Part one: The changing face of learning and development

Written by
Hazel Jackson

16 Dec 2015

16 Dec 2015 • by Hazel Jackson

The big issue

The number one human capital issue in the Middle East is redefining the Learning and Development (L&D) function to meet both the businesses needs and that of the Modern Learner.  But do we really understand what this means for our businesses, for ourselves as L&D professionals, and for our ultimate customers, the learners themselves?  

  • 24% of line managers believe L&D is meeting the strategic needs of the business
  • 14% of L&D professionals believe they are viewed as strategic partners
  • 66% say they have a hard time engaging employees with their L&D offering 

I believe this gives us an opportunity to redefine our role and profession, and to measure and prove our impact on the success of organisations. To achieve this we need to change how we think about training, shifting to a continuous learning mindset and leveraging technology to make it possible.

Meeting the strategic needs of the business

As the lifecycle of expert skills accelerates, business managers expect specialist skills to be developed at a faster pace. Retention rates put pressure on these needs as well, and employees are expected to contribute to the bottom line quicker and ideally transfer skills to others. We have to find a way to match this pace without adding to the burden of employees’ jobs.  

Can we move fast enough to meet the effectiveness and efficiency for the company?  How do we stay aligned with the business and the leader’s expectations, constantly measuring so we know where they are and what they need?

We must start with total clarity on the business measures that need to be impacted.  Every so often we take a brief from a business based on the perceived training content that they want – “we need some presentation skills training” – rather than understanding the business context and the ultimate results that need to be achieved. We need to focus the conversation on what employees need to know rather than what is nice to know and understand the environment in which this learning needs to be used. Finally, we have to prioritise the expectations of the business, getting down to the ‘lead domino’ that will start the change process in employee behavior.

Probing and having a thorough understanding of the business needs makes you a business partner rather than someone who is simply in charge of training.  With this in mind, you need to explore the full range of options available today to give the business the best possible solution. It might not even involve training as we know it today.

Becoming an L&D strategic partner

I think as a region we’ve been slow to change, putting the Middle East, on average, five years behind the USA. We have always known we can’t just throw training out there; we need to tee up, and transfer training. Historically, we have surrounded training with job aids, coaching, social learning, e-learning and other pre and post solutions, relying on the training event or workshop as the central component.  But is traditional training the right centre point for the way forward?

The more mature L&D groups deliver 50% more learning via experiential, social and on-demand methods, shifting their focus from training to continuous learning.

Research into the Modern Learner suggests there are four continuous learning categories, three time frames and the influence of technology that we need to factor into our solutions.  

Four learning categories

Some learning tools are exclusive to one category, some are shared across multiple ones.

Education: Workshops, simulations, videos, conferences, assessment, books, learning portals

Experience: Blogs, checklists, coaching, development plans, job shadowing, peer feedback, reference materials, on-the-job assignments

Exposure: After action review, communities of practice, customer feedback, mentoring, podcasts, professional groups, discussion groups, learning portals

Environment: Games, Instant Messaging, Mobile Apps, podcasts, social networks, wikis, MOOCs

How many of these various resources are you deploying in your organisation?  We should no longer look at each of these categories surrounding a program, competency or skill, but rather look at the bigger picture of overall learning and development encompassing all of these and more.

Three time frames

At the same time as deploying a number of approaches to continuous learning, we need to factor in three expectations of the Modern Learner:

  1. Immediate needs – Performance support and other tools for point of need learning. What do I need to know now?
  2. Intermediate needs – Current job development and competency expansion. What do I need to know next week, next month?
  3. Transitional needs – Development of skills and relationships that will meet long-term business goals. What do I need next for my career to develop?

The importance of technology

Ten years ago we talked about e-learning as a novel concept and we discussed blended learning. We now have to look at technologies differently. It’s no longer just about having a good learning management system (LMS) or extensive access to online materials. There are reporting and learning analytics tools, social learning solutions, external content libraries, collaboration tools, professional social networks and adaptive learning platforms to name a few.  Content is everywhere and learners are no longer relying on the two-hour or two-day workshop you provide. 

Most employees now have access to internet at work, through smart phones or connected business devices.  Whether we like it or not, employees typically unlock their personal smartphones up to nine times per hour. Online designers now have five to 10 seconds to grab someone’s attention before they click away.  We need to start using this instinct to our advantage, rather than restricting access.  I was recently shocked to hear that the number one learning aid for nurses in the USA is Apple’s virtual assistant, Siri. This is a great example where you don’t need to do all the training, but you need to make sure that learners have access to internet and know how to ask the right questions.

Read part two of our look at the changing face of learning and development.