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Top 20 strategic L&D terms learning pros should know

Career development is key to employee retention, and effective L&D initiatives start with an understanding of important learning concepts. Here are 20 of the most important.

In today's world of disruption and growth, workers need continuous learning to have a good employee experience and to help their employers close skills gaps. But leaders can't implement what they don't understand.

Employees are every organization's most valuable resource, but in today's tight hiring market, keeping them happy isn't easy. Moreover, companies will have a difficult time competing if they don't have skilled labor. Learning and development (L&D) and HR leaders need to focus on the latest methods for keeping employees skilled and must embrace a modern learning approach. The first step is learning important L&D concepts and then helping leaders across the organization understand their meaning and relevance.

Here are some of the L&D terms that are pertinent to creating a positive employee experience, lowering employee turnover and competing in a business world that's always changing.


Artificial intelligence uses computers and other machines to simulate human intelligence. As it relates to corporate training initiatives, companies are increasingly using it to personalize the learning experience. For example, an AI-powered tool might recommend a particular course for an employee based on an employee's job title or course preferences. Other AI use cases in learning and development include training warehouse workers to find items more quickly and career coaching to suggest potential job roles based on skills and job preferences.


Analytics is the process of discovering patterns in data and using those patterns to answer questions about business, customer preference and -- as it relates to upskilling and reskilling -- employees' learning needs and paths. For example, if data shows that 80% of employees got a particular question wrong on a training quiz, then the learning team can schedule a training session on that topic.


Augmented reality (AR) overlays computer-generated images, sounds or other elements onto the real view of the surroundings. It can provide a deeper experience during training, and employees are more likely to retain the material because of the technology's immersive nature. Some companies are using augmented reality to capture the loss of expertise when baby boomers retire. An example of AR in L&D is an employee learning an office layout by viewing the office through display glasses. In that case, the real view of the office would have overlays of helpful notes such as the "HR department sits here."

Here are some of the L&D terms that are pertinent to creating a positive employee experience, lowering employee turnover and competing in a business world that's always changing.

Collaborative learning

Collaborative learning involves two or more people learning new concepts in a group. For example, instead of a teacher taking charge of every aspect of learning, students share what they know, possibly suggest discussion topics or course materials and help each other with work problems. This approach is in contrast to solo study, where employees learn by themselves. Studies have found that people retain more information from discussions than from lectures or reading, so collaborative learning is often more effective than employees simply taking a course.

Continuous performance management

With continuous performance management, an employee and supervisor meet regularly to discuss the employee's goals and areas for improvement rather than meeting only once a year for an annual review. Continuous performance management helps employees stay agile, with the employee and supervisor setting smaller goals based on current business objectives rather than only setting yearly goals. In addition, continuous performance management strengthens the manager-employee relationship and enables continuous learning because the employee is continually receiving feedback.

Digital badges

A digital badge is an online image indicating someone possesses a certain skill or has achieved a particular milestone. Educational institutions or learning platforms award them to signify achievement. However, more employers are awarding them for a range of accomplishments, from finishing a work project to working at a company for a particular length of time. Students or employees may choose to display digital badges on social media like LinkedIn or electronic resumes.

Digital badges are not without their detractors, however. Many in the HR world are wary about relying on badges during the hiring process because of a lack of badge standards and the extra steps required for checking badges' data -- for example, whether the badge has expired.

Digital learning

Digital learning uses internet-based media, such as videos and online classes, to provide instruction. The field has exploded in popularity, and many workplaces are focusing on digital curricula rather than instructor-led classes. Digital learning offers more flexibility than in-class instruction. It is often location- and time-neutral, though certain livestream classes have particular constraints. In addition, employees likely have more choices in classes and can personalize their learning path.

Emotional intelligence

Emotional intelligence is a person's ability to understand and control their own emotions and understand others' feelings. Emotional intelligence is an important soft skill for every employee, even technologists, because understanding others is key to success in today's highly interdependent world. Adding emotional intelligence to the learning and development agenda can help companies cultivate better leaders and communicators and in turn improve important areas such as customer experience.

Employee experience

Employee experience is how an employee responds emotionally to the cultural, physical and technology aspects of the job. Employee experience is crucial for every company because a positive -- or negative -- employee experience influences almost every aspect of the organization. Companies with a good employee experience typically have better employee retention than other organizations because their employees are happy. Profits also typically increase because employees are more engaged, and customer experience improves because workers are happier during their customer interactions.

HCM software

For many organizations, human capital management (HCM) software is the backbone enterprise system that helps strategic HR leaders and their departments effectively run the workforce. It offers a variety of functions, including core HR and talent management, as well as a number of others, depending on the sophistication of the system and the vendor. Although many don't provide learning capabilities, they can provide the foundation on which to layer learning technologies. Today, some HCM vendors also offer a learning module.

Internal mobility

Internal mobility is an employee's ability to transition to a new job within the same organization. Internal mobility offers employees a path to learning and growing so they don't look to jobs outside the company. Today, internal career paths are a major focus for leading HR teams, as an internal mobility program can improve a company's agility, increase worker retention, lower turnover, retain institutional knowledge and lower recruiting costs.

Learning experience platform

A learning experience platform, or LXP, is an employee-focused system that delivers learning material so it's easy to find and use. It personalizes learning much the same way Netflix or YouTube personalize their content. The AI-driven LXP's educational material is tailored to the user. It uses AI to recommend the most appropriate content based on an employee's demonstrated knowledge and interests. An LXP emphasizes self-directed learning rather than management-prescribed training. The LXP market is growing rapidly, and vendors are continuing to add features.

Learning in the flow of work

Learning in the flow refers to short bursts of instruction the employee can quickly use. For example, it can be on demand in an instance where an employee needs to answer a quick question or solve a problem, or it could be a dose of micro-learning the employer curates within the same work platform. Today's workers don't have much -- if any -- time for longer corporate learning sessions, so learning in the flow of work attempts to address that problem.

Learning management system

A learning management system (LMS) typically offers creation, management, tracking and delivering capabilities. While an LXP is, at heart, a content recommendation system based on the employee's preferences, an LMS is typically associated with traditional corporate training. Enterprises, government agencies and educational institutions use these software application and knowledge management systems for a variety of training purposes, including onboarding new employees, educating current employees and administering compliance courses and other L&D initiatives. An LMS can track which employees have completed which courses, assess learners' proficiency, and assign necessary courses to upskill employees.

In terms of LMS versus LXP, some companies integrate the two, while others are choosing one or the other, particularly as each category adds new features and the distinctions between the two systems blur.

Learning record store

A learning record store is a repository for learning records and the core of an experience API (xAPI), a specification that collects employee learning data from a wide range of technologies. The xAPI tracks an employee's learning actions and then reports them back to the learning record store as well as the LMS and other applications that understand xAPI. The information can inform training and development efforts. For example, the L&D team or other stakeholders can find out that employees completed a corporate learning course more quickly than expected, so the next course should be more challenging.


Mentoring is the process of a senior employee advising and helping a less experienced worker to grow professionally. It typically focuses on broad career development issues such as career path, leadership, succeeding within the company and skill development. Mentoring relationships can form through formal mentoring programs in the company or more informally, as when an experienced worker takes a junior colleague "under their wing." These relationships can be important sources of positive employee experiences.

Mentoring is not without its issues, however. One potential danger zone that business and HR leaders may need to address is the potential for bias -- that is, for the dominant group to choose mentees that reflect themselves at an earlier career stage, thus propagating a culture of homogeneity. 


Reskilling is the process of employees learning new skills so they can do a new job. An example of reskilling is a public relations associate enrolling in management training so they can become a project manager. Reskilling has become incredibly important in recent years because of the aging workforce and quickly changing tech demands. It can help companies fight the skills gap, which organizations experience when their employees lack the necessary skills for a particular job.

Soft skills

Soft skills are the attributes such as good communication and problem-solving that empower people to interact in a positive way with others. From a competitive advantage standpoint -- both for the individual worker and the company -- they enable collaboration, positive customer experiences, teamwork and collaborative innovation. Soft skills are likely to grow in importance as technology automates many areas of the business. Employees are also hungry to learn soft skills, and it's one of the most-requested training areas, according to many industry experts. L&D teams need to give this area top priority.


Upskilling is the process of deepening and enriching the current job skill set through training or learning opportunities. Like reskilling, upskilling has become even more vital in recent years. Upskilling can help companies close the skills gap and broaden their talent pool. An example of upskilling is a software developer learning Python code so they can work with another programming language.


VR, or virtual reality, is a computer-generated artificial environment. A VR user experiences lifelike computer-generated visuals and sounds and interacts with the environment by wearing special gloves or goggles. VR is increasingly used for workplace training, including simulations or employees acting out an imaginary scene for training purposes, because of its realism. VR's lifelike qualities will likely help employees remember the training material better than a handout or lecture.

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