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Benchmarking can help improve learning and development initiatives

With the current economic climate putting pressure on budgets and time, learning and development (L&D) professionals are facing increasing challenges to drive efficiency and improve business performance.

. Benchmarking can play a significant role in meeting these requirements. It is a process that looks outwards at other companies to identify best practice and high performance. The resulting information enables companies to learn from the successes and challenges of others in order to improve and measure change in their own performance.

Benchmarking is a highly respected practice in the business world in general and vital for supporting ongoing L&D improvements, as Peter Butler, Learning Director at Lloyds Banking Group, explains:

''The stark reality is this - if we, as learning professionals, aspire to be world class, to add core value and improve business performance, we have to be willing to constantly improve. I believe benchmarking is an essential business tool to achieve this and one not used often enough in learning."

The Towards Maturity Benchmark, considered the most comprehensive independent review of the use of learning technologies in the workplace in the UK, shows that those in the top quartile of great implementation practices are reporting a six-fold decrease in the time to competency of staff, as well as improved efficiency and business agility. The Towards Maturity 2011 Benchmark Study has been recently launched, and organisations are invited to take part to compare their results with others and learn from their experiences.

Improving performance in the L&D sector is at the heart of my keynote speech at the World of Learning Conference & Exhibition, covering the role of supporting line managers so they can facilitate change, and building motivation among learners. I will also explore a groundbreaking benchmark that Towards Maturity has completed into the effectiveness of technology-led leadership and management development. This reveals that learning technology now supports a wide range of leadership development methods, which is moving learning out of the classroom and into the workplace. A third of all coaching, action learning programmes and workshops are now e-enabled and two-thirds of programmes include dedicated online resources, to support the application of skills back in the workplace.

Once leaders have had a taste of technology-enabled learning, many enjoy the experience. Face-to-face learning interventions are still employed of course but, contrary to many people's expectations, they are no longer the main format for learning delivery. Many benchmark participants said managers preferred solutions that either delivered on-demand learning at the point of need, through the provision of timely information, or immediate access to a community that could provide them with support.

Martin Baker, CEO of LMMatters and another speaker at the World of Learning Conference, comments: "Learning online can be such an integral part of 'doing' that managers who learn to solve challenges in this way may not consider it traditional 'training' at all."

"It is undoubtedly learning technologies that are enabling leaders and managers to access knowledge immediately, effectively and seamlessly, where and when they need it."

The L&D landscape is changing and benchmarking can provide the information needed to keep pace with these developments and ensure L&D professionals continue to drive forward their business.

Laura Overton is MD of learning technology provider, Towards Maturity. She is a keynote speaker at the World of Learning Conference & Exhibition which takes place at the NEC Birmingham on Tuesday 27 and Wednesday 28 September 2011.

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