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Rethinking Corporate Learning
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Rethinking Corporate Learning

The Surprising Reality of Corporate Training Investments

In 2016, a staggering $359 billion was invested worldwide in corporate training, but was this expenditure really effective? Consider these eye-opening facts:

  • A mere 25% of professionals in a McKinsey survey felt their training significantly enhanced performance.
  • Shockingly, 75% of managers from 50 different companies expressed dissatisfaction with their Learning & Development (L&D) initiatives.
  • Approximately 70% of employees feel they lack proficiency in necessary job skills.
  • Only 12% effectively apply new skills acquired through L&D programs in their work.

These figures paint a bleak picture: the majority of corporate training is falling short, plagued by misguided objectives, poor timing, and irrelevant content.

Learning for All the Wrong Reasons

Bryan Caplan, an economics professor at George Mason University and author of "The Case Against Education," suggests that education is often less about acquiring practical job skills and more about "signalling" one’s abilities. This phenomenon is evident in the corporate world as well. Employees chase continuous professional education (CPE) credits to climb the career ladder, while L&D departments focus on these credits as a measure of success, often neglecting the actual business impact.

The Timing and Content Conundrum

  • Inopportune Learning: People learn best when it's necessary, applying knowledge to real-world scenarios. Despite Edwin Locke's 1968 theory highlighting the benefits of short feedback loops, this approach remains underutilized in corporate training.
  • Irrelevant Learning: Mandatory training sessions on topics like "business writing" often fail to resonate with employees’ actual needs.
  • Rapid Forgetting: German psychologist Hermann Ebbinghaus's "Forgetting Curve" theory demonstrates how quickly we lose unapplied information – up to 75% within six days.


Rethinking Corporate Learning

The "Use It or Lose It" Principle in Learning

Our biological makeup, geared towards energy conservation for survival, contributes to the rapid loss of unapplied knowledge. To combat this, techniques like spaced repetition, proposed by Cecil Alec Mace, can significantly enhance retention, ensuring about 80% retention after 60 days.

Unfortunately, many L&D programs overlook these biological realities, resulting in investments that lead to quickly forgotten information.

The Need for Change in Corporate Learning

In today's fast-paced business world, adaptability and continual learning are key. As Kevin Kelly, co-founder of Wired, suggests, mastering the art of a beginner’s mindset and constant learning is essential. This is where lean learning, inspired by Toyota’s lean manufacturing system, comes into play. It emphasizes learning only what's necessary, applying it immediately, receiving quick feedback, and iterating the process.

Implementing Lean Learning

  • Embrace the 80/20 Rule: Tim Ferriss, the author of "The Four Hour" series, advocates for focusing on the most impactful 20% of the content, such as learning key phrases in a new language, and applying them in real conversations.
  • Real-world Application: At TalentStore, we ensure our team can apply learned methodologies to real-world projects, providing immediate feedback and outcomes.
  • Guided Learning in Action: Embed continuous learning in everyday tasks with context-sensitive aids like pop-ups, beneficial for various training needs.
  • Personalized Training: Tailor training content to individual performance, learning style, and preferred delivery method using modern technology.
  • Support Post-Training: Combine instant messaging, voice messaging, and chatbots to help employees apply what they've learned to specific challenges.
  • Foster Peer Learning: Encourage employees to learn from each other, enhancing real-time, relevant learning and reinforcing existing knowledge.
  • Microlearning Opportunities: Offer short, focused learning sessions tailored to immediate job challenges and opportunities.

Shifting from Credits to Outcomes

The goal is to transition from measuring CPE credits to assessing tangible business outcomes. Lean learning ensures employees learn effectively, retain knowledge, and apply it when and where it matters.

Eric Ries, author of "The Lean Startup," aptly states, “The only way to win is to learn faster than anyone else.” In the realm of corporate training, this mantra is more relevant than ever. Lean learning isn't just about being lean; it's about being smart, strategic, and adaptive in a world where knowledge is the real currency of success.



The transformation of corporate training from a traditional, checkbox approach to a more dynamic, lean learning framework is not just an option but a strategic imperative for businesses aiming to thrive in the modern landscape. The alarming disconnect between substantial investments in training and the actual effectiveness of these programs calls for an urgent reevaluation of how learning and development are approached.


The shift towards lean learning is about more than just cost-saving; it represents a fundamental change in understanding what true learning effectiveness means. It's about aligning training with real-world applications, ensuring that employees not only acquire relevant skills but are also able to apply and retain them effectively. By integrating principles like the 80/20 rule, real-world application, guided learning, personalized content, and ongoing support, organizations can create a more responsive, efficient, and impactful learning environment.


Moreover, fostering a culture of peer learning and offering microlearning opportunities aligns with the way modern employees consume information and learn new skills. This approach not only enhances immediate job performance but also contributes to long-term career development and satisfaction.


Moving from a focus on credits to a focus on outcomes is the cornerstone of this new era in corporate learning. It’s about measuring success not by the hours spent in training but by the tangible improvements in performance and business results.


As we step into a future where adaptability and continuous learning are at the heart of professional success, organizations that embrace lean learning will find themselves at the forefront, equipped with a workforce that is not only skilled but also agile, engaged, and ready to meet the challenges of a rapidly evolving business world. Remember, as Eric Ries eloquently puts it, the ability to learn faster than competitors may be the only sustainable competitive advantage in a knowledge-driven economy. Lean learning is the key to unlocking that advantage.


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