Updated: Aug 2023
Practising what we preach in the L&D industry is not as common as you might think.
We always talk about the latest learning philosophies, skills and experiences other people need. Rarely do I see or hear anyone talk about the modern L&D skills needed to navigate today’s world.
In a world increasingly shaped by remote work and digital platforms, the challenges for L&D teams are mounting.
- L&D is much more than facilitation, delivery and instructional design in the new age of work
- Identify the top 1% skills to thrive long term
- It’s a digital world, get with the times
- The past
- So what do we need in today’s world?
- Old vs New
- Unpacking future-fit skills
- Product Management
- Data analysis
- Content curation and creation
- Digital Intelligence
- Performance Consulting
- Experience Design
In this article, we’ll explore the essential skills that every L&D professional needs to meet today’s challenges.
From data analysis to performance consulting, this is a comprehensive guide to upgrading your L&D skill set.
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 people.
To understand what we need to succeed 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) consultant and many 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. Mainly 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 changed.
Fast forward to now where digital technologies continue to flip the world and L&D on its head.
Smartphones, the silent voice-enabled assassin known as Alexa and artificial intelligence tools have changed the game, and with this, the way people consume content.A L&D Pro on too much tea
Information is everywhere, it’s generally free, available across multiple devices and it’s on demand.
We can easily identify some of the issues that arise with old-guard learning professionals’ suite of skills with these facts.
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 content?
They can utilise this whenever they want and more specifically, when they actually need to solve a problem they have in the flow of work.
I think you get my drift.
I’m not saying that the skills and experience of facilitators or trainers aren’t useful. They 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 set up for success in this world.
To do all of this, we need an upgrade, and L&D teams need an upgrade.
So what do we need in today’s world?
The million-dollar question.
There’s bucketloads of research on this. We’re going to focus on 3 streams of data from:
- Josh Bersin (The Bersin Company)
- The Learning and Performance Institute
- Redthread Research
Both come complete with personalised learning plans based on their framework. Both are worth checking out.
The goal of this post is not to replicate these, but rather cut through the noise and give you the top 1% of skills that will make the difference. With each organisation showcasing at least 24 skills for modern L&D pros, it’s easy to get stuck in a sea of skills.
Think of this like a cost-benefit analysis. We’ll pinpoint what’s worth your time to get maximum impact.
Old vs New
Back in 2017, Josh Bersin proposed the below as new capabilities required for the digital learning revolution.
While some remain valid. Many have evolved.
You can never predict the skills that will expire and emerge with 100% accuracy.
LinkedIn CEO, Ryan Roslansky wrote “skills are our new currency” and we should be building workforces with a skills-first mindset. This makes sense when you consider the constant massive shifts in the working world.
How we work and where we work dominates the shape of careers, and with that, our skills.
In another post, Bersin explored how the corporate working environment has shifted over the past 20 years.
We can see the modern L&D team has moved from delivery methods of pushing education to focus on performance aligned with business strategy.
Although the times have changed it seems like the skills of industry professionals have not.
Unpacking future-fit skills
No one likes to be the last one at the party.
The world moves fast. Careers die, and skills with it. Let’s unpack what today’s industry data can tell us about the most critical skills in our profession.
The team at Redthread Research identified 39 unique skills split across 7 skill groups when they spoke with 300 L&D teams. That’s a lot of skill. Don’t worry, we’re going to break those down.
The largest skill groups identified were:
- Leadership: skills to lead inside and outside the L&D function
- Data & Decision-making: skills to use data for making better decisions
- L&D Core: skills to build the capabilities of the workforce
- Business Core: skills to understand and align with business strategy
- Managing Relationships: skills to build and maintain relationships, internal and external to the L&D function
- Readiness: skills to help individuals and functions readily adapt to changing environments
- Tech: skills to leverage tech to upskill the workforce
This is a good foundation to build our minimal skills list for the biggest impact in an L&D role.
In summary of the findings, co-founder, Heather Gilmartin Adams shared:
This data, the skills identified by L&D pros, tells us that L&D pros need to be more than just instructional designers.
They need to know much more than just adult learning theory. In this day and age, and particularly at this very strange moment in history, they need to be entrenched in the organisation.
At the same time, we know that focusing on building all the skills will lead to focusing on none of them. Understanding the 39 skills L&D pros think they need is only the first step.
Understanding the ones they actually need is the next.Heather Gilmartin Adams (Co-Founder Redthread Research)
The Learning and Performance Institute offers a similar framework.
It comes in at a slightly slimmer 24 skills over the 5 categories of:
- Performance and impact
- Learning culture
- Design and develop solutions
- Facilitate learning
- Strategy and operations
You can take your own self-assessment based on this framework here.
The skills Modern L&D Pros need
Let’s take time to explore the critical areas of development for us to be the best learning and education peeps we can be.
These focus on the 10% you need to make an impact.
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. 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 building resources for months or even years.
In many cases to then throw them on some clunky LMS or a website with the worst user experience in existence and expect the masses to arrive.
It always ends the same way.
The resource is 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 to get attention and share value. Plain and simple.
Learning teams would do well to learn a few tricks from colleagues in marketing. You effectively need to bring a marketer’s approach to engage people with 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.
Understand how you can build marketing and engagement campaigns in your work. This will make sure people can benefit in the long term.
💡 Real-world example:
Let’s say you’ve spent months developing a new onboarding program.
It’s slick, it’s informative, it’s interactive.
But if you don’t market it effectively, it’s like throwing a party and forgetting to send the invites. Utilising marketing skills, you could create a launch campaign, leverage internal social channels, and even rope in team leaders to create a buzz.
2. Product Management
A role that I’ve felt more connected to than anything in the world of learning is that of a product manager.
Most of my work over the last decade has focussed on creating and bringing the best products to market for internal users. Digital technology is at the centre of all learning strategies these days.
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 priorities broadens.
💡 Real-world example:
Imagine you’re tasked with rolling out a new compliance training program that needs to reach employees across multiple departments and regions.
A product management approach would have you first conduct a ‘needs assessment’ to identify the specific requirements and constraints. You’d then establish a ‘minimum viable product’ (MVP)—a basic version of the training program—to test and gather feedback.
This iterative process allows you to make data-driven improvements, ensuring that the final program is not only compliant but also engaging and effective.
3. Data analysis
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. Why is this you might say? 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.
It could 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. This is just not true. 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.
If you want some help with that, check out this article on how to be a data-led L&D pro.
💡 Real-world example:
Imagine you’ve just rolled out a new leadership training module, and the feedback forms are just collecting dust in some digital folder.
With data analysis skills, you could track engagement rates, completion rates, and even performance metrics to really understand how the experience impacts your team’s leadership capabilities.
You’re not just counting ‘likes’ and ‘smiles’. You’re making data-driven decisions that can shape future training programs.
4. Content curation and creation
People think this is easy. It’s not.
Yes, I know generative AI is supposed to write everything for everyone these days.
That’s not the case in the L&D world. Creation and curation are still vital skills. As an L&D pro, you provide context to the millions of information points available to your workforce.
Anyone can throw 5 links together and call it a learning pathway.
Only L&D pros versed in the organisational context and aware of the problem to be solved can craft a ‘useful’ pathway.
A solid understanding of how to create structured content, and curate the same, in a content strategy is a valuable skill to master.
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 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 to share with people vs building.
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?
Some think curating content is easy but it’s actually an art form.
You need to understand your audience, their problems, and the type of content that will connect with them.
You want to help people by giving them the right stuff, not more stuff. Leave social media to fry people’s minds with information overload.
💡 Real-world example:
Curation: Your company has adopted a new remote working policy, and you need to quickly train your team on best practices for working from home.
Instead of creating a course from scratch, you curate a selection of high-quality articles, podcasts, and webinars from experts in remote working practices. You organise these resources in a logical sequence for your users to consume and implement.
Creation: Suppose you’ve been hearing murmurs around the office about how difficult the company’s new software is to use.
Instead of creating a 50-page PDF guide that nobody will read, you decide to produce a series of bite-sized tutorial videos. Each video covers a specific feature and is less than five minutes long.
You then upload these to the company’s internal portal, making them accessible right when and where employees are struggling with the software.
5. Digital Intelligence
Let’s face it, technology isn’t just an optional add-on; it’s the backbone of modern learning and development.
We live in a digital world.
While the promise of tech transforming L&D has been floating around, the reality often falls short. This gap isn’t due to technology itself but rather a lack of understanding of how to effectively integrate it into L&D strategies.
Don’t be swayed solely by a vendor’s flashy promises that their platform will be the saviour for all your training woes.
Your team needs a solid grasp of technology, not necessarily as experts but definitely as informed users.
You’ll want to understand the basics:
- How different platforms interact
- The compatibility of various tools
- The functionalities they offer
As L&D increasingly relies on technology, the role is evolving.
You’re no longer just an instructional designer or a trainer. You’re becoming a learning architect.
Over the next few years, the ability to create a cohesive learning tech stack—essentially the architecture of various technology solutions—will become a standard expectation for L&D professionals.
This doesn’t mean everyone on your team needs to be a tech guru, but a baseline understanding is essential.
There may be some resistance, with arguments that this is a job for a specialised tech team. However, who better understands the practical applications of learning tech than the L&D professionals themselves?
Keeping up to date with technology isn’t just a nice-to-have skill. It’s what will distinguish your team in a crowded field.
In sum, embracing tech savviness will enable your team to adapt to trends, sift through what’s beneficial and what’s not, and ultimately deliver a learning function that performs at its peak.
💡 Real-world example:
Picture your organisation implementing a new Learning Management System (LMS) to centralise all content.
The vendor promises a seamless and intuitive experience.
However, once rolled out, you notice that engagement is low and employees complain about the user interface. If your L&D team is tech-savvy, they won’t just rely on vendor promises.
They’d have done a pilot test, gathered employee feedback, and assessed how well the LMS integrates with other existing platforms.
This proactive approach not only saves time but also ensures that the technology serves its purpose effectively, leading to higher engagement and more successful training outcomes.
6. Performance Consulting
The art of consulting seems lost in L&D teams.
We take a lot of questions, but ask few questions. Sometimes, you have to do this. The nature of your organisation can be tough to change.
Your mission is to partner with the workforce to understand their needs and propose the best solution.
📝 Performance consulting explained
Think of Performance Consulting as being the workplace detective of the L&D world.
It’s not just about throwing a training program at a problem and hoping it sticks (or not spraying and praying as I was once told).
Nope, you dig deeper.
You chat with the team, look at the data, and figure out what’s really going wrong. Then, you come up with a game plan that might be training, but could also be other stuff like better tools, process changes, or even a morale booster.
The end game is making sure everyone performs better and the business scores a win.
High-performing L&D teams are transforming workforce development from an education model to a performance consulting model. You can lead the way too.
Here’s some more insights to help you:
💡 Real-world Example:
Picture this: Sales are down for the quarter, and the immediate reaction is, ‘Let’s train the team in new sales techniques.’
But what if the issue isn’t skills but motivation?
As a performance consultant, you’d dig deeper to identify the root causes—be it outdated incentives or lack of support tools—and recommend solutions that actually solve the problem.
7. Experience Design
Knowing how to design for your end user is key.
Working behind closed doors with no contact with your end-user has been the downfall of many L&D products.
Let’s be real, the “build it, and they will come” mentality doesn’t cut it anymore. The modern workforce, shaped by digital experiences from Netflix to Uber, expects more.
They want intuitive, engaging, and personalised learning experiences.
That’s where experience design comes into play.
So, what is experience design in the L&D context? It’s not just about pretty slides and easy navigation. It’s about understanding your people— what motivates them, how they consume content, and what hurdles they face in their day-to-day tasks.
In sum, it’s adopting a user-centred approach to create learning experiences that resonate and deliver results.
The beauty of experience design is that it’s iterative.
You collect feedback, analyse user behaviour, make adjustments, and continually refine the experience. In a world where attention spans are shrinking, and remote work is blurring the lines between work and life, creating captivating learning experiences isn’t a luxury; it’s a necessity.
So next time you’re brainstorming an L&D initiative, don’t just think about the ‘what,’ focus on the ‘how.’
Ask yourself this: Would you rather sit through a snooze-fest of a PowerPoint, or engage in a dynamic, interactive learning journey?
💡 Real-world Example:
Let’s say your company is launching a new software tool.
The old playbook might involve sending out a dense manual or conducting a long, drawn-out seminar that leaves everyone zoning out.
But what if you put experience design to work? You could create something specific that connects so deeply with the user it doesn’t even feel like forced learning.
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.
You can join me every Tuesday morning for more tools, templates and insights for the modern L&D pro in my weekly newsletter.