There is no doubt that the dynamic, fast-paced workplace and learning and development evolution in 2023 has led to some significant challenges. How have successful L&D teams navigated them and implemented innovative strategies to build the workforce of tomorrow?
We caught up with Kate Sullivan, Global Head of Services & Talent, to get her insights. Join us as we explore ‘The Great Balancing Act’ and discover the impact of key L&D challenges in 2023, along with actionable solutions for 2024 – and beyond.
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‘It’s been an exciting year,’ reflects Kate. ‘I’ve spent a lot of it collaborating with colleagues and other learning and development professionals – sharing, listening and gaining insights into L&D across different industries and markets.’
While terms like ‘The Great Resignation,’ ‘Quiet Quitting’ and ‘The Great Reshuffle’ still resonate – to varying degrees – there is a new one to consider. ‘I call it “The Great Balancing Act,”’ shared Kate, ‘as it truly captures the state of learning and development in 2023’, Because many L&D professionals are balancing multiple priorities while trying to drive learner engagement, integrate new technologies and navigate limited resources.
How can L&D teams maintain a continuous learning environment in a constantly shifting workplace? And balance diverse learning needs to build the workforce of tomorrow? Find out in our exclusive interview with Kate Sullivan, British Council’s Corporate Solutions’ Global Head of Services and Talent.
1. Achieving learner engagement and learning impact
One of the biggest learning and development challenges has no easy answer, says Kate. ‘How do you make learning engaging in uncertain and changing times? Especially when employees may prioritise immediate tasks over continuous learning?’ Some L&D teams face other pressing challenges, such as aligning learning strategies with ever-evolving skill requirements. And finding creative learning solutions for hybrid and remote teams, whose participation in learning has been impacted by digital fatigue and overload.
What has the impact on L&D been?
One of the most significant shifts, reflects Kate, is the need to be more agile, ready to update or adapt learning strategies more frequently.’ L&D teams embraced this challenge in 2023 by being creative. For instance, adopting innovative remote learning methods to counter digital distractions and increasing personalisation. And doing all of this while maintaining the quality of existing programmes and addressing immediate skills requirements.
It's been a delicate balancing act for many.
Driving learner engagement to achieve measurable learning impact
‘In this current climate, an effective L&D strategy requires a multifaceted approach,’ highlights Kate. Here are some actionable steps to overcome these challenges:
- Develop a comprehensive training roadmap, balancing current skill requirements and long-term programmes. Create phased approaches and use prioritisation frameworks to manage coexisting L&D initiatives to ensure quality. And streamline processes through robust learning management systems (LMS).
- Foster continuous improvement within L&D teams by collaborating with cross-functional teams and industry experts to access specialised knowledge and resources. These collaborative efforts will support L&D teams to effectively manage ongoing projects while addressing immediate needs.
- Invest in continuous assessment tools to identify skill gaps in real-time, conducting regular surveys or feedback sessions. Which will help L&D teams understand ongoing learning needs, styles and preferences.
- Adopt an agile approach to content creation through microlearning for easier adjustments in response to skill development needs. Leverage learning analytics and AI-driven technologies to develop personalised learning paths. And ensure content is accessible across multiple devices for remote learning experiences.
- Build learner communities by encouraging collaboration and continuous learning among employees. Interactive and gamified learning approaches are highly effective at boosting participation and engagement in workplace learning.
2. Adapting to rapid tech and AI transformation
‘When it comes to technology, many organisations have been experiencing change on an exponential level,’ says Kate. The pace of technological advancement and rise of AI requires targeted learning initiatives. Skills like data analytics, AI development and instructional design. Some L&D teams have been integrating AI-driven solutions into existing learning systems. While others have been realigning existing learning solutions into AI or digital learning technologies.
What has the impact on L&D been?
For many organisations, embracing digital transformation takes time, effort and substantial resources. And for L&D teams in particular, it’s a delicate balance between staying ahead of cutting-edge technologies and implementing current learning initiatives. Then there is the real challenge of encouraging new tech adoption among employees – or within organisational culture. Which may entail digital upskilling.
Turning tech and AI challenges into learning opportunities
Kate sees this tech revolution as a ‘great opportunity for L&D teams to drive continuous learning in their organisation.’ How? By taking these strategic actions:
- Upskill L&D teams and establish cross-departmental skill exchange programmes to develop their technical skills sets. Encourage academic or industry partnerships to gain access to specialised training in AI and tech-related skills. Share or pool resources to reduce the costs of expensive AI tech.
- Create dedicated agile integration teams within L&D departments to focus on seamless integration of AI-driven solutions without disrupting continuous learning programmes. Adopt a phased approach and have specific timelines for integration tasks to prevent a drain on precious L&D resources.
- Ensure data compliance and governance by establishing a group or committee devoted to monitoring and ensuring AI-driven learning solutions follow regulations. Focus on transparency in data collection, usage and storage to strengthen trust among learners and other key stakeholders.
- Conduct pilot projects involving end-users to refine AI-driven learning solutions before full-scale implementation. By gathering and acting upon feedback, L&D teams can increase acceptance and adoption rates.
- Develop targeted change management campaigns to counter organisational resistance to new technologies. Clearly explain the benefits and skill development opportunities of these tech advancements.
3. Navigating budget and resource challenges
When asked how global economic uncertainty is affecting learning and development, Kate says – without a doubt – many organisations are being more careful. Some L&D teams experience more cutbacks than others – or are expected do more with less, she says. Budget and resource restrictions can make the adoption of learning technologies and other strategic L&D initiatives more challenging. All at a time when acquiring and retaining highly skilled L&D professionals is needed more than ever.
What has the impact on L&D been?
It’s a situation that Kate knows quite well. ‘In my discussions with L&D professionals, I’ve learned that limited learning and development resources have shifted their focus to more urgent tasks. And this often delays other strategic projects.’ Things like developing innovative learning methods, exploring new technologies and investing in their own professional development.
Optimising learning with limited L&D resources
‘In this current climate, L&D teams need to demonstrate the value of learning in ways business leaders understand,’ advises Kate. Where to begin? Here are some key steps:
- Build compelling business cases that outline ROI and key performance indicators of learning initiatives. Focus on investing in high impact learning strategies that align with organisational goals to deliver impact.
- Maximise learning resources through open-source platforms, repurposing or updating current materials and leveraging internal expertise for content creation.
- Develop a well-balanced prioritisation framework that considers both urgent and non-urgent projects. This approach can ensure L&D teams don’t ignore long-term strategic goals.
- Boost HR talent retention strategy through professional development, career pathways and continuous learning opportunities to retain top talent. And do the same for L&D teams. Clear career paths will improve retention rates.
- Invest in internal skill development to upskill existing team members. This internal investment effort can address skills shortages within the organisation, reducing the reliance on external talent.
The continued evolution – and balancing act of L&D
As we wind down the interview, we end with a positive outlook. ‘I’m excited about the next phase of L&D evolution’, says Kate. ‘Effective L&D solutions have already proven their strategic value in 2023.’ What about 2024? ‘There may be challenges but successful L&D teams will know how to transform them into strategic opportunities.’
British Council has over 80 years’ experience of partnering with organisations and individuals in over 200 countries. Our four-step approach to skills gap analysis, learning design, delivery and evaluation supports L&D teams to navigate the upskilling process and empower teams with skills that make a difference.