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Stuart Lauchlan

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Key theme: The changing nature of L&D


In June, the chairman of the Learning and Performance Institute (then the IITT), Don Taylor, kicked off a four-part series on the future of learning at workWhat followed was Taylor’s vision for L&D – the way learning is changing and what this means for the L&D function.

This work built on previous articles on the need for L&D to retain its relevance in a fast changing world. And it is the nature of this change which many in the industry feel will continue to impact on L&D.

As John McGurk, CIPD adviser on learning, and talent development, put it in his recent TZ article, “A massive increase in the pace of technological change, hyper-contestability in markets for products, investment and talent are already shaping the future. A number of megatrends such as demographics, the ongoing rise of Asia and Africa and emerging America will provide the backdrop. These developments will all continue against a context of choice about economic and political systems, and our environmental future. What these strands will certainly do is unleash the need for human capital.”
And it is these forces of change that Charles Jennings, former chief learning officer at Reuters and MD of Duntroon Associates, says will require L&D to move from its traditional role of designing, developing and delivering training interventions.
“There are big changes going on in the world and all organisations are touched by this. Change is norm and things need to be carried out at speed. The days of spending three months doing a training needs analysis and another three months designing and delivering the course so that six months after the training need has been identified the training is delivered. Those days are gone. If there is a solution that requires some formal learning it has to be delivered within six weeks.”
McGurk is more forthright: “L&D needs to get away from the classroom mentality – it is outdated and will die pretty quickly.” He outlined his vision for the future of L&D in a recent article for TZ in which he said the focus needs to be on intervention, insight and influence.
  • Intervention: How we deliver and increasingly facilitate learning
  • Insight: How we use L&TD to impact the organisation
  • Influence: How we position L&TD where it can make the best impact
This repositioning of L&D to make the biggest impact in the business is echoed by Taylor who says that the key skill required by L&D teams is to understand the business and work with it. “This means getting out of our comfort zone of a focus on production - whether that's delivering courses or designing elearning - and focusing instead on meeting the needs of the business,” he says.
Chairman of the British Institute for Learning and Development, Karen Velasco, backs up this point: “The role of L&D will become more flexible, business focussed and consultative as the way in which training is delivered changes.  It will also need to embrace the use of learning technologies, social media, and recognise the importance that informal learning plays in the workplace.”
So, L&D industry leaders are agreed that change is here to stay and that L&D needs to embrace it to remain relevant and grow. But what does this actually look like in terms of L&D skills and capability? Again, there seems to be a broad agreement on what types of capabilities will have impact. Here Jennings outlines his top five capabilities.  
  • The polymath: L&D needs to be more than just experts in their own world and to shift from process thinking to focusing on outputs and improving performance. 
  • Technology savvy: All L&D professionals need tech skills and an understanding of what technology can bring to learning so that they are in a position to take decisions on scaling, speed and flexibility of technical implementations.
  • The performance consultant: L&D needs to focus on performance problems within the organisation. This means shifting away from the traditional needs analuysis model, which Jennings says invariably leads to one outcome: training, to a  consulting approach. 
  • The business partner: L&D needs to be more business savvy.It needs to understand the key drivers for stakeholders. Understand what they need. Not just financial - landscape of org, politics etc.
  • The learning expert: As neuroscience provides us with more insights into how we learn, L&D needs to continue to be expert in understand how adults learn – to keep abreast of latest research and feed this thinking back into the team and wider organisation. 
If this is the new skills agenda for L&D then the spotlight will swing on to the provision of continuing professional development. Already Jennings warns that there is a disconnect between CPD and those capabilities that will have a real impact on the job. So how are those bodies supporting their members?
How are the major L&D professional institutes supporting their members through this change?
Karen Velasco, British Institute of Learning and Development
"The BILD is supporting members in developing these emerging skills in a number of ways.  We have five themed events each year which provide an opportunity for members to network with like-minded professionals and update their skills in a number of areas.  This years themes have included coaching, the use of games in training, customer service and qualifications in training.  We also provide webinars on topics such as emerging technologies, which are ideal as they give members the opportunity not only to learn about it, but also to experience using new technologies in practice."
Don Taylor,  Learning and Performance Institute
"We're producing a map of the skills required to be an L&D professional. The aim is to share that with everyone (members and otherwise) so that we can all be aware what skills are required to progress in this industry." 
John McGurk, CIPD advisor on Learning and Talent Development
"Clearly there is a lot of learning to be done for learning professionals, a fact born out of the latest Towards Maturity Benchmark in which organisations report that L&D teams are failing to meet the expectations of the business when it comes to technology implementation."

Benchmark author Laura Overton 
"The technology is new and L&D professionals need an opportunity to be drawn into to use the technology.” 


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