ASTD NY: Josh Bersin on Continuous Learning (Part 1)

ASTDNY logoJosh Bersin, Principal & Founder of Bersin by Deloitte (formerly Bersin & Associates) recently spoke at  an ASTD NY meeting.  You can read the one-page summary of my write-up on the ASTDNY blog here.  But Josh had so many interesting things to say that I felt it well worth posting my complete write-up here on my own blog, in two parts.  Part Two (which touches on Learning Architecture, Audience Analysis, Learning Culture, Talent Management, and Measurement) will follow next week.  Enjoy!

Part One

When Josh Bersin talks, smart people in the Learning field listen.  Josh noted that while his company is now part of Deloitte, they are still an independent evaluating entity.  Bersin’s firm is known industry-wide for the depth and breadth of their research, analysis, and forecasting in the Learning field.  Josh is an engaging, straightforward presenter.  He freely acknowledged that some of his slides were perhaps a bit too jam-packed with information, and that font sizes and colors were perhaps not ideal for a large audience like ours.  But perhaps it’s part of his modesty that he didn’t expect such a huge turnout; there wasn’t a single empty seat in the lecture room.  Despite his acknowledged place in the Learning field, Josh eschews the titles of “guru” and “thought leader” and instead considers himself “just a really good learner.”  This modesty has served him, and all of us, well.

Josh noted that Learning is and will always be a rapidly-changing space and marketplace—which can be a good thing for those of us in the Learning field.  He reinforced that his team takes their topics of study from us, as Learning industry professionals; our evolving priorities become their priorities.  Key areas of study for his team: Learning & Development, Talent Management, Leadership Development, Talent Acquisition, and Human Resources.  Every few years, they perform reassessments on key topics to identify what’s changing.  Josh’s talk was lengthy, detailed, and far-ranging, and he has graciously agreed to make his slides available to ASTD members.  I encourage you to seek them out and take the time to review them.

Continuous Learning: Josh believes that high-impact learning for the 21st century will come from creating a culture of what he terms “Continuous Learning.”  Their research has shown that the #1 issue facing companies globally is locating and landing the right Talent.  And the #2 issue is deploying that Talent effectively.  He pointed out a grim paradox in today’s business climate: companies are struggling with intense competition to identify top talent, desperate to hire.  But even as they do so, we’re still facing high unemployment.  He feels that this is partly due to the difficulty of aligning the existing Talent in the market to ever-more-specific business needs.  Josh pointed to a disconnect between what people are learning in school vs. what’s needed in today’s workforce, and to the difficulty all companies are having as they struggle to wrap their arms around the now-essential mobile learning.  There is a young, mobile, social workforce out there now with different expectations and skills with regard to virtual learning and collaboration.  He warned that this segment of the population doesn’t hesitate to express dissatisfaction with a company on public forums if they don’t feel sufficiently engaged.  But Josh also cited the fact that all-virtual isn’t necessarily the answer, either.  He cited the example of Deloitte creating Deloitte University in Texas: the company realized that in addition to their virtual structure, there was still a need for a physical face-to-face gathering place to occasionally “ground” their learning and development initiatives with in-person events.  Bersin’s survey of Top Talent Priorities for 2013 across organizations includes management capabilities, leadership skills, building high-impact performance, and more.  It’s a daunting and all-too-familiar list.

Given all of that, how does a 21st century company become a High Impact Learning Organization (HILO)?   Josh believes Continuous Learning is the key.  He also believes it’s necessary at all levels of business for a number of reasons.  In addition to increasing specialization, people are exposed to more learning channels and are simply learning faster, and the old HIPO (High Potential) Talent Management model only focused on leadership levels, missing the growth of Talent at all other segments of the workforce.

Bersin’s High Impact Learning Organization (HILO) survey process examines a series of factors, asking companies to self-evaluate their performance with regard to different outcomes.  He finds that when hundreds of companies are surveyed, there are clear themes: Effectiveness, Efficiency, Alignment. So what exactly are HILOs doing so well that gives them the business advantage?  Josh offered this list:

  • Mentoring & Evaluation Capability
  • Performance Consulting Capabilities
  • Audience Intelligence Capability
  • HR Alignment & Using HR Metrics

He noted that HILOs tend to be strong with knowledge management, business intelligence, and more savvy with rich media, audio, social media, and performance consulting.  They also demonstrate a more organic blending of Learning and Talent Management functions; Josh pointed out that not long ago, these were viewed as separate disciplines.  Bersin research has also shown that the more effectively companies work at evaluation and measurement of learning effectiveness, the more successful the learning outcomes.  He says most companies simply feel overwhelmed by the challenge of managing all their learning and talent management content in all its various forms.  But for HILOs who have a better handle on it all, the impact is enormous: According to Josh, between 2008 and 2011, high-impact learning organization profits grew 3x faster than the rest of the organizations studied.  Clearly, learning agility is a key business strategy for success.

Josh’s team recommends this maturity model to help organizations take action:

  • Level 1:  Incidental Training (in the moment training)
  • Level 2: Training & Development Excellence (learning/knowledge repository, LMS, etc.)
  • Level 3: Talent & Performance Improvement (how well you are leveraging learning resources to effect behavioral change)
  • Level 4: Organizational Capability (agility and effectiveness)

Josh also noted this snapshot of a timeline for evolution of Learning Solutions from 2001-2011:

  • Get Materials Online (2001)
  • Expand, Blend, Improve eLearning (2004) – Rapid eLearning, Information vs. Instruction
  • Solve Talent Problems (2007)
  • Informal Learning Skills & Specialization (2011) – Collaborative/Social Learning

He feels we’re in a transition to a new era of “Continuous Learning”: nothing has gone away, but we need to bring it together with the current socialized learning trends: “The only way to stay relevant is to stay current.”  In the Continuous Learning Model, a company has to identify which elements of training are most effective for their target audience, and work to maximize effectiveness of those elements.  He gave words to what everyone in the room knows: it’s not possible to keep on top of every type of learning.  He pointed out that you need to know more about your target audience ahead of time these days, to ensure that the Learning Events you offer are really aimed at them, to maximize retention.

Stay tuned for Part Two of Josh’s talk!  It’s equally filled with great nuggets of wisdom.  I will post it next Sunday.