Content overload, information overload, even content chaos: Many terms have been used to describe the challenges organizations—as well as employees—increasingly face when it comes to getting effective and useful information to the right people at the right time.

The topic is also not new; employees have felt overwhelmed for some time. See Josh Bersin, 2014 and Towards Maturity In Focus Report, 2017, where 40% of employees said they couldn’t find what they were looking for. In early 2021, Donald Taylor wrote his famous piece Finding the Needle in the Learning Content Haystack, painting a wonderful picture of this ongoing challenge. The same year, Red Thread published research on The Learning Content Dilemma. 

However, apart from some small gains in algorithms and filtering mechanisms, no substantial progress has been made. And while the democratization of learning, the effort to actively engage employees to share their experience and expertise with their colleagues, is successful, this effort is producing yet more content.

Today’s organizational learning tech stack includes knowledge hubs, LXPs, external content libraries, and for larger organizations, even academies or corporate universities. The continuous need for answers, resources, and courses—or simply information at the moment of need—arises for a number of reasons. These include performing the job, performance improvement, learning in the flow of work via upskilling and reskilling, and general career development and personal growth.

Employees demand personalized learning

Despite all the efforts of tagging, sorting, creating learning “pathways,” nudges, and push notifications, employees are demanding better, more personalized professional development opportunities.

In addition, employees have started voting with their feet. That one in five workers globally planned to quit in 2022 was a key finding of consultancy firm PwC’s Global Workforce Hopes and Fears Survey of more than 52,000 workers in 44 countries and territories, carried out in March 2022.

Needless to say, engagement on digital journeys generally remains appallingly low.

How can this be? Because employees still can’t find what they need.

The right information at the right time: An elusive goal

And this dilemma comes in one of two versions.

Firstly, the employee can’t find what they require for a task at hand, in the moment of need, in the flow of work, quickly and effectively.

And secondly, when an employee is seeking opportunities for personal and career development, i.e., searching for courses and resources more generally, the observation tends to be that there is far too much on offer. This is due to the “silver bullet” approach to creating a content library: “We have so much content and so many courses on offer, surely there is something in there for everyone.”

Just having the content is insufficient. Not only are these massive content libraries difficult to navigate, but more importantly, the quality of the courses has largely not improved in years. Employees still face one-size-fits-all, boring click-through eLearning, with click-to-reveal and drag-and-drop features added in an attempt to distract from the mind-numbing task of endlessly clicking “next”—an issue which Harvard Business School has famously coined The Great Training Robbery in an article by the same name.

The continuous challenge of low engagement rates tells us the complete story here, even when vendors are touting supposed improvements in engagement. What tends to happen here is that vendors are touting improvements of very small actual numbers, though the percentages seem impressive. This is because the engagement numbers are very low to begin with. To give an example, improving engagement from 5% to 15% is indeed an increase of 200% (!) in engagement and will be quoted as such—despite the overall engagement remaining low. Nevertheless, these enormous improvement numbers appear in marketing materials, together with mind-boggling ROI calculations.

Is there a silver lining?

But, we’ve been promised a silver lining, a solution, for some time now. So-called pathways promised to take the learner down a bespoke route, personalized and sometimes even sold as adaptive. The learner can be assigned such a pathway, or learners can search and find pathways themselves. If they have access to the wider LXP that is, which is not always the case—often forgotten are the employees on the production floor or front lines, who lack access to IT systems at work.

But, where access does exist, system algorithms tend to push out pathways in one of two models. They either push out certain pathways to everyone in a similar job role across an organization. Or, they push out social recommendations along the lines of “Two of your colleagues found the ‘Leadership 2’ pathway useful. We thought you might find this useful, too. Click here to access the course.”

While we acknowledge that pathways and recommendations are a step forward from the antiquated content library setting, we also have to acknowledge that the promise of “adaptive” and “personalized” learning in these cases remains at the macro-level, at best. Additionally, the lens-like focus on personalization neglects organizational learning, as presented by Dr Nigel Paine at the recent Learning Technologies Autumn Forum.

The issue remains that expectations of adaptive learning, across the L&D profession and among learners, are not at all consistent, as per this Learning Guild research piece.

So where do we go from here?

As has been noted many times before, almost anyone can point out the issues and challenges of a given situation. This is true across all the different walks of life, including, of course, the world of learning and development.

The hard part is finding a solution. Therefore, this introductory article is merely meant to set the scene: offering a simple analysis, outlining what we see as core challenges in organizational development right now and where we see the most challenging performance gaps between the current L&D function and today’s employee expectations and requirements.

The three areas we have chosen to dive into in more detail in future articles are outlined below:

  • Capability frameworks, skills frameworks, and competency matrices—the attempt to assign the right training and development courses to the right employee, and the gaps between these frameworks, actual capability, and business outcomes 
  • In workflow learning, how to find the right content or SME (subject matter expert) to answer a question, and improved search functionality through innovative AI contextualization engines
  • How the future will be shaped by an elegant combination of truly adaptive digital learning and in-person performance improvement and development

Learn more

In-depth content on each of these topics will appear in Learning Solutions Magazine in the coming months. Meanwhile, register for for the winter Learning Leaders Online Forum to learn from the experts, network with peers, and explore emerging issues. And consider joining the Learning Leaders Alliance, a vendor-neutral global community for learning leaders who want to stay ahead of the curve.