High-Impact Learning Culture in Europe

I spent this week in Europe (nice Siberian snowstorm here), attending a client meeting in the UK and the Online Educa Berlin (OEB), the largest e-learning conference in the world.

This conference, which has more than 1,000 attendees, brings together learning and academic professionals from businesses, educational institutions, and governments throughout Europe.  The event is highly stimulating and fun:  people come together to discuss the use of technology in all aspects of learning, education, training, and public policy.

I had the opportunity to participate in a wide variety of sessions, including a keynote speech on the topic of High-Impact Learning Culture (you can watch the entire video here).

What I learned at this conference is that European organizations struggle with precisely the same issues as those in North America and other parts of the world, but with some very special problems.

First, most western European countries and organizations are aging rapidly.  One statistic which struck me:  the average age of a European worker today is 32.  By 2022 this average age will be 51.  European countries (and companies) are urgently looking for ways to transfer skills and leadership to younger workers.

Second, European organizations, just like others in the world, are rapidly expanding their operations into China, India, and other developing countries.  At one of my meetings I sat down with the head of talent acquisition for Danfoss, a $10Billion+ provider of air conditioning and other industrial products.  Danfoss is a family owned Scandinavian company which is highly profitable but has been slowly shrinking in employees.  Despite the drop in employees from 32,000 to around 27,000 over the last 3 years, the company’s workforce in China has grown from 50 to more than 2,000.  One of Danfoss’s biggest challenge is the development of a global recruitment process and set of standard tools and practices to help this “globalized recruitment” operation work.  (They are working with Stepstone Solutions to implement a new platform to automate this operation.)

Third, European organizations operate in strong synergy with their local and pan-European governments.  One of the panels I joined was a panel of professionals including the European Commission discussing various techniques for “reskilling” the local workforce.  Companies in Germany, the Netherlands, and the UK all participated with us, and all discussed their various techniques for developing what we call “deep specialization” programs for professionals.  The EU has committed more than $60 Million to fund academic research on this topic.  If you watch my speech above (or read our research on deep specialization), you will get a sense of what this means and why “continuous learning” is such an important business strategy for the coming decade.

Fourth, there appears to be a slight time warp between the Online Educa conference and the US.  I found myself in many conversations about the impact of social media (twitter, Facebook, etc) yet most corporate professionals were trying to figure out how to implement blended learning.  In the US we grappled with the topic of Blended Learning (I wrote The Blended Learning Book back in 2004) almost six years ago – so to me the emergence of informal learning tools is simply an expansion of the concepts of blended learning we learned already.  In Europe, I concluded, since many companies are physically closer together than in the US (countries are simply smaller), there has been slower adoption of e-learning and virtual classrooms, so the needs to understand blended learning are more recent.

Finally, I once again was reminded that despite cultural differences and the tremendously important need for language training in Europe (which is not a big issue in the US), people and organizations are the same everywhere.  The problems of business alignment, bringing modern measurement approaches to L&D, and creating talent mobility and career development strategies are precisely the same in most organizations.

At the end of my keynote a number of L&D and academic professionals came up to talk with me, and they all asked me the same precise question.  “We believe in the need to assess and improve our culture, but how can we as L&D professionals drive this issue?”  The answer I told them was simple:  our jobs are to educate ourselves about these issues, use this research to communicate the issue to top leadership, assess your organization’s culture in various ways, and help coach managers, executives, and employees to embrace the 40 practices in our research.

Today more than 20 of our clients have started to adopt the principles of High-Impact Learning Culture in their leadership development, L&D, and executive development programs.  I urge you to read this research and give this topic some thought.  (Non-members can purchase the research here.)