For centuries, society has devoted resources to teaching knowledge while placing less emphasis on developing skills. We know, though, that having skills allows us to make things happen – but skills take time to develop. Like everyone who wants to make anything happen, learning and development (L&D) professionals need to hone employees’ skills, knowledge, and behavior – and these need to develop with the changing times.
Four key changes currently affecting the L&D profession
Today’s L&D professional needs skills in three broad areas – interacting with stakeholders, learners, and media – to cope with the four key changes currently affecting the L&D profession:
- Traditional “learning events” have become learning processes.
- Face-to-face learning is giving way to remote virtual learning.
- Learners’ dependency on their teachers ‘/instructors’ knowledge is morphing into learning empowerment – brought about, among other things, by learners’ access to informal, social learning, often via mobile devices. Now, learners need not wait for classes to be scheduled. They can learn for themselves – and they can teach others. Trainers are no longer “founts of all knowledge.”
- Learning can happen at any specific (course-determined) time.
Things are moving fast in today’s world of work. Under these circumstances, to achieve “praise and glory,” L&D professionals must know how “learning” works – and have the analytical skills to demonstrate it works, even if that evidence is imprecisely measured. So, as a learning professional, you need evaluation skills to assess and measure learning’s value.
In addition, you should be a learning architect – creating ‘space’ for people to learn. You must also be an analyst scoping learning needs – and a manager, making learning happen by managing relationships with stakeholders, learners, line managers, and others. Moreover, when interacting with learners, you need instructor, facilitator, and coaching skills.
You must also be an “expert” – not necessarily in the content of the learning delivered but, rather, be expert in finding and enabling key subject matter experts to disseminate their knowledge and skills memorably and engagingly. Create space for subject matter experts in your organization – be they in-house or from external learning and assessment specialists – to supply the learning content your learners need.
You also need the skills of a journalist – to meet others, interview them, and share insights with others in your organization.
You need design and production skills – especially if you don’t have the luxury of commissioning all your learning materials from others.
Then, you need curation skills – providing value to a learning audience by pointing them to relevant things that will be of interest and use to them. Furthermore, you must adhere to professional standards, so you behave ethically. You need evidence-based principles. So, you must know the current thinking on how learning happens – especially about current best practices. Theory is useful, but you must also understand what really works for others.
Five things L&D professionals must do
Here are five things that you, as an L&D professional, must do to achieve “praise and glory”:
- Understand your organization’s business. This means asking people such things as, “what’s your particular problem?”, “what will allow you to get promoted?” and “what numbers do you have to achieve?” The answers to these questions enable you to find ways to help them.
- Identify passionate people – and develop them. The principle behind peer-to-peer learning is that anyone can teach anyone anything. Find these passionate people and give them a framework to help them develop others. Then learning will happen in your organization – even if you only curate and facilitate rather than deliver it.
- Build and sell your plan. Learn how to sell – and start small. Tell people that “we’re going to do a pilot program that will make us more agile as an organization.” The organization’s “business professionals” will be interested to hear this. Use the word “opportunity” frequently – and be open to failure from time to time.
- Incentivize people in your organization to help you. While not necessarily professional teachers or trainers, these are the people who are the best at what they do.
- Prove you can create value for the organization. To do that, you’ll need to use the business metrics that you will have gained at stage one of this process. You must show business colleagues how your department is helping them achieve their goals. Basically, know-how “learning” works – and use your analytical skills to prove that it works.
Thankfully, technology can help here – in that the best learning management systems (LMSs) should be able, among other things, to provide the analytical data to show how the learning materials they deliver dynamically align to your organization’s needs, how staff knowledge and behaviors have developed over time and how organizations can demonstrate overall competency. At the individual level, they should also reveal who has accessed which learning materials and how they performed, accurately tracking learners’ progress and providing reports in real-time. Among such LMSs is eCom Scotland’s eNetLearn. eNetLearn was recently praised by the UK-based independent analysts, Learning Light, for its “powerful reporting … giving reporting options that cover both learners and learning content.”