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How Does L&D Technology Enable a Stronger Learning Culture?

Multiple studies conducted by the Institute for Corporate Productivity (i4cp) in recent years, and the resulting reports, from Culture Renovation: A Blueprint for Action to Culture Fitness: Healthy Habits of High-Performance Organizations, have demonstrated a strong correlation between having a strong learning culture and a healthy overall organizational culture—which in turn analysis shows is strongly correlated to better productivity and business outcomes.

More specifically, learning is one of the six key traits that i4cp research has found make up the most “fit cultures” (the others are employee focused, inclusive, quality, innovative, and collaborative.) One of the seven habits of very healthy cultures was also found to be having a learning mindset: organizations with very healthy cultures are 6x more likely to be described as continuous learning cultures.

But what enables a stronger learning mindset/culture in an organization?

Officially establishing learning as a key organizational value is one place to start. Leaders’ sharing and modelling their own learning, and then emphasizing and making time for learning for their teams, are two more supporting practices. But it turns out that the organization’s Learning and Development (L&D) technology ecosystem is another.

Connecting L&D Technology with Learning Culture

In August 2023, i4cp partnered with Training Magazine to conduct a survey of the current learning and development technology landscape. Over 500 global L&D leaders and technology specialists participated, providing a robust set of findings.

Overall, results show L&D technology to be at least somewhat effective in supporting a wide range of talent outcomes, with respondents from high-performance organizations far more frequently citing key outcomes such as:

  • Producing individual behavior change
  • Enhancing the employee experience
  • Increasing employee productivity
  • Instilling/reinforcing a strong learning culture

We all know from our work and personal lives the impact that the right technology can have on individual behavior change. And L&D professionals will be glad to see the correlation with better outcomes for the employee experience and overall productivity too.

But it turns out the strongest correlation to market performance, amongst all 16 outcomes considered by the study, was L&D technologies’ ability to better instill or reinforce a strong learning culture. Indeed, participants from high-performance organizations were 3.5x more likely than those from low-performing organizations to say their L&D technologies are highly effective in this regard.

Which Components of the L&D Technology Ecosystem Most Strongly Correlate with Learning Culture?

Anyone involved in researching and procuring L&D technology for their organization knows there is a dizzying array of options available, from core elements such as Learning Management Systems (LMS) and digital learning content libraries, to more niche tools such as simulation and microlearning platforms.

To determine connections between these and other aspects of learning technology with strong learning cultures, i4cp used a Learning Culture Index. Based on the prior culture studies mentioned above, the following six components of a strong learning culture were used in this study:

  • Active knowledge sharing is an expectation of everyone
  • Learning is an espoused organizational value
  • Leaders (at all levels) are involved in teaching others and reinforcing learning’s importance
  • Learning is reinforced in both hiring and performance discussions
  • The organization measures the effectiveness of learning and development activities
  • Managers are rewarded for the development and mobility of their team members

In the current study, analysis found again a strong correlation to market performance for these practices, so together they were used as a proxy for having a strong learning culture in analyzing other study findings.

For instance, participants were asked: What areas of L&D technology do you anticipate your organization will prioritize its spending on in the next 12 months? The most common responses were core L&D technologies, such as LMS platforms, digital learning content libraries, and learning measurement analytics. But six other L&D technologies had a strong correlation with the Learning Culture Index (listed in order by strength of the correlation):

  • Generative AI for L&D uses
  • Virtual classroom
  • Digital learning content creation / authoring tools
  • Mentoring or coaching platform
  • Assessment tools
  • Skills information management

Many organizations shifted much of their in-person instructor-led training online due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This involved investing in new technologies, upskilling trainers and producers, and redesigning learning content and programs. While the pendulum has swung back since March 2020 to in-person training to some extent, our conversations with many learning leaders has made it clear that virtual classroom training—and hence investment in the technologies and skills required to deliver it effectively—will continue at a far higher level than pre-pandemic.

Digital learning content creation tools, assessment tools, and more recently, mentoring and coaching platforms as well as skills information management platforms, have all come a long way in providing significant value to organizations.

In fact, when survey participants were asked what one or two L&D technology investments have made the biggest difference in achieving your organization’s L&D goals, some mentioned examples in each of these categories and learning content creation tools received the most responses. Articulate’s tools in particular were named more than any other, from any category. (For more details on these findings, see the member-only i4cp infographic.

And what about the newest kid on the L&D tech block, using generative AI for L&D use cases? Although only 23% of survey participants indicated they anticipated their organization will prioritize its L&D tech spending on this over the next 12 months (which ranks 10th out of 17 technologies), it was the technology most strongly correlated with organizations having a strong learning culture.

Additional i4cp research, Is HR Already Behind in the AI Revolution, has found that only a relative few organizations are leading the way with generative AI experimentation and use in HR and beyond, but that doing so correlates with stronger market performance. One of nine critical next practices this research identified is deconstructing jobs into the tasks and skills required, and then determining where generative AI can enhance productivity. For an L&D example of this, see the article “How Generative AI Will Forever Change the Role of Instructional Designers.”

Learning Culture and the LMS

As i4cp research found several years ago, the LMS is far from a dead platform. This latest study supports this, as survey participants named the LMS more often than any other L&D technology when asked where they anticipate their organization will prioritize spending in the next 12 months. The LMS remains a core platform, providing everything from tracking of required compliance training and large libraries of optional e-Learning courses, to highly personalized learning journeys composed of microlearning, nudges, simulations, and more.

On the other hand, participants in the 2023 survey didn’t indicate glowing praise for their organization’s current LMS platform: quite the opposite. Overall, they gave their LMS platforms a Net Promoter Score of -44, meaning relatively few would enthusiastically recommend their LMS platform to a friend or colleague. NPS scores for the most common LMS platforms ranged from -13 to -70. To learn more about these see the member-only i4cp infographic.

That said, out of the 43 learner-facing and management/admin features considered in this study, six were found to be rarely considered an LMS strength, but correlated strongly to the Learning Culture Index:

  • Online interactive performance support
  • Collaborative/social learning elements
  • Personalized learning pathways/journeys
  • Learner-generated content
  • Advanced data analytics functionality
  • Accessibility features

All six of these are aspects that more mature L&D functions generally focus on after they’ve mastered the fundamentals of developing and delivering e-Learning courses, in-person and virtual instructor-led programs, and assessing learning at basic levels 1 (satisfaction) and 2 (knowledge). To dig deeper on these and the other LMS features considered, including how often they are considered strengths overall and for each of several common LMS providers, see the member-only i4cp infographic.

For more results of the L&D Technology study, see the full member-only brief, which includes details of the five key findings as well as i4cp’s six recommendations for members. This brief, and five infographics, are all available at the L&D Technology collection.

Thomas Stone
Tom is a Senior Research Analyst at i4cp, with over two decades of experience as a writer, researcher, and speaker in the learning and development and broader human capital industry. He is also author of multiple books, including co-authoring Interact and Engage! 75+ Activities for Virtual Training, Meetings, and Webinars (second edition from ATD Press, 2022).