Don’t become the fish: surviving the changing L&D landscape

There’s a saying – ‘the last thing a fish is aware of is the water in which it swims.’  We’re all in danger of being unaware of our own surroundings until they change – and the same is true for learning and development.

How can we make sure we’re not limited by our own perspective and that we’re changing with the shifting L&D environment rather than getting left behind?

Democratised learning

The way we can teach - and learn - has always been limited by the ways in which we can communicate. Right back to the 15th century, Gutenberg’s invention of the printing press is seen as a key moment in the democratisation of knowledge. Advances in technology have continued to democratise learning – almost everyone in our society has access to the internet at least for some of the time, and with that comes access to almost unlimited information.

And that brings about a change in the balance of the relationship of learning, and in the role that we have in L&D.

Now that everybody – and it really is everybody, not just millennials - has become used to being constantly connected, it’s starting to become a hygiene factor. We’re used to having a huge amount of information at our fingertips on a device of our choice – all day, every day.

And perhaps that means we’d like – or it’s getting to the stage where we expect - our workplace learning delivered in the same way. Why not? If we can find something out instantly by Googling, why can’t all learning content be delivered like that?

Engaged learners

And that’s quite exciting because it means we’ve discovered true learner engagement. When I want to know something, I’ll search for it and find out now. That’s when I need it, and when I’m ready.  It’s at my point of need and – importantly - at the height of my interest.

You don’t need to employ any fancy methods to engage this learner – they’re already there. And it’s an active process – seeking out content rather than waiting for it to be delivered.

But if that’s the case, our role as L&D professionals has to change. Instead of controlling and shaping when, how and where learning is delivered, we need to work out ways to capitalise on how learners want to – and already do - engage.

We’re no longer deliverers of training – we’re facilitators of career development. We can be a gateway to learning content, and need to make sure that we don’t become a gatekeeper or bottleneck.

How do we encourage engagement?

How can we make sure we don’t get in the way of what our learners can achieve due to our own limited perspectives? It’s easy to do what we’ve always done, but this requires a fresh approach. Here are my three steps to encouraging existing learner engagement.

  1. Research needs
    Yes – actually talk to learners and find out what they want or need to know. Then find out how they want to receive it, or how they learn outside work.

  2. Curate content
    You don’t have to create it all. There’s a wealth of learning content already out there, some of which will be perfect for your learners’ needs. But you do need to filter and gather – make sure you’re providing access to the best and most relevant things.

  3. Connect learning together
    Help learners to see the bigger picture about how it all links together and what career development – not just one-off training interventions – looks like. Work in partnership with your learners and employees to create career pathways.

So let’s think back to that fish, unaware of its surroundings. With all of this in mind, you’re taking steps to become aware of your surroundings as they change rather than waiting until it is too late.

The learner in this equation is the fisherman, searching for content. And you’re the skipper of the boat - steering, supporting and providing the experience of knowing where the best fishing grounds are. You can advise where the best nuggets of learning can be found and what equipment learners will need to get hold of them.

Doesn’t that sound better than being the fish?!

My keynote session at LearnX 2016 in Melbourne looked more in-depth at learner engagement and a shift in the balance between learners and learning provider. Watch the full video from LearnX or have a look at the presentation slides.