The Case for Business-Centric Learning
The_Case_for_Business-Centric_Learning_.jpgEven though it’s been on nearly every “top trends” list for Learning and Development in the past two years, business-centric learning isn’t a trend, and we should stop thinking of it that way. Rather, it’s an entirely new framework for thinking about organizational learning – a somewhat radical shift in how we prioritize L&D initiatives in companies.
What is business-centric learning?
The concept of business-centric learning arose in 2014, when a Brandon Hall Group survey reported that 40% of learning and development executives design learning that is aligned with business goals. The majority of the survey respondents (60%) reported developing learning initiatives that are content- and learner-focused – a much more common way of framing learning needs and delivering training. And yet 60% was a surprising dip from previous years, sending L&D experts to speculate that business-centric learning was quickly emerging as a new paradigm. The bottom line is a question of what is prioritized: business needs or learner needs.
Why the hype?
In some ways – perhaps because nearly two years have passed since the Brandon Hall Group survey came out – a business-centric model doesn’t sound so radical anymore. It makes a good deal of sense, after all, to let business objectives drive learning objectives. If your goal is to increase sales by 10%, then you’d want to develop training that enhances your employees’ ability to deliver that goal – for example, an online module or workshop series called Closing the Deal. But that’s actually not traditionally how learning in organizations has worked. Brandon Hall learning analyst David Grebow describes content- and learner-centric models as the previous golden standard that drove all L&D initiatives.
  • Content-centric is “just-in-case” learning, a standard approach to teaching something “in case you might need to use it someday.” Canned tutorials for various software and processes make up this category.
  • Learner-centric is “just-in-time” learning, in which delivers information when and where (and often how) learners need to receive it. Learner needs and preferences are put on center stage, and all developmental and delivery decisions are made around them.
Business-centric learning takes the best of both of these perspectives, but puts the mission and goals of the organization first. Grebow calls it “just for me” learning – and the fact that his original survey garnered so much attention points to the fact that this new way of thinking about learning and development strikes a chord for many.
Why the sudden shift to align L&D with business goals?
Many L&D experts have warned that learner-centric training misses the mark because it focuses too heavily on closing skills gaps without first deciding which skill sets are most valuable to the organization. Others say that departments in larger companies tend to operate in silos, focusing on their own learning needs, rather than working together to achieve overall company goals – which is a costly mistake in the long run. (Executive Coach International manager Loo Mei Yee makes a Titanic analogy: if the ship’s officers had been trained in avoiding icebergs as well as the onboard musicians were trained in playing symphonies, the entire tragedy wouldn’t have happened.) Either way, the focus on business-centric learning comes from a general sense of dissatisfaction with content- and learner-centric programs as the only method of delivering learning needs.
What does an L&D department need to become business-centric?
For one thing, the business goals of the organization need to be clearly defined and quantifiable (for example, increasing sales by a specific amount or reducing negative feedback from customers). Only then should the training be developed, with specific objectives to meet company goals and create a learning experience that is both engaging and effective for the learners. It will be interesting to follow this new way of approaching L&D initiatives for the next five years, as companies invest in training developed in a business-centric model. As with any of the “trends” that pop up in L&D surveys and reports, it will take some time for major organizations to shift gears into a new framework – but once they do, the rewards seem promising.

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