5 ways to transform learning in the pharma industry: from R&D to L&D

Europe Senior Sales Executive, Stewart Hardie, and US Enterprise Account Executives, Asher Deitch and Amy Harries, all specializing in pharma, bring us 5 ways to transform learning in the sector.

Written by Mind Tools
Published 19 May 2021
5 ways to transform learning in the pharma industry: from R&D to L&D

There’s no other sector where innovation is more life-changing than pharma. Particularly with COVID-19 now in the mix. 

Continuing to deliver such life-changing value is fraught with heavy challenges for the industry. Pharma is grappling with business model shape-shifting while fulfilling demands for operational efficiencies and increased R&D productivity. 

We've just conducted extensive research into the approach that the pharma industry is taking to L&D. This research draws on insights from our Learning Performance Benchmark, which remains the only free, independent and confidential benchmarking tool for L&D professionals. 

The findings uncovered some fundamental weaknesses that the sector needs to address. 

Business leaders know that they need to help their people keep up, balancing those working from home and those not, and it can be a struggle to meet these needs. 

Here are 5 ways to transform learning in pharma.

  1. Adopt new ways of working

    Pharma has many learning stakeholders to cater for – from office staff to medical and those on the front line. It is therefore important that they implement a culture of lifelong learning and give learners control. Each person will be learning at a different pace, while always aligning to the goals of the organization. 

    Our data show that pharma L&D departments are 31% behind the industry’s top performers when it comes to facilitating new ways of working and learning, with only 21% making positive steps to do this. 

    Additionally, only 20% of pharma L&D teams said they can increase learning access and flexibility to their learners compared to 69% of top performers. This means that pharma teams need to reassess their ways of working and discover new ways of giving learners access to on-demand resources that meet their needs.

  2. ​Transition from face-to-face to virtual learning

    We all know that digital transformation is a hot topic, and digital continues to play an important role in innovating learning design and delivery. 

    However, pharma L&D has a more traditional approach, with 58% delivering face-to-face training only – 12% more than the industry average. 

    With an over-reliance on classroom delivery, it is no surprise that L&D leaders in pharma are struggling with the capability of their employees to manage their own learning. This is also connected to what is “considered” learning, meaning managers only provide time for learning when it involves the classroom. This is a challenge faced by 1 in 2 L&D leaders in pharma. 

    This reliance on face to face is no surprise, as the proportion of L&D budget spent on technology is very low compared to other industries. An over-reliance on classroom learning has several negative consequences: creating a culture of continuous learning requires organizations to extend their reach beyond face to face, promoting and embedding learning at the point of need. It is about guidance rather than instruction. 

    Pharma L&D need to adapt their offering and move to a more digital approach.  

    Our data show that pharma L&D are 30% behind the industry average when it comes to increasing their ability to personalize learning to an individual need. This suggests that learners are not given control of their own learning and, instead, pharma L&D teams are pushing out resources that may not meet the needs. 

  3. ​Use data and business intelligence to future-proof learning

    Shifting from a perception-based learning approach to an evidence-based approach is critical for any successful transformation. Organizations that adapt their approach by becoming data-driven are more likely to establish a learning ecosystem. 

    However, we know that many organizations are lagging behind when it comes to data collection. L&D need to make this a priority and should be looking at factors such as the time spent on learning, application and preferred methods. This will allow them to really grasp what and how people are learning. 

    Only 4% of pharma L&D teams are utilizing business intelligence to future-proof their organization, compared to the overall average of 16%. 

    Furthermore, only 6% of L&D teams in pharma have in-house capabilities to support ongoing workplace performance. That’s 14% behind the industry average. 

    While these stats are worrying, the issue can be overcome. When L&D upskill and optimize their own capabilities, they can form a crystal-clear plan for learning strategy. Reaching out to other stakeholders for advice is crucial – marketing data analysts and business analysts, for example.  

    Investment on data analytics tools to identify learning and measure impact are key. 

  4. ​Address the organization’s key challenges and align them with the L&D strategy

    Hindering pharma’s ability to transform are a lack of communication channels and a plan and strategy to engage and inspire key stakeholders, including the C-suite. 

    L&D professionals must develop their business acumen capabilities and bring L&D to the forefront of the organization. Their relationship with business leaders is one of the top challenges the industry faces, with 78% of learning leaders reporting “not being a management priority” as a major concern. 

    Our latest data from 260 executive managers from multinational corporations show that business leaders feel that L&D teams focus on short-term goals only, and only 24% of leaders can articulate the value of learning to their business. It’s time for L&D to step up and be noticed. 

    Buy-in from the top down is crucial. C-suite stakeholders can be influential when it comes to learning campaigns. A good example of this is nudge marketing – for example, senior management sending a series of emails to the base.  

    You can find out more on how to bridge the gap between L&D and leaders in our report.

  5. Drive performance through a self-directed approach  

    We have seen already that pharma L&D teams are struggling to keep up with the pace of change when it comes to digital technologies. Budgets are low, so L&D teams need to think outside the box and discover new innovative ways of reaching their learning audience. 

    One way of doing this is to adopt a self-directed and blended approach. Self-directed empowers individuals to control their own learning and development.  

    Mind Tools have helped AstraZeneca develop a culture of lifelong learning, moving from traditional “push” to “pull” learning. They have successfully developed a learning approach that resonates with each individual. Read the full story here.

    The L&D team at AstraZeneca has started to think like marketers and turn to their marketing teams for help. By looking at their learning campaigns in the same ways as marketing campaigns, L&D can position messaging based on need in the same way that marketing would use personas for different target audiences. 

    Nudge marketing has been effective at AstraZeneca – and they have been using channels such as Facebook Workplace and group discussions to anchor a strong value proposition for learning. 

    See for yourself here.

Speak to a pharma expert 

Mind Tools for Business works with pharma organizations to help transform their learning approach. 

Find out specifically what we do for the pharma industry here. 

Or to get our friendly team to take you through what we do, click below. 

Find out more 

About the author

Mind Tools

Mind Tools

Mind Tools was started in 1996 to offer practical online learning to people in the workplace.

By the time they joined Emerald in March 2019, they had grown into the one of the world’s most comprehensive learning resources, with millions of individual learners in 50 countries worldwide.

You may also be interested in…

Gamification in Learning: Getting Games Right

In this week’s blog, Sam Brown – one of our in-house Learning Experience Designers – takes a look at Gamification in learning. What’s it all about? Where can it go wrong and how do you get it right?

November 2022

Read More

Managers Matter toolkit spotlight: Six time management dos and don’ts

Watch this teaser as a reminder of the best ways to stay on top of their time management skills.

November 2022

Read More

How managers can coach their teams to success

How coaching has become a staple of an effective workplace-learning culture, and the ways in which your managers can apply it to their managerial style.

October 2022

Read More