Workday Learning: Accelerating Fast

The $240 billion corporate learning market is one of the most complex and fast-changing worlds in HR. There are dozens of platform providers, hundreds of content companies, and an army of new ideas and innovations every day.

And innovation is fast and furious. Whenever a new technology is invented, learning technologists quickly try to use it for training. The iPhone led to video-courses; YouTube and Netflix led us to the LXP, Microsoft Teams and Workplace are leading to Learning in the Flow of Work, and I would not be surprised to see TikTok lead to a new corporate learning model soon.

But as much as we love the innovation, it makes the job of an L&D leader hard. How many of these platforms do we need? Which ones will succeed over time? And how do we integrate all this stuff into one single user experience? It’s confusing, complex, and expensive.

Along comes Workday. The “single system” architected for the cloud. Can Workday Learning bring this all together? I would suggest that this time may be coming soon.

The History of Workday Learning

Workday Learning was introduced in 2016, and it was originally designed around video authoring, distribution, and delivery. The company introduced the idea of Campaigns and lots of tools to personalize learning, and included a simple learning architecture (topics and courses) with a CRM-like platform to share content and notify users in real-time.

In many ways it was a few years ahead of it’s time, and customers were not sure how to use it. They saw the potential for “learning in the flow of work,” but most companies had much more fundamental issues. So they started to adopt it slowly, and realized it would not really replace their LMS.

The Workday Learning team also missed a few things: there was no good way to import and manage third party content; the business rules were limited; and the content which you authored was not “skills-oriented” and hard to organize well. But the team kept working on things, and the system got better over time.

Today, as we fast-forward four years, Workday Learning is the first enterprise-scale platform that has the potential to replace the corporate LMS, the corporate LXP, and even the Talent Marketplace platform. So in this article I want to give you some insights, and share much of what we’ve learned.

As you can see from the product roadmap, Workday has done a lot of thinking over the years. And where they’ve landed is in a pretty cool place. (Today there are 1350+ licensed customers with nearly 50% live. The largest customer is delivering 11 million learning events per year.)

I think the platform has the opportunity to disrupt the market. Let me try to explain.

The Complexity of Enterprise Learning

As I describe what Workday is doing, let me first explain the complexity of corporate learning. As the graphic below shows, there are a lot of pieces to consider, and I group them into three big areas: 

  • Learning Experience Platform (LXP) where people go to find, discover, and often recommend content – and these systems can sometimes recommend mentors and job opportunities too.
  • Learning Delivery System (LDS) – where learning programs actually happen, and this includes collaborative learning, cohorts, live events, VR, micro-learning, conversational learning, and much more.
  • Learning Management System (LMS) – where all the data and tracking and business rules reside.

While this is a simplified picture, in each of these layers there are many data elements, places to simplify (or confuse) the employee experience, and lots of technology and business rules. If you want to stream video, for example, there is translation, content distribution, and many forms of tracking.

Then we have to think about how all this “learning stuff” fits into the rest of the HR and company’s systems. As the data architecture picture shows below, companies also have to think about “what data goes where.” This is a real-world picture from a very large retailer’s systems, and it’s not too different from what almost every larger company has today. And I’m leaving out lots of smaller data systems: think about where Zoom interactivity data goes for example.

As a result of all this complexity (and honestly it’s hard to avoid most of these pieces), there are two real ways to put this together.  The first, which is what most larger companies do, is to buy lots of learning platforms and just stitch them together with an LXP or learning portal on top. The reason LXP’s are so popular is that they can quickly “put lipstick on the pig” and essentially clean up the mess behind the scenes without moving around the back end pieces.

But that doesn’t fix the problem. We still have a lot of use cases and applications of learning to worry about, and many are business-critical. When Target or Wal-Mart, for example, rolls out in-store training for public health protocols, diversity, or compliance – they need to make sure every individual gets the training, regardless of where they are and what device they use. The same is true at Verizon, AT&T, and just about every other consumer-facing company.

In a pharmaceutical company, tech company, or financial services company we have the same problem internally. How does Bank of America train their 50,000+ new customer service and banking representatives every year and make sure their experience is positive, productive, and very high value? They also have to worry about many formats, many sources of content, and lots of “prescribed” or mandatory programs too. So they want to instrument, monitor, and validate that everyone is learning too.

Just buying an LXP and putting it out there is not even close to solving this problem. Consider a new manager who needs “first line supervisor training” and then after six months needs diversity and inclusion? We may want those programs to appear based on a job change or tenure date. Suppose you change locations or countries and need to learn new legal policies? The list of business rules goes on and on. 

In some of the more tech-savvy companies (Amazon, Facebook, and others), L&D leaders want the content to be available In The Flow of Work, based on actual activity on the job. Call center and other online workers get popup training when they have a break, directed specifically to their personal needs. A study by Axonify found that people who receive small amounts of safety training, for example, on a periodic spaced basis, can reduce accidents and hazards by 40% or more – just going to one two-hour course doesn’t have nearly the impact.

So you have to accept that corporate learning is complex, and just remember it’s very important. The average global company spends around $1500 per employee per year on various forms of learning (far less in retail and far more in professional services), so there is more than $200 billion of investment focused in this critical area.

Workday’s Vision: Bringing It All Together

I’ve been working in this area for more than 20 years now and most of the bigger HR software vendors think about learning as “building a corporate LMS.” SAP, Oracle, UKR, Ceridian, ADP, and most of the others go out and buy or build learning management systems and assume that this is going to address their customers’ needs. And it does help companies put the tracking and credentials in one place. But it’s not nearly going far enough.

Workday, which focuses on building an end-to-end integrated system (I always think of Workday as the Apple of HR Software – everything is designed to work together, just a tiny bit proprietary), sees the world differently. The company’s original learning vision was to deliver on-demand, prescribed, targeted video learning to employees. And from the start (I remember the very first demo) the idea was not to build out a million lines of business rule code in the LMS, but to make the content easy to send to people (the Campaign function), consume (the easy to use video interface), track, and manage (the video distribution platform). So Workday Learning was originally a video management and distribution system, something like a CRM system combined with Vimeo and online translation.

Customers liked it but of course, it couldn’t replace all their other stuff, so over time Workday pushed on. As you can see from the roadmap above, Workday has added many of the compliance, business rule, extended enterprise, certification, and assessment features companies need. They’ve radically evolved the user experience, and now totally integrated learning into the Workday People Experience. And the “Learning Delivery System” I describe above is built in to Workday’s native video authoring and collaboration tools.

But as you’ll see in the coming release, they’ve gone much farther. Workday’s talent product team includes Learning, Skills Cloud and Talent Marketplace, and Career Hub (launching in March). So what these folks are doing is delivering an end-to-end system that delivers learning, career development, project and job mobility, and development planning – all in one system.  (Talent Marketplace is now available.)

This is much more than just “adding lots of features” like what Cornerstone or other vendors do.  (Cornerstone does not really have a career system yet, they’re working on it.) This is more of what I’d call “learning and career development in the flow of work.” All based on the skills, career, job, and mobility data in Workday. The potential is simply enormous.

Not only does it bring together the LMS, Talent Marketplace, Career Hub, and development planning into one place, it also builds a completely integrated solution based on one single architecture for skills. Right now there’s a war for “skills clouds” going on and it’s turning into a mess already. We have skills data in the LMS, skills data in the LXP, skills data in the Talent Marketplace, skills data in the recruiting system, and skills data in any assessment products you buy. As you build all these little databases of skills, you have to decide which skills system is “primary” and which is “secondary.”  Well, Workday can do that for you.

And to make the platform even more competitive, I think it will compete with the LXP. The LXP market, which gets bigger by the day, is about to get very competitive. Microsoft Teams is becoming an LXP and soon offerings like Workday Learning will replicate a lot of the functionality. Today Workday does not have a lot of content partnerships, but that will be coming next. 

And in many ways, Workday’s “embedded LXP” is superior to a third-party product. This year Workday introduced customized Journeys in the People Experience, enabling you to build prescribed learning and action journeys for any employee. So instead of getting a “learning campaign” when you are promoted, the bigger Journey could step you through the entire process of promotion, and then enroll you in the “new manager” course. LXP platforms cannot do this.

What Does Workday Learning Look Like?

Let me show you a few new things.

1/ Workday Cards and Personalization in the People Experience

2/ Workday Journeys and Learning Assigments (user is not even logged in to Learning)

3/ Recommended Learning and Feedback in Workday learning

4/ New Workday Learning Course Page (available now)

5/ LXP-like Interface to Workday and Third-Party Content

6/ Recommended Mentors and Assignments (integrating Learning, Talent Marketplace, and Career Hub, which arrives in Spring 2021)

7/ Gig projects and developmental assignments in Talent Marketplace

The Big Opportunity For Workday

The last four years have been big investment years for Workday. The company has built out its recruiting application, learning and video platform, talent marketplace, skills cloud, employee experience layer, and a case and knowledge management system. Each of these product segments is like a company in itself, and in Workday’s case, the company also has very demanding customers to appease.

While all these applications have many features to add, you can now see them all working together, enabling customers to consider a world where they don’t have five or six different systems making all this work. And that means Workday customers may stop issuing RFPs for all these other systems, which would somewhat consolidate the market.

It’s very clear to me that the Pandemic has greatly accelerated the transition to more agile ways of working. This means the tools for learning in the flow of work, internal gig work and mobility, skills-based mentoring and development, and academy-centric learning are all in great demand. Workday, perhaps by accident, started building these systems in an integrated way more than four years ago – in 2021 the company will start showing how they all work together, perhaps taking the lead in offering a new world of talent management – one that is agile, skills-based, and focused on learning and performance in a highly productive way.