Fast-Paced Learning for Fast-Paced Businesses

By Cait Etherington
February 15, 2017

A century ago, General Motors and General Electric began to offer in-house training programs. Most of these programs targeted lower level employees and focused on practical skills. Today, in-house training programs continue to flourish with everyone from Apple and Boeing to Ikea and Starbucks working to develop innovative in-house training models. While some organizations have their own campuses, others have embraced eLearning. So what is the difference between Apple’s top-secret university, which has its own campus, and Starbucks nearly exclusively online approach? McKinsey & Company researchers have found that fast-paced learning for fast-paced businesses may be most effectively accomplished in a blended approach.

McKinsey & Company’s Study on eLearning in Corporate Environments

In 2014, McKinsey & Company researchers surveyed 1,500 global executives and in 2015, they surveyed approximately 120 senior learning-and-development leaders. This is what they discovered about fast-paced learning for fast-paced businesses: “The great majority of our respondents expect corporate learning to change significantly within the next three years—both the capabilities imparted and the new agility required to match the faster pace of business.”

However, as they further observe, “What’s worrying is the level of dissatisfaction with the status quo. Only 57 percent of the respondents believe that their academies are ‘very or fully aligned’ with corporate priorities. Even fewer (52 percent) reported that these institutions enable their companies to meet strategic objectives. About 40 percent of CLOs say that their initiatives are either ‘ineffective’ or ‘neither effective nor ineffective’ in assessing the capabilities and gaps of employees. These shortcomings are most pronounced among midlevel managers and senior leaders—reflecting, in our experience, how difficult it is to instill new attitudes, particularly at the higher levels of a company.” Simply put, McKinsey & Company’s findings point to two major problems. First, a disconnect between what corporate academies are doing and need to be doing and second, a specific challenge reaching mid-level managers and senior leaders through the corporate university format.

eLearning Supports More Responsive Learning

As McKinsey & Company researchers concluded, “Digitization offers a huge opportunity to transform learning and address some of its current deficiencies, though it bears noting that digital learning tools are not new. What is new—and disruptively so—is the fact that the content of learning is moving to the cloud, becoming accessible across multiple devices and teaching environments and often being generated, shared, and continually updated by users themselves.” While the McKinsey report did find that millennials and postmillennials were most comfortable learning online, there is substantial evidence that eLearning can be used to support workers across demographics.

Specifically, McKinsey & Company’s research team discovered that “Sophisticated organizations are now expanding their use of cloud-based learning to run such personalized applications as MOOCs (massive open online courses), SPOCs (small private online courses), instructional videos, learning games, e-coaching, virtual classrooms, online performance support, and online simulations.” Digital 3-D learning environments that enable participants to “see” and “feel” complex equipment in context is also increasingly being successfully used to train workers and to help managers and executives better understand what is happening on the factory floor too. Finally, there is a growing move to embrace “collective intelligence,” since as McKinsey’s study emphasizes, “Flattening the knowledge hierarchy not only sharpens the messaging and broadens the pool of available content but also enables faster delivery and, potentially, more sophisticated performance measurement.”

Fast-Paced Learning for Fast-Paced Businesses: A Blended Model Works Best

Notably, despite McKinsey & Company’s findings, which strongly predict and encourage eLearning, the research team does not suggest ignoring brick-and-mortar institutions, including corporate campuses, such as the Apple University. “Ultimately, we believe, the future of corporate academies lies in blended learning, which combines classroom forums, in-field applications, personal and results-oriented feedback, and online engagement,” they suggest, adding “There is no magic number for allocating time between digital and in-person learning.” What is clear is that fast-paced learning for fast-paced businesses requires a complex approach and ideally one that blends both old and new approaches.