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Becky Norman


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L&D’s changing role: now is the time to be brave, bold and fearless


Didn't get the chance to attend World of Learning 2018? Here's what I took away from the event on L&D’s changing role.

My first time at World of Learning was an energising and thought-provoking experience. Robin Hoyle was a fantastic chair (with a fantastic suit!), and the programme offered something for everyone. Topics ranged from digital transformation and AI; through to learning design, transfer and impact; as well as motivation, engagement and culture.

Across the two days there was one key message in particular that caught my attention. While the role of L&D remains important for businesses, it is changing – and learning professionals and teams need to change along with it.

Numerous speakers across the event encouraged the audience to get creative, be daring, experiment, fail and try again. The new and emerging role for L&D will be a steep learning curve, but not one that should be feared. 

Below is a round-up on three of the sessions that stood out for me in particular when considering L&D’s changing role.

Curators vs. enforcers

Opening up the conference was Rafal Szaniawski, Former Chief Learning Officer of Deloitte Switzerland, exploring whether the future role of L&D will entail being curators or enforcers of learning.

We all remember pivotal moments of learning in our lives – for Szaniawski this was discovering nine years ago that his real surname and family history was not what he thought it was. He then spent months researching his new-found heritage, but never got to find out his last name.

The point he was making by telling us this story was that our individual learning experiences are extremely diverse, personal and life-altering. And a big challenge for L&D is to build on these active, exciting and personal experiences and create new corporate learning approaches that can reach hundreds or thousands of people.

This is where curation comes in. “It’s an art and science,” Szaniawski explains, comparing it to how in our adolescent pasts we would meticulously and devotedly compile a mixtape for our lover.

Learning transfer is not given the love and care it needs to work.

We are at a moment in time where learning teams need to assess how they wish to operate in the future, and Szaniawski highlights that curation is a bold and exciting path to take as it gives L&D professionals the freedom to “experiment, invent and reinvent” with their approach.

But what about L&D’s role as the enforcer? Szaniawski believes this will never go away: there will always be mandatory training that’s a requirement due to law, policy or simply because we need certain skills to be developed within a business to ensure continued success.

The role of the enforcer will always exist to some degree, but Szaniawski believes that the secret to getting learners on board is to create a story around why they need to do certain training.

So, curators vs. enforcers: who wins in the future of L&D? According to Szaniawski, we need a mixture of both depending on a particular context. The two roles are yin and yang, and learning teams need to “go wild and be brave” when experimenting with these approaches.

Learning transfer: we need to do more

Dr Ina Weinbauer-Heidel and Paul Matthews’ joint session on learning impact kick-started with some eye-opening statistics that illuminated the scale of the learning transfer problem.

According to research by Robert Brinkerhoff, only 15% of learners try to apply what they’ve learnt and get positive results. Around 70% of learners try to apply but eventually give up, and approximately 15% do not try to apply at all.

What Weinbauer-Heidel highlights here is that learning transfer is not given the love and care it needs to work. If transfer is important why do we measure the learner’s satisfaction of training and not transfer? Why are certificates given to attendees straight after they have completed the course instead of after they have proven they know their stuff? And why are trainers paid for delivering training but not for doing the post-training transfer work afterwards? “Transfer is not seen as important” Weinbauer-Heidel exclaims.

Matthews’ take is that learning transfer is neglected because of its elusiveness: “There’s a training course, then the ‘magic stuff’ happens, and performance improves.”

Rather than seeing transfer as just an event, Matthews argues that it needs to be viewed as an end-to-end workflow that gives learners the opportunity to experiment, practice and implement – to learn by doing. Which means that learning teams need to deliver activities, not just content.

These activities are best delivered little and often, spread over time, and should encourage reflection on the learning. Matthews explains that these activities don’t need to be run by L&D; instead, managers should lead on the delivery and debriefs.

The role of L&D as change-makers

Coincidentally, Melanie Lepine presented this session as she was going through a period of change herself, having only been in her new job as Group Head of Learning, Development & Talent at Domestic & General for seven weeks.

She began by highlighting that the term VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex, ambiguous), although not new, still remains relevant for the world we live in today.

When considering how our businesses must move forward in this VUCA world, the backdrop to take account of is monumental. We have the uncertainty of Brexit, the significant impact of climate change, a shifting political landscape, a multigenerational workforce, rapid technology changes, business disruptors and plenty more.

We have an opportunity to be a change agent in the business.

“What does this mean for L&D?” Lepine asks. A whole new skill set.

We’re moving towards more agile ways of working, in which we get things out there that aren’t perfect and tweak later, highlights Lepine.

She also touches upon the importance of curation: people who previously only developed courses are now responsible for creating playlists of learning. And we shouldn’t ignore the need to have strong data analysis skills in L&D teams to show the true value of learning and development.

“We have an opportunity to be a change agent in the business,” says Lepine. “L&D has typically been known to be reactive, but with the scope and scale of L&D’s access to people we have a great opportunity to be change makers.”

Take the advice you give to your learners

Just like learners needs to experiment, practise, take risks and, in some cases, fail in order to really learn, L&D professionals need to do the same as they navigate through changing times and seek to transform the industry.

I’m sure there were plenty more learnings and takeaways that benefited the delegates at World of Learning 2018 – this was just one that stuck out for me as particularly compelling.


2 Responses

  1. I couldn’t agree more with
    I couldn’t agree more with this sentiment.

    L&D teams who are successful do challenge the business – in a positive way

    My advice is to be confident in your ability and skills as a L&D professional, market them internally and don’t just take orders from the business – its about what is needed, not what they want.

    It can take time to see success when you change like this but if you keep on message then it will come.

  2. There are so many new terms
    There are so many new terms that we all would need to learn especially when the technology sector is evolving so much. We can never be accurate in trying to know for sure what are the changes that are taking place day by day, but we can be on board in knowing what to expect. Businesses providing services and individuals using them should all play our part in making sure how every single factor is contributing towards improvements in the industry.

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Becky Norman

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