Is Learning & Development prepared for the future of learning?

Is Learning & Development prepared for the future of learning? That’s the question Towards Maturity have asked in their latest research, Preparing for the Future of Learning. They’ve unearthed some worrying skills gaps between where L&D are now and where they need to be to support and facilitate modern, social and self-driven learning. Is it all about skills, or is it a mind-set shift? Here’s my thoughts and some ideas for how L&D can stay relevant.

What does the report tell us?

How ready are those expected to grasp, embrace and drive the adoption of new technology and the new approaches to learning that technology is driving?  When canvassed by Towards Maturity, L&D leaders believe that 77% of their teams lack the skills necessary to fully exploit technology for business advantage.  A statistic compounded as, according to the research, only half of L&D have enough knowledge to make best use of and implement technology. A worrying statistic.

It is clear not only from Towards Maturity’s research, but our own most recent Learning Insights report that technology is now a staple ingredient in the L&D store cupboard. Technology has had a steadily increasing role in providing neat content delivery, hosting and learning management solutions.  However, after over 15 years of continued development the burgeoning store cupboard can now be a daunting place - which is why we’ve been talking about the challenge being like trying to find your way in a digital blizzard.

So how do any of us make sense of this rapidly changing environment, never mind the changes in practice and delivery models that have changed as a result? After all the very rules that have underpinned and served L&D so well for so long are now changing equally as fast. 

Can all the responsibility to initiate change be laid completely at L&D’s feet?

The way the majority of us now engage with information and learn new skills away from the workplace (thanks to YouTube and Google) is starting to influence our expectations of what learning in the workplace needs to be like. Increasingly it is therefore imperative that organisations, not just those in L&D, recognise this quickly. They need to support L&D to build the culture, strategy, policy and capability necessary to meet, nurture and monopolise this fundamental change in learning.

However, L&D still has a fundamental role to play if it’s not to become an irrelevance.  In the future L&D professionals need to keep pace with the avalanche of technological developments and change; they need to unlearn decades of ‘ownership’ and relearn how they lead and support learning.  L&D needs to change its approach. Towards Maturity cites a CIPD blog, Five Lessons for the Future of L&D which suggests that L&D professionals in the future will need to play the role of facilitator, creator of network connections, social mentor and curator of knowledge and learning resources.

To do this L&D needs to be bold and brave, and see technology as the key to unlocking the potential that a learning enabled and empowered workforce can realise. Only by turning the page on managing and controlling knowledge and learning, and facilitating individuals to realise their own resourcefulness, will they keep pace with the changes ahead of them.

Five practical ways L&D can stay relevant

  • Don’t just replicate – moving to a technology-based strategy doesn’t just mean transferring your current approach, content and delivery model to an online platform
  • Trust, empower and release control: recognise and nurture individual’s resourcefulness. Understand the conditions that nurture social and collaborative learning
  • Look at the adoption of technology-based delivery (virtual classrooms, webinars) as an opportunity to expand face-to-face practice, not as a replacement
  • Understand how the people you support actually use – and want to use - technology to support their learning and their personal performance. Champion technological based solutions - act as an enabler, influencer, negotiator and change leader within your organisation
  • Avoid being seduced by the ‘shiniest, newest thing in the shop’ until you know what’s right for your organisation, your people and your team. Don’t look for a single ‘quick fix’ - clearly define how technology supports you deliver your business goals.

A mind-set shift is needed, or is that a power-shift?

In order for L&D to maintain its usefulness to individuals and organisations, Towards Maturity argues that they must shift from the role of ‘providers’, managing and controlling to ‘facilitators’, enabling and leading. A change that requires not only a change in the tools L&D uses to support learning but the behaviours and mind-set they adopt as professionals.

John Heron, in The Complete Facilitators Handbook, describes this ‘provider-facilitator’ dynamic as a continuum of shifting power. By recognising that to make the transition between the two it requires the relinquishing of that power. Recognising that the canon of organisational skill and knowledge does not rest with L&D for them to bestow as they see fit, but it should sit within the organisation itself to be shared and used organically across the organisation.

Only by adopting new skills, acquiring new knowledge, building new experience and championing the changes necessary will L&D professionals emerge as the enablers of change - ensuring they are not merely perceived as the gatekeepers to a source of increasingly irrelevant resources.

“It’s essential to stay on top of new information in your field. If you don’t your capability becomes irrelevant.”  Charles Jennings

Final thoughts

Today learning is as much about communities, networks, sharing and collaboration as it is about knowledge and skill. Learning technologies will provide the platform that will host that change and the L&D community must become the catalyst.  Only by actively seeking out ways to capitalise on the changing trends and expectations does L&D mitigate the risk of becoming at best irrelevant and at worst obsolete.

Related: How to meet the growing challenge to modernise learning

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