What’s REALLY Going On? 6 Truths About Training in 2012

Most of us are curious about tomorrow (hence, our fascination with all the predictions for the upcoming year)… but we live in today.  At BLP, we have plans to report on top training trends we see emerging in 2013, but we want to first step back and look at what’s happening (and not happening) now. We’ve set all the hype aside to look at what was really happening in the training world in 2012.

Image courtesy of schmorgasblog.com

Here’s the sources we used to help formulate a picture of today:

  • Responses to Training Magazine’s Training Top 125 submission. Training’s Top 125 acknowledges the companies whose efforts in learning and development (L&D) stand out from the rest in terms of their impact on the winners’ bottom-line results.
  • The 2012 State of the Industry Report from The American Society for Training and Development (ASTD), the world’s largest professional association dedicated to the training and development field.
  • The 2012 mLearning Report, published in May 2012, by eLearning Guild, the world’s oldest and largest “community of practice” for eLearning professionals.

Here’s four truths we gleaned from reviewing this data…plus two others gleaned from experience. A caveat as you read the truths: This is a bit like The Blind Men and the Elephant[1]. Perspective is never really objective; it depends on your vantage point. We tried to cull from several sources, but your experience could differ. Feel free to comment!

Truth #1: ILT is NOT dead.

If you just focused on what gets publicized and written about, you’d swear there wasn’t a stand-up instructor left in corporate America. Yet, if ASTD’s State of the Industry Report is accurate, then a lot of very big companies still heavily rely on instructor-led training. Submitters to Training’s Top 125 award are much more focused on eLearning than ILT…but they still do a significant amount of ILT!

Distribution method ASTD State of the Industry Report Training Top 125 respondents
Instructor-led – classroom 59.4% 31%
Instructor-led – online 8.75% 5%
Instructor-led – remote (satellite, video) 4.5% Did not mention as category
Self-paced online 18.7% 69%
Mobile 1.4% Did not mention as category

See Truth #2 and Truth #5 for potential reasons why this is.

Truth #2: mLearning is a lot like sex. Lots of folks talking about it. Far fewer actually doing it yet.

mLearning and all things mobile have been hot topics for at least three years. Given the amount of info you can get in a Google search on mLearning, you’d think it was THE dominant distribution method. But it’s not – and it’s not even close. The ASTD State of the Industry report had well over 400 respondents, all from very big companies. Yet only 1.4% of respondents indicated that mobile is a current distribution method. The eLearning Guild’s May 2012 report on mLearning yields higher percentages who have implemented or are in the design stages of a solution…but the % is still small. And the eLearning Guild’s member demographic is more niche than ASTD’s; the folks in eLearning Guild are technology-focused in most instances.

Here’s the data from eLearning Guild’s report on mobile:

What this means to you? You’ve still got time to figure out mLearnining and understand it. We love this great post from RJ Jacquez on what to be thinking about.

Truth #3: Outside vendors matter.

Really. The numbers in ASTD’s report back us up. Respondents shared that 30% of their L&D budget goes to external resources. They also report an average ratio of 315 company employees to every L&D employee. Take a very lean L&D organization and the need to serve a large population of employees and you get a need to supplement internal resources with external resources. Staying on top of trends and technologies in learning and development – and having the skill set to design with those technologies –  gets tougher every day. Most companies are NOT in the L&D business; they are in business to do something else. Hence…the need for outside expertise.

What’s this mean to you? Vet vendors carefully and select people who can truly partner with you in supporting your L&D efforts. Selfishly for us, we advocate for vendors who stay on the leading edge and communicate clearly what’s possible today as well as what to be thinking about tomorrow.

Truth #4: We need to be more focused on the informal and on-the-job experiences people have.

31 hours. That’s the average amount of time ASTD’s survey respondents say an employee spends in formal training in a year’s time. That translates to 1.5% of someone’s work hours (assuming 2080 work hours in a year, which is 52 weeks x 40). The ASTD BEST award winners (a subset of respondents to the annual survey who have won an award similar to the Training Top 125 award) report more time in formal training – 49 hours or 2.3%.of work time.

Now consider this number: $1228. That’s the average amount of spend per employee inside the ASTD survey respondents’ organizations. Multiply that by, oh, 5,000 employees, and you see companies spending A LOT of money on formal training…which only occupies about 1.5% of someone’s time in a year. Hmmm….good value or no?

What’s this mean for you? If you are in L&D, you tend to think of training as REALLY important. The numbers, though, indicate that formal training cannot have nearly as much relevance or criticality as on-the-job experiences, access to “just-in-time” resources that help employees do their jobs, and access to informal learning opportunities. Pay attention to all those posts on social learning and informal learning. Figure out how to cultivate those opportunities inside your organizations – and create the tools/make tools available for employees.

Disclaimer: Truth #5 and Truth #6 come from our experience…not any of the reports in the industry. So here goes…

Truth #5: The majority of eLearning – in reality – is pretty painful to go through and poorly designed.

At the start of a project, clients ALWAYS say they want something that is “engaging” and not too content-heavy. They say they are focused on outcomes. Yet – when you ask a subject matter expert or requester of training what they want people to know or do after training – or what problem they are trying to solve, they can go strangely silent. They revert to listing what they want to include in a course…not what they want learners to GET OUT of a course.

The result, of course, becomes “text and next” with tons of content and little relationship to any behaviorally based outcomes. The consequence is eLearning courses that are painful to take for anyone other than the subject matter expert who wanted all the content put in. Worse, the people taking them actually don’t learn anything in many cases…meaning the investment in creating the course was wasted!

What’s this mean for you? As L&D professionals, we need to do better in our conversations with those requesting eLearning…and we need to advocate for ourselves and what we bring to the table. No company wants to waste money or waste employee’s time. Bad eLearning does both..and it fuels Truth #1 – which is continuing with ILT. Many a client has told us, “Oh, we HATE eLearning. We need to stick with ILT. People like it better.” (Note – no comments on whether one format or another yields better ROI, just “people like it better.”)

Truth #6: Very Few People Actually Pull Data From the LMS… but They All Believe They Need the Data.

Being able to access and use data is great… but only if you will, well, access and use the data. In the majority of organizations we work in, we NEVER see our clients go back to pull data or evaluate results. Yet almost all clients insist that their courses be SCORM-compliant and reside inside an LMS. Companies spend huge sums of money purchasing, maintaining, and upgrading LMS systems…and don’t really appear to use the data gathering and reporting functionality they are paying big dollars to have. To us, this simply seems like a waste of money.

I always feel like I’m the kid in the fairy tale “The Emperor Who Had No Clothes” when I attempt to point this out, however. No one wants to hear, “I don’t think that the LMS that you spend $1M on is really giving you value because you aren’t using it to do anything other than serve as a course repository.”

What’s this mean for you? Before embarking on the LMS journey or agreeing to major upgrades or investments in a new system, address the elephant in the room and ask, “What’s the ROI of this investment in the LMS? How are we using it? What do we do with the data?” What happens if we do NOT use an LMS? What’s the alternative?


Got any other truths that I missed? I could have included truths about games and gamification (my favorite topic as I’m passionate about the value of learning games), video in training, and a few others…but I need to save some stuff for next week’s emerging trends and technologies post!

  • klwi3329

    Thanks Sharon. These are great truths. #5 gave me a chuckle. I’ve done some interviewing with private companies for ID positions. Have found myself wanting to talk about great design; they just want to get the product out – Chevette or Cadillac, doesn’t matter as long as the profits are there.