More than one-third of global learning and development professionals say they will increase their budget this year for the third year in a row, according to a newly released report by LinkedIn. As budgets continue to grow, there is a shift from instructor-led training (ILT) to online learning. Fifty-seven percent of learning and development professionals say they are planning to spend more on online learning this year, while 38% said they expect to spend less on ILT, the 2020 Workplace Learning Report said.

“Senior leaders understand the value that L&D delivers to their organizations,” the report noted. “That’s why the constant struggle for budget and resources has diminished over the last few years.”

SEE: Education alone isn’t enough, tech pros need specialized skills, too (TechRepublic)

By comparison, last year’s LinkedIn Workplace Learning Report found that only 27% of L&D pros cited budget constraints as a top concern, down from 49% in 2017.

Executives are on board with learning

This year’s report also found that getting executive buy-in is not a challenge for 83% of L&D pros. The impetus is likely a finding the Workplace Learning Report cited from PwC’s 2019 CEO survey that 79% of CEOs worldwide are concerned that a lack of essential skills in the workplace is threatening the future growth of their organization.

“Yet, it’s one thing to buy into a strategy and quite another to champion it across the organization,” the report observed. “Here’s where the opportunity lays. Only 27% of L&D pros report that their CEOs are active champions of learning, even though CEOs spend 20% more time learning soft skills than their employees.”

The report recommends creating and curating executive content to get your executives more engaged in actively championing learning. This also drives employee engagement, the report said.

“If your CEO teaches a course on leadership, your employees will be inspired to take that course because of proximity and relevancy,” the report noted. “Your CEO is known to every employee and the CEO’s leadership advice is relevant to the employees’ career advancement.”

Top area of focus for 2020: Measuring the impact of learning

Evaluating the effectiveness of learning programs was cited as the top priority of 38% of L&D professionals globally, according to the report. This is in contrast to last year’s report strategic focus, which was to identify and access skills gaps—this fell to the fourth spot this year, the report said.

Thirty-five percent of respondents cited increasing learner engagement as their top priority, followed by another 35% who cited enabling self-directed learning with online learning solutions; and 32% who cited tracking skills gaps and development; and 32% who cited activating managers to encourage employees to make time for learning.

By region, however, strategic areas of focus differed slightly. In the US, the top focus cited was increasing engagement, while enabling self-directed learning was cited in Germany, India, and Australia.

Although measuring the impact of learning is the top strategic focus for this year, the survey data found there is no industry standard, the report said.

“Talent developers rely on both quantitative data from online learning solutions and qualitative feedback from learners to provide the value of learning,” the report said.

One surprising finding was that nearly one quarter of L&D professionals globally said they don’t measure learning engagement, according to the report. “This underscores what we already know: Measuring learning engagement is a hard nut to crack.”

L&D’s three biggest challenges this year

Getting managers to make learning a priority for their teams topped the list (49%) of L&D professionals’ three biggest challenges over creating a culture of learning (42%) and driving engagement in learning (36%).

Another notable finding was that “the era of upskilling and reskilling is upon us,” the report said. Surprisingly, nearly half of talent developers said they plan on reskilling a portion of their workforce this year, meaning teaching them new skills for a different job function.

Fifty-one percent of L&D pros said they plan to launch upskilling programs in 2020, meaning teaching employees new skills within the same job function.

As a result, the No. 1 piece of information that L&D pros want to help them identify skills gaps is data on what skills will be most in-demand in the next three to five years, the report said.

The fourth annual study of 6,607 respondents spanned 18 countries and was comprised of 1,675 learning and development professionals, 2,000 learners and 2,932 managers, LinkedIn said.