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Sheridan Webb

The Training Designer's Club

Training Design Consultant and Community Manager

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From creation to curation: The changing role of L&D in the hybrid workplace

Learning professionals are no longer expected to be subject matter experts and course creators – instead, we are curators.
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In recent years, L&D has probably seen its biggest shift in the way it delivers its services than at any other time. I’m talking (of course) about the move away from face-to-face training to virtual, and a full embracing of the technology available to us. This change is only the start of the transition we (as a profession) need to make, however. 

We need to let go, to stop being precious about our material, to stop aiming for perfection and accept that ‘good enough’ is usually good enough.

For multiple reasons, L&D needs to stop focusing on delivering training and instead provide learning opportunities. By this, I mean that we need to go from being creators of training, to curators of development. The frequently misquoted research by Charles Jennings suggests that 70% of learning occurs when doing the work, so we need to support that.

L&D needs to be about finding and sharing useful development tools rather than creating them from scratch. This is more necessary than ever right now due to three big drivers:

  1. The move to hybrid working
    Every report you read indicates that hybrid working will be here to stay. With some people home-based and some office based (as well as those working shifts or in satellite locations), traditional training is looking increasingly inappropriate. People need different things at different times, and it’s simply not possible to always provide this in one location, at one time, by one person.
  2. Information overload
    Content is constantly being created, and if we’re honest there’s actually not that much that’s completely new in most topics. We generally recycle and update existing material. The chances are, therefore, that what we need to solve a problem or develop ourselves probably already exists in some form – we just need to find it.
  3. Agile working
    The pace of change is such that we often don’t have time to go through the whole training cycle every time there appears to be a development need. If we do things ‘properly’ we will sometimes miss the opportune moment – so learning and development needs to be delivered just in time. Add to the fact that new jobs are emerging all the time (where specific qualifications and competence models don’t exist), and the fact that many people wear multiple hats, there’s a real need to personalise training and make it bespoke to an individual, not a role.

What does this mean for L&D?

First and foremost, there appears to be less demand for formal courses, so the traditional focus of L&D needs to shift away from designing and delivering set programmes. There’s also less need for most L&D professionals to be subject matter experts. Increasingly, we only ever need to be one step ahead of our delegates. It means that we need to let go, to stop being precious about our material, to stop aiming for perfection and accept that ‘good enough’ is usually good enough.

To transition from creator to curator and add value in this new hybrid, agile world, I believe that there are 10 practices that we need to adopt.

  1. Become brilliant networkers: instead of trying to be an all-knowing guru and respond to everything personally, having an extensive network of experts to refer people to is far more valuable. 
  2. Let go of perfectionism: we simply don’t have time to get every last detail right. Finding or creating a perfect solution but delivering it too late is useless. Being able to signpost something relevant (but not necessarily a perfect fit) in a timely manner may be enough. 
  3. Get comfortable with messy: not everything will fit neatly into a category, format or your LMS. Ask yourself what’s more important – adding value or fitting your system/branding?
  4. Share freely: forget ownership of ‘your’ training. People will care whether or not you helped them, not who designed or delivered that help. It’s not about you – it’s about them.  
  5. Stay alert: constantly scan the environment for what’s new so that you are able to link specific needs with specific resources. Make general research a regular part of your week, and set up a system for collating and cataloguing what you find.
  6. Be curious: step outside of your industry or subject area and look for inspiration elsewhere. Reading around topics and going down internet wormholes will broaden your mental resource bank. As a curator, your job is to signpost and recommend resources, not to decide what people should and shouldn’t have access to.
  7. Be business savvy: knowing the business priorities and the challenges people are facing means you can predict what people will need and offer it proactively. The right support at the right time will also increase engagement in informal learning.
  8. Signpost and highlight: too much content is just as bad as not enough. I know from experience that people need resources to be highlighted, showcased and easily found – from multiple places too.
  9. Keep it simple: make sure the process for accessing training is easy. If we want to encourage personalised and agile solutions, people should be able to access them easily. Creating complicated systems and multi-level sign-offs put too many barriers in place. 
  10. Encourage peer-to-peer learning: create (or encourage) ways for people to learn informally from each other. Whether that’s setting up communities of practice, pairing people up for informal mentoring or allowing people to create and share their own learning resources. Learning by community is one of the most powerful ways to make sure people get what they need when they need it.

It’s not to say that we will never again do what we have traditionally done. There will always be times when we need to research and design something specific, and facilitation will always be a part of our role. To meet the needs of businesses in a hybrid world, however, we need to be less about creation and delivery, and more about curation and connection.

Interested in this topic? Read How effective is your learning culture in the hybrid world of work?

Author Profile Picture
Sheridan Webb

Training Design Consultant and Community Manager

Read more from Sheridan Webb

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