Most learning leaders got their start by assessing training needs, developing courses, and then facilitating those courses in the classroom. L&D professionals have refined these skills and made their niche in these areas to the point that these skills are the sole domain of the learning leader. But is this a good thing?
A recent study from the Learning and Performance Institute (LPI) showed that the most popular skills for the L&D professionals were also the ones at which they were most capable (no surprise there). These skills were presentation delivery, face-to-face learning, and design. Unfortunately, given the proliferation of access to common information today, these content development and delivery skills are no longer as relevant as they once were. New skills, such as supporting communities of practice, financial management, and data interpretation, are what learning leaders must embrace. The LPI study showed that these new skills are among the least popular with L&D professionals today, and that these professionals rated themselves as being the least capable in these areas. Yet, in order for the learning function to become a full partner with the rest of the leadership of the company, they must become experts in these new skill areas.
The wide majority of learning today is gained through peer collaboration and sharing real time experiences, meaning that less and less time needs to be spent focusing on traditional classroom training. And while classroom training (virtual or face-to-face) does still have a place such as when teaching the basics, compliance, and limited types of highly technical skill development, the focus of L&D needs to reach beyond that. The task for L&D today is to more fully engage the entire workforce in productive knowledge sharing in their natural work environments.
To accomplish this, learning leaders need to develop a new set of skills—even beyond those identified through the LPI study—and shift from creating and delivering training content to enabling learning networks. These learning networks are formed by employees themselves, focused on their competency and capability development, and supported by HR and the learning function through the use of enabling technology that helps people quickly and easily find colleagues to connect with and learn from. The learning that takes place via these networks occurs as employees actually do their jobs, providing rich context for the knowledge that is shared. This stands in stark contrast to classroom learning, where simulation is the best that can be achieved, without a real connection back to the person’s everyday work situation.
This radical shift in how learning is accomplished in companies also requires a radical shift in the supporting technologies used. In the past, L&D was largely an administrative function that served up training courses to meet the needs of the operational business units. L&D professionals were able to accomplish most of their work within the construct of LMS and LCMS technologies because the work was largely one of providing the appropriate course to the targeted audience. But this is no longer the case. Gone are the days of exercising resource control and small incremental changes. Today’s learning leaders need to facilitate learning that is more personal and dynamic on a large scale. To effectively implement learning networks such as these, learning leaders must leverage new skills such as developing virtual communities, sharing experiential knowledge, and curating knowledge.
The clarion call is going out to awaken the L&D profession to a new reality—and with it new leadership abilities. The majority of the learning today happens outside of the reach of formal learning structures, and therefore outside of course content. The technology that the learning leader needs to master today includes social business networks, and coaching and mentoring matching tools. The job at hand is to enable collaborative learning relationships in ways that provide immediate productive results for employees.
In order to make this transition, learning leaders need to do the following:
- Re-envision their purpose and methods for achieving results.
- Anticipate where to loosen controls in order to enable freer knowledge exchange and the sharing of practical experience.
- Exercise foresight and agility to align business need with new technologies.
- Shift learning modes away from developing and delivering content and towards enabling meaningful learning networks.
- Reimagine learning behavior.
As learning leaders embark on this journey, they may find themselves stretched and pulled in directions that feel uncomfortable. This is the ideal time for them to connect in a network of peers who can help them work through the transition to a more open and dynamic form of learning.