concept of breaking lessons into smaller bites
minimizes productivity disruptions and mirrors consumer behavior
of watching three-minute videos and reading social media to get
information on anything under the sun. Micro-learning is perfect for
learning how to write a business plan, develop code in Ruby on Rails, or
learn about a manufacturer’s latest appliance before a service call, for
example. It can mean segmenting a longer course into small lessons,
which the employee could view over lunch or in the evening from home.
Several Alteris clients are now looking to deploy mobile learning apps,
ideal for micro-learning, as the main delivery platform, says Bastian.
These apps work best when integrated with the LMS and HR systems
and push relevant material to users based on their learning profile.
Self-serve learning. Just-in-time learning is critical when learning needs
accelerate. Companies can help by providing continually updated tools
and content that can be accessed from any device, at the moment
of need. It’s the best way for learning departments to keep up with
employees’ needs; you can schedule only so many Webinars and
classroom training courses.
Learning as entertainment. Gamification has been hot in marketing
for a few years and is also a viable tool for corporate learning. New
employees at Canadian telecommunications company TELUS earn
badges as they complete different orientation tasks, such as creating a
profile on the corporate social network.13 Leaders can spend eight weeks
coaching a virtual Olympic speed-skating team, competing against
colleagues to earn gold medals. Winning requires demonstrating the
leadership behaviors that TELUS values.
Training is also starting to incorporate virtual reality. For example, the U.S.
military is using a gaming platform that incorporates avatars to create
simulations that train soldiers to deal with dangerous or problematic
situations.14 “This is more immersive and has the potential to help with
the human connection failings of online learning,” says Joe Carella,
managing director of executive education at the University of Arizona.
Regardless of the method, adding an element of fun and recognition for
reaching milestones is important for capturing the attention of younger
workers who have grown up on games and apps.
Social learning. Learning is an emotional experience and most people
don’t want to be alone when they learn. In that regard, social media
models can be profoundly valuable because they foster sharing and
collaboration, which helps employees retain the knowledge they gain
through formal training programs. That’s why social collaboration
platforms have become as important to the overall learning strategy as
the specific types of training delivery methods themselves.
User-generated content. A common theme spanning all of the
previously mentioned areas has played out in mainstream media
and social media over the past few years. “What learners value the
most today is the raw, user-created content over the highly polished
corporate-created content,” says Elliott Masie, founder of The MASIE
Center, a think tank focused on learning and knowledge in the workforce.
“What’s really fascinating is that this trend is creating a town-square
model where learners are ripe to learn from others.”
Video. “Almost anyone can produce a training video, and it’s technically
more convenient than ever before,” says Cushing Anderson, a VP and
analyst focusing on HR and learning at IDC. “Digital learning is often
about substituting convenience for perfect quality.”
Universities and MOOCs: What We’ve Learned So Far
Degrees and certifications have been going online through massive open
online courses (MOOCs) for a few years, reflecting the changing needs of
students as well as the escalating costs of traditional education.
Threatened with disruption from independent MOOC startups such
as Coursera and Udacity, universities and colleges have scrambled to
keep pace. More than 80% now offer several courses online and more
than half offer a significant number of courses online, according to the
EDUCAUSE Center for Analysis and Research.15 The survey found that
more than two-thirds of academic leaders believe that online learning
is critical to the long-term strategic mission of their institutions.
MOOCs have delivered a transformation of higher learning that
wasn’t possible a decade ago, when access to a Harvard professor
was available only to the elite few who had earned their place in those
hallowed halls and who could afford the stratospheric tuition.
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However, MOOCs have not been proven out yet as an effective
replacement for traditional degrees, much less the acquisition of
knowledge. Completion rates for courses are low, and MOOCs so far
seem best suited for technical or tactical topics or as a supplement to
the classroom, observes Joe Carella, managing director of executive
education at the University of Arizona.
Yet MOOCs are playing a growing role in companies. Getting access to
real business experts, such as a well-known speaker like Jim Collins, is
especially valuable for a small or midsize business that couldn’t afford
to hire that individual otherwise.
Inquiry: A New Model for Corporate Learning
Making the shift
For decades, corporate learning departments have delivered education
through a fairly narrow, top-down funnel: curriculum is designed months
ahead of time and learning paths are structured for targeted roles in the
organization. In moving toward accelerated, continuous learning, chief
learning officers will need to help foster a culture of accountability and
excitement around learning, as follows:
Develop a close alignment between learning departments and senior
business leaders to understand skill gaps, customer needs, and
employee shortfalls.
Become a content curator and take on a customer service role in the
Ensure that learning is specific to the individual and relates to
specific business and career goals.
Have managers help by motivating and guiding employees through
the tools, helping them develop personalized plans, and monitoring
their progress.
In most cases, companies should be relatively hands-off when
it comes to employee learning, says Eilif Trondsen, director
of learning, innovation, and virtual technologies at Strategic
Business Insights. “It is the responsibility of the workers to
learn and acquire the needed skills and competencies for
their jobs,” says Trondsen, “and it’s important to monitor
the outcomes and not micromanage the process they
use for getting there.”
However, it’s important that leaders motivate
employees to learn by setting a good example.
At TELUS, a company vice president started an
internal online community and his own blog to
share information about working in his division. The
company views corporate learning not as curriculum
but as a set of experiences, including classroom
courses, online training, coaching, mentoring, and
informal collaboration. TELUS measures the direct
impact of learning through surveys of both employees
and their managers. One metric reports on the learning
tools that are most effective for acquiring different
types of knowledge, while another measures return on
performance from a specific learning program.
Measuring learning effectiveness is a difficult key
performance indicator, just as customer engagement is,
yet digital learning platforms often have built-in analytics
to create a starting point. The analytics allows companies
Inquiry: A New Model for Corporate Learning
to run reports on usage to see what’s most effective and to retire those
assets that aren’t being used. Ultimately, companies should work toward
connecting the dots between learning outcomes and business outcomes,
such as attrition, employee engagement, and sales growth.
The human equation of digital learning
Today and into the future, no matter the technology or method deployed,
excellent learning depends on excellent instructors. They must have
credibility with their audiences or the program will flop. For example, when
Sun Microsystems (now owned by Oracle) first offered e-learning on its
programming language, Java, customers balked because they wanted to
know who the expert behind the course was, just like in a classroom. So
Sun included a video introduction by the original developer of Java, James
Gosling, and the program took off.
Another caution with digital learning is that it can never replace the
five senses one gets in a physical setting and lacks spontaneity. “With
e-learning, you can pause the course whenever you wish, but sometimes
breakthroughs happen when you are out of your comfort zone and
challenged,” Carella says. A discussion can merge into a novel direction in
ways that don’t typically happen when people are chatting online. Ideally,
online learning should be interspersed with in-person educational
experiences, whether that’s attending a classroom training or
meeting with a mentor.
Blending formal and informal
training, as well as offline and
online training, is a historical trend
that will continue, says Masie,
who also leads The Learning
CONSORTIUM, a coalition
of 230 global organizations,
including CNN, Walmart,
Starbucks, and American
multiple modes of learning
is critically important for
gaining knowledge that sticks.
motivated will sit in front
of the screen and complete
a course but may never
actually develop the skill,”
he says. To close the loop,
managers and learning
departments can develop
a process that includes
practice, feedback, and onthe-job experience.
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NO. 191
The long-term goal of digital learning: grow the business
As executives consider how learning and training should evolve, a grounding
consideration is the level of commitment. Few companies spend enough
on it, says IDC’s Anderson. Those with world-class training programs
can gain an edge in hiring and possibly even in the market. Introducing
innovative learning tools and programs that allow employees to study
independently and experiment with new ideas is also motivating, which
can lead to higher engagement, productivity gains, and even bottom-line
Karie Willyerd
is Workplace Futurist at
SAP Success Factors
and co-author of the
book Stretch.
Alwin Grünwald
is Global Senior Director
of Global Services and
Support Marketing, SAP.
benefits. In fact, says Masie, research has shown that organizations that
invest at least 3% of income on learning have better stock performance
and employee retention.
“While there’s no A-to-B correlation of learning to business results, learning
is a multiplier for value.” Masie says. “Great learning plus a great manager
can lead to better outcomes. And with digital learning, we are reaching far
more people so the value to the company can grow exponentially.”
Kerry Brown
is VP of User Adoption,
Americas Education and
Knowledge Services,
SAP Education.
Bernd Welz
is Senior VP of Scale,
Enablement, and
Transformation, SAP.
Polly Traylor
is a freelance business and
technology writer.
There’s more.
NO. 191
©2016 SAP SE or an SAP affiliate company. All rights reserved.
Inquiry: A New Model for Corporate Learning
CGI: Providing Consultants the Skills They Need to Succeed with SAP®
Learning Hub (SAP, 2015), http://www.sap-epublisher.com/sapfutureoflearning/assets/document.pdf
2 Fred Dews, “11 Facts about the Millennial Generation,” Brookings,
June 2, 2014, http://www.brookings.edu/blogs/brookings-now/
3 “Workforce 2020,” Oxford Economics, accessed March 10, 2016,
4 “Workforce 2020.”
5 “Workforce 2020.”
6 Cushing Anderson, Worldwide and U.S. IT Education and Training Services
2014–2018 Forecast (IDC, April 2014), http://www.idc.com/research/
7 Cushing Anderson, Worldwide and U.S. IT Education and Training Services
2014–2018 Forecast
8 Cushing Anderson, Worldwide and U.S. IT Education and Training Services
2014–2018 Forecast
9 Cushing Anderson, Worldwide and U.S. IT Education and Training Services
10 Cushing Anderson, Worldwide and U.S. IT Education and Training Services
2014–2018 Forecast
11 Cushing Anderson, Worldwide and U.S. IT Education and Training Services
2014–2018 Forecast
12 SAP Runs SAP: Improving Training and Developing Talent with SAP SuccessFactors® Learning (SAP, 2015), https://dam.sap.com/mac/preview/a/67/
13 Elana Varon, How TELUS Engages Employees Through Pervasive Learning
(SAP, 2014), http://www.sap-epublisher.com/sap-futureoflearning/
14 Andrew Wheelock and Scott Merrick, “5 Virtual Worlds for Engaged
Learning,” International Society for Technology in Education, May 4, 2015,
15 Jacqueline Bichsel, The State of E-Learning in Higher Education: An Eye
Toward Growth and Increased Access (EDUCAUSE, 2013), https://net.
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