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Martin Couzins

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Future of learning: The L&D manager perspective


As part of our future of learning month, former acting editor Martin Couzins gets the view of two L&D manager about what the future holds.

Flora Marriott, former L&D manager at Yell Adworks

  • Be brave and don't follow the herd.
I really do hope that L&D professionals will get their binoculars out and notice changes taking place in work: such as the impact of Cloud Computing; a good chunk of our workforce having grown up with the internet; ever-increasing globalisation. I hope that we will observe these changes and think deeply about what we need to do. That may include stopping doing some activities that we've done for decades. For example, does MBTI genuinely contribute to improving organisational performance? Or another example, do we actually need L&D professionals as technical/operational trainers? The people who actually do the job are perfectly capable of peer-peer training, with a little initial help from L&D and IT. Let's be brave.  
  • Utilise our graduates
We will need to work out ways to cope with an increasingly dysfunctional education model in the UK. We are pumping out thousands of graduates who have expectations of 'graduate level' jobs that will not be there in those quantities. Many organisations will be less hierarchical, and that reduces the number of traditional, upwards-moving career paths. My own experience shows me that our university leavers have a huge amount to offer organisations, if we are prepared to involve them and give them real responsibility. But we need to be realistic with them about the world of work that they have entered.
"I believe that there will be a valuable role for...practical contribution as the input from government to genuine workplace training becomes smaller."
  • Put something back
Also I believe that that the size of the state in the UK will continue to shrink in the next five years. That means a shrinking public sector, and hard times for many. Our depressed economy is very lumpy - we all know of skills shortages and of companies that are expanding so rapidly they can scarcely cope. I hope that L&D professionals will increasingly seek to put something back and use their skills to help others. I've seen quite a bit of this recently, for example people helping unemployed graduates - and I believe that there will be a valuable role for this type of practical contribution as the input from government to genuine workplace training becomes smaller.  
  • Improve capability to work across national borders
Globalisation of work, and increasing numbers of people working in remote teams and from home means that L&D can help to develop peoples' skills in virtual working and working effectively with people from different cultures.  We can add valuable expertise in 'how people learn' so that the folks in charge of process management and our friends in IT  will employ quick and easy to use 'how to' and problem solving systems. Gathering people together in one room to explain a new process using Powerpoint isn't going to cut it.  Also, L&D can play a useful role by looking out beyond the borders of our own fair isle, and identifying new centres of expertise around the world, and learning from these places. As the world of work changes, and other countries produce different types of school leavers and graduates, so the centres of skills will change. 
Flora is an award-winning Learning & Development manager, who until recently headed up Learning & Development for Yell Adworks, a subsidiary of Yell Group. She can be contacted via LinkedIn here

Rob Jones, former head of L&D at Mothercare

Having been asked to write about the future of learning, I have spent the four days between now and then stopping and asking myself what I think the future of learning is? (Helpful, I'm sure you'll agree)
Given the ongoing challenges in the global economy I think the immediate future of learning on the whole is a tough one. The difficulty with any L&D activity within an organisation is that is not quick return stuff – if you cut your L&D investment back you are not going to notice it the next day, not even the next month, in fact it may be some time before the impacts are truly felt in the organisation. I think it's going to take truly enlightened business leadership to protect and promote any investment given the other challenges that exist.
Unlike some in the industry I am not really excited about developments in elearning and m-learning. Someone once asked what the difference between training and development was, my answer (when put on the spot) was it was the same as the difference between teaching and learning. I think e- and m- will both make training much easier to distribute and allow easier coordination of supporting activity. They do not, in my opinion, represent the silver bullet that some would have you believe. I remain open-minded if someone can change my mind but haven't heard the compelling argument quite yet...
"...I believe backing up programmes with dedicated social networks can really aid in building bonds within a group and increase the transfer of learning through discussion and sharing."
As for social, that is something I am far more excited about. I believe increased social networking especially intra-organisationally could be very exciting both in increasing cross-functional effectiveness, removing some of the impacts of silos and could be a useful driver for problem solving and innovation. More specifically for learning I believe backing up programmes with dedicated social networks can really aid in building bonds within a group and increase the transfer of learning through discussion and sharing.
In terms of learning professionals I think the challenge is going to get tougher – they are going to need to do more with less – both in terms of resoures and organisational bandwidth, which is going to demand creativity and tenacity not to get pushed off the agenda. In terms of relevance to the organisation any learning professional who doesn't have a good understand of the commercial (or other performance) levers of their organisation and isn’t aligning their activity to those levers is going to find it even tougher than the rest.
So what conclusions have I come to in four days? We shouldn't focus on the cool but on aligned activity delivered efficiently and effectively that we can demonstrate added value from. This is going to be more important now than ever.
Rob Jones was until recently head of learning and development at Mothercare. Rob graduated in life sciences and immediately headed in the opposite direction from a lab towards people. Rob blogs at Masters or bust, and he can be contacted via LinkedIn here
Flora and Rob were interviewed by Martin Couzins, a former editor of TrainingZone and author of itsdevelopmental 

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