ATD Blog

Building a Productive Learning Culture: Rightsizing Learning Opportunities

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

In the previous blog, “Building a Productive Learning Culture,” we explored how simply increasing learning participation isn’t enough to drive the results required from L&D—and is actually a waste of time and money. Instead, L&D should focus on building a productive learning culture to achieve performance results. 

In this blog, we’ll look at how organizations can rightsize their learning opportunities (instead of offering too many choices) to ensure that employees engage in relevant and high-quality learning. 

Historically, it has been a major challenge to engage employees actively in development outside of the classroom. With that goal in mind, 61 percent of heads of L&D are focused on providing employees more learning opportunities, and 75 percent actively promote the importance of on-the-job, experiential learning. 

Rather than helping the situation, however, these efforts are causing problems. Employees feel overwhelmed with the available learning opportunities and choices and often fail to identify those that are relevant to them. Only 33 percent of employees agree that the learning opportunities available suit their development needs, and only 34 percent report that they can take advantage of all the learning opportunities in which they would like to participate.

Instead of increasing learning choices, the best organizations are directing learning choices by carefully curating and limiting the learning opportunities they have available. They are also considering the learning maturity of employee groups when taking in new learning requests.

The first step for most L&D leaders should be to take a look at the existing catalog of courses and content. A financial services company we work with went through the process of curating its catalog by not just applying a data-driven lens (usage rates, learner feedback), but also by applying informed judgment to business relevance. It understood that just because content is being used doesn’t mean it should be, and just because content isn’t being used doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be. The L&D team applied its understanding of evolving business strategy and talent needs to ensure that the curated catalog aligned with business needs.


Curation exercises are certainly not unusual, but more often than not, L&D functions treat them as one-off exercises. As a result, the learning catalog slowly grows and becomes cluttered with content that is low quality and has low relevance. Instead, L&D should engage in vigorous curation exercises at least twice a year to ensure the catalog is precisely what the business needs.

Additionally, the L&D team at this financial services organization is managing its learning choices on an ongoing basis through two mechanisms. First, all requests that L&D receives from the line for new learning content are carefully vetted against the talent strategy. L&D staff are equipped with a framework for declining or reorienting requests as needed. Second, L&D meets regularly with line leaders to assess the success of the existing supply of learning and align expectations of the demand for new learning.

Several other firms in retail, manufacturing and professional services utilize ROI-based training assessments to understand the degree of impact of trainings and training providers. Platforms like Metrics that Matter® survey managers of employees who have been trained to identify whether the training improved the individual’s performance. Companies can then eliminate often hundreds of thousands of dollars in “scrap” learning experiences, purging courses and vendors that do not achieve expected outcomes.



Editor’s note: The next blog in this series will examine the second of the three key components for a productive learning culture: learning capability. Also, learn more about how leading L&D teams build a productive learning culture at

About the Author

Thomas Handcock, is senior director at CEB. A researcher at heart, and passionate about learning, Handcock is focused on working with CEB’s global network of clients to unlock the potential of their employees and leaders. His research on areas like on-the-job learning, coaching, training design, L&D strategy, and staff capability, and the hundreds of discussions he has each year with L&D executives and their teams, have only served to reinforce his belief that human capital development is one of the most powerful levers the modern enterprise has at its disposal.

About the Author

As Talent Solutions Architect at CEB, Jean Martin directs the development of talent management solutions and insights across the company with heads of human resources at some of the largest global organizations. Specifically, Jean spends time working on issues relating to driving breakthrough organizational performance, and assessing, engaging and retaining the best employees.

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