(Last updated September 2021)
In the learning industry, I find we always talk about the latest modern learning philosophies, skills and experiences our people need, but rarely do I see or hear anyone talk about the skills and expertise which modern learning professionals need to navigate today’s world.
I want to shine a spotlight on the skills and expertise I feel all learning teams should focus on.
As the purveyors of change and educating the masses, it’s important for all of us to be up to date with what’s current, to allow us to truly be of service to our people.
This article has close links to a previous insight of mine on L&D teams practising what they preach when it comes to developing their own skills and expertise or a word that I have fondness for recently – talent stack.
Firstly to understand what we need today, we should take a look at where we’ve come from.
Traditionally most members of learning teams have been those that operated in roles of a classroom facilitator, trainer (a word I despise!), eLearning (another word I despise and is incredibly outdated) consultant and a whole host more.
Usually, if you said to someone you work in L&D, they would generally consider you to be delivering some form of classroom experience which involves reading from a script and traumatising people with endless PowerPoint slides.
The same goes for the people in your business, you say L&D and they think, those damn people that make the horrible compliance eLearning I have to do every 6 months.
Although this was the norm, times have most certainly changed.
Fast forward to now where the digital evolution continues to flip the world and L&D on it’s head.
Phones, tablets and the silent voice enabled assassin known as Alexa have changed the game and with this, the way people consume content.
Information is everywhere, it’s generally free, available across multiple device and it’s on demand.
We can easily identify some of the issues that arise with old guard learning professional’s suite of skills. Let’s be frank, why is anyone going to come to your 3 day excel classroom course, when they can jump on YouTube or Microsoft’s free learning page to consume some very polished videos and interactive user guides, which they can utilise whenever they want and more specifically, when they actually need them to solve a problem they have in the flow of work?
Obviously times have changed. I’m not saying that the skills and experience of facilitators or trainers aren’t useful, because they still very much are, yet we also need more, much more in addition to this.
Today L&D teams are more than just classroom facilitators, we are enablers, partners and guides in a world of change. We need to be at the forefront of navigating our people through the changing world by providing the tools, resources and philosophies that will enable them to be setup for success in this world.
We need to be leaders in areas of critical thinking, communicating, collaborating, creativity.
We should be looking at supporting people with the real challenges they face in the flow of work and using the opportunities with technology to enable people to grow.
To do all of this, we need an upgrade, L&D teams need an upgrade.
So what do we need in today’s world?
A bloody good question and while I don’t have all the answers, I certainly do have an opinion.
To talk through my own insights I’ll be using some data from this blog written by the wise Josh Bersin back in 2018 to articulate exactly what I believe we need to set ourselves up for success and enable the same for the people we support.
Old vs New
As we can see from the lovely image above, times have most certainly changed.
The wave of evolving technology and workplace changes have brought with it a new demand for the skill set of a modern learning team. Just being a trainer or facilitator will not get you far in really connecting with people and enabling change.
We can see that a lot of the capabilities for learning teams revolve around technology, so becoming best friends with this will be key in developing your current skill set.
The image above was accurate when I wrote my first edition of this in 2018. But, as I write the latest yearly update on this piece, some changes have of course appeared in today’s very different world.
Saying this, and taking account events of 2020 – 2021, I‘ve created an image that I feel better represents the skills teams need today in the model of the performance engineering philosophy that I believe L&D should aspire to.
Let’s take time to explore the critical areas of development for us to be the best learning and education peeps we can be:
Marketing, Branding and Communications
I find many people need to understand a mantra I repeat often, “If you build it, they won’t come”.
I feel like a broken record sometimes and apologies if you know me or have read any of my insights before because I beat this drum often. But if you build the most amazing learning experience in the world and don’t tell anyone about it, then guess what? No one’s going to use and benefit from it.
I see so many teams pour over building resources for months or even years in some cases to then throw them on some clunky LMS or a website with the worst user experience in existence and just expect the masses to arrive.
It always ends the same way, the resource deemed a failure 6 months later because no one has used it and why has no one used it? Because nobody knows it even existed.
You need a plan, plain and simple.
Learning teams need to embrace the tactics of colleagues in marketing, you effectively need to bring a marketer’s approach to engage people with your content.
You need to be the voice of learning, tell your people what you’ve made, why it’s important and most importantly, why is it important to them.
Look to understand how you can build marketing and engagement campaigns around your work that will make sure people can benefit from it for a long time.
Product and Project Management
First off, yes I’m aware they’re are distinct differences between these two skillsets but there’s undeniably a bunch of similarities too.
And for people in the world of learning, a hybrid of these skills are incredibly useful.
A role that I’ve felt more connection to than anything in the world of learning, is that of a product manager. Most of my work over the last decade has been about creating and bringing the best products to market for the users in my audience.
This has involved a great deal of structure and philosophies that are taken right out of the product management playbook.
The case is the same with project management too. You need to have strong organisational and project skills to survive in the world of L&D. The ability to bring clear structure to the often madness of solution building will pay off as your pool of requests grow over time.
Just to be clear here, I’m not talking about happy sheets – screw happy sheets.
Data is the most underutilised resource in L&D today and why is this you might say? Well it’s simple, hardly anyone understands how to use it and neither are they investing in the skills to do this.
You could be sitting on a goldmine of learning performance data right now from a host of tools that can demonstrate the impact your programmes are having on people and their performance.
Yet most of this is untouched as L&D teams think they need an analyst or some data guru to interpret this, but this is just not true and until more professionals look to really understand how to use data, there is no way you can measure and showcase true ROI to your business.
Content Curation and Creation
I’m not sure if you’ve noticed, but videos are all the rage right now and guess what? You too can wield the power of the sixty second visual entertainment tool.
The ability to create different forms of content to connect with different people is absolutely crucial to any high performing learning eco-system. This can be anything from digital publications, blog posts, surveys, games, videos and more.
The capabilities to unleash content in a variety of forms is a powerful The capabilities to unleash content in a variety of forms is a powerful weapon. And, the best bit? Technology today has made it even easier to do all of these things.
The internet is littered with an abundance of quick and simple tools to help you build lots of cool solutions.
The same goes for content curation.
Why reinvent the wheel by creating more content when we have a library of information at our fingertips in the digital world. Save yourself time (and your sanity) by adopting a curation model of finding the best stuff out there to share with your people.
Some of the top organisations and leaders in their fields share their knowledge for free. Most of us will consume this content in our spare time through social media. So, why don’t we make better use of it in the workplace and share the right content with people.
Some may think curating content is easy but it’s actually an art form. You need to understand your audience, their problems, the type of content that will connect with them and is appropriate for your workplace culture.
You want to help people by giving them the right stuff, not more stuff. Leave Facebook and Twitter to fry people’s minds with information overload.
Learning Technology + Experience Design (or design thinking, UX, UI)
Be tech savvy and think like a designer.
I feel that embracing technology and using it to not only enable an audience but support a team has not quite worked in practice for most L&D functions.
This ultimately comes down to lack of understanding of current tech and the digital world at large.
Just because a supplier says that their platform will revolutionise your learning offer and make the process simpler for your team, doesn’t mean it’s true. Your unit needs to be tech savvy, not an expert but savvy.
Even outside of L&D, having a basic level of understanding how different technologies work, connect and support one another is essential. As the learning industry moves towards more tech products than ever before. The role of a modern L&D professional shifts to one of an architect in some ways.
We become architects that are not only designing solutions but building our learning tech stack or architecture if you will.
In the next few years, I believe it will become the standard for L&D professionals to know how to build an evolving learning architecture that enables their ecosystem.
Not every member of your unit needs to be an expert in this field, but they should have an understanding. You will need several members of your unit who are comfortable in whiteboarding a learning architecture and can put the pieces of the puzzle together for you.
Again, some of you reading this might be resistant and suggest that a technology team should do this. However, your team will know the application for any learning tech better than anyone. They will understand how it works in practice, so, having a shared skill in keeping up to date with modern technology will be a value add.
It is this knowledge which will separate your team from the industry. Your ability to keep up with trends, absorb what is useful, avoid what is not and apply what works for your audience will enable a high performing learning function.
Something that seems to be lost with learning teams today is the art of consulting.
You see we act as solution engineers, or what I like to call performance engineers. Our mission is to partner with individuals and team to understand their needs, and propose the best solution.
And sometimes you’ll find, a stereotypical L&D solution won’t solve any problems, and in fact something else entirely is required. This is the beauty of performance consulting. It’s about digging deeper and getting to the real barriers that people face.
In my eye’s, it’s essential for us to be expert consultants. You can learn more about my thinking on this and how to develop your consulting approach in the pieces below:
Helping people find the answer instead of telling them the answer.
A very in-demand skill at the time I write this. Coaching is on the rise and it is being adopted by organisations the world over as the management style that will unlock employees potential and performance.
A skill which is a great addition for any learning professional to add into their toolkit. This can unlock more insights from conversations with clients and stakeholders to enable you to build better experiences.
Get ahead of the trend and start brushing up on your coaching know-how and skills.
Resources for you
Now that my impassioned rant is coming to a close, how about I set you up with some resources to help you in the exploration to build some of these skills? I thought you’d like that.
I hope these help, enjoy and as always I’d love to hear your thoughts so we can learn more from each other.
Before you go… 👋
If you like my writing and think “Hey, I’d like to hear more of what this guy has to say” then you’re in luck.
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Why L&D teams need to practice what they preach.
Some pretty cool and free ideas on out of the classroom experiences you can try today.