Like other categories of HR technology, the learning and development (L&D) space has been shifting over the last couple of years, said Dani Johnson, co-founder and principal analyst for RedThread Research, an HR analyst firm in Woodside, Calif.
The learning technology that was available before the pandemic is still available, but new dimensions have been introduced, including a much richer conversation around skills, and a shift to complement the employee experience with individual learning budgets and employee dashboards, said Johnson, speaking at the HR Technology Conference & Exposition in Las Vegas.
The focus in L&D has changed, she said, toward more-directed career planning and selective skills academies; employer-led opportunity marketplaces; more coaching and mentoring of junior employees; and the return of the single learning platform.
Johnson outlined three major trends to follow going into 2023.
Doing More with Less
Investment in L&D technology has been "an embarrassment of riches" in recent years, Johnson said, even during the pandemic.
"While this has been great for the vendors and for their customers, that money train is likely to slow down," she said. "VCs [venture capital firms] are slowing down, and a lot of the smaller vendors we're talking to are having some trouble finding funding, particularly in later rounds. More mature vendors are starting to tighten their belts or conduct layoffs. This will start to change what products they are going to develop going forward. "
Consolidation is the other response to a slowdown in investment. "Consolidation means fewer choices," Johnson said. "Or things can get more complicated. If the tech you're using or planning to use suddenly gets sold to a vendor that you'd never pick, that gets interesting. On the other hand, options may increase; those looking for an LXP [learning experience platform], for example, but are still in need of a more traditional learning management system, may be able to do both."
She added that several notable L&D technology vendors gained improved functionality with recent acquisitions, including Cornerstone buying EdCast; ServiceNow buying skills platform Hitch; and Microsoft Viva buying Ally.io, a goals-tracking software startup.
All About Skills
Talk about reskilling and upskilling has been going on for some years now, but during the pandemic, it exploded, Johnson said. "Stories came out about employers that were able to quickly determine who had what skills and then move those people to other parts of the organization where they were needed."
Johnson said that L&D professionals should care about the emergence of skills technology because skills are the foundation of learning at an organization. "Understanding skills allows organizations to break down the skills needed for specific roles; identify transferrable skills across roles; rethink roles ; and create more flexibility and mobility for employees," she said.
Johnson said that previously, the focus of skills technology was simply tracking employee skills. Since then, two exciting channels have emerged: skills academies and opportunity marketplaces.
She said that before the pandemic, learning options for employees typically let them choose from a wide array of content. "The trend was to provide a smorgasbord of stuff and let people choose what they want to pursue," she said. "It was a Netflix-of-learning experience. Organizations are wanting to create a signal through that noise, especially with the increasing burnout people are facing. Skills academies have since emerged to teach people specific sets of skills to support business strategies and functions."
Opportunity marketplaces—digital platforms that match people to relevant projects, gigs, and full-time roles, as well as coaching and other development opportunities—have attracted a lot of attention in recent years. "About half of the L&D skills vendors we talked to said they have opportunity marketplaces," Johnson said. "They may look different, but these technologies provide opportunities to learn on the job, in the flow of work. Opportunity marketplaces help to create skills data more quickly , engage the employees to explore, and find their bliss , and provide the organization with information about the skills their employees have, want and need," she said.
Like the rest of human capital management, employee learning and development has been impacted by the focus on employee experience. Johnson pointed out three ways this calibration has shown up in L&D technology:
- More user-generated content . "It used to be that companies hired big firms to create learning courses," she said. "A few vendors are now allowing employees to create their own content. Elucidat, for example, provides guiderails and approvals to help employees, particularly subject matter experts, build stuff that'll be useful."
- Individual learning budgets. With the technology that supports visibility into learning budgets at the individual level, employers can finally see exactly how much is spent on learning, Johnson said. "Historically organizations spend as much as 1.5 times the learning budget and the L&D department doesn't even know about it."
- Employee dashboards. "In the past, L&D information would flow down to the managers and stay there," Johnson said. "Sometimes the worker would get that information and sometimes they wouldn't. Learning data is now being shared with the learners and that is good. The data is there to help individuals understand what they know, what they need to know to get where they want to go, and where they can go with what they already know."