Making Corporate Learning Work

corporate learning

By Shlomo Ben-Hur & Nik Kinley

Corporate Learning functions are under pressure to deliver like never before. Yet studies have repeatedly shown that business leaders’ satisfaction with the work of their learning functions has remained as low as 20% for the past decade. For an industry worth over $200 billion per year globally, that is a bad return on investment. In this article the authors lay out five critical changes to the way corporate learning is approached, that businesses need do to put things right and make corporate learning work.

Last year, a survey found that more than half of managers believe that employee performance would not change if their company’s learning function were eliminated.1 Some people exclaim a slight derisive laugh on reading this: it seems to play into their stereotypes about corporate learning. So they smile. Right up to the moment they remember how much learning costs. Then they stop smiling, because it often costs a lot. Globally, figures suggest over $200 billion is spent on corporate learning each year and it seems that the general feeling is that over $100 billion of that may well be wasted. Alarmingly, this wastage figure may well be on the conservative side. Because over the past ten years survey after survey has repeatedly shown that the proportion of business leaders who are satisfied with their learning function’s performance is around 20 percent.2 The stark reality is that by and large corporate learning is just not working as it should, and has not been for some time. And that is a lot of wasted money. In this article, we explain what needs to change: what businesses need to do to turn things around and finally make learning work.

This not a new issue, but it is one that cannot be ignored any longer. Fuelled by downturn-driven budgetary pressures and apprehension about the efficacy of learning interventions, demand for evidence of the impact and value of learning is growing fast.3 So a lack of progress in improving the impact of learning is suddenly meeting both heightened and hardened expectations. If corporate learning is to retain what remains of its credibility, something needs to change and it needs to change fast.

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