• Five lessons for the future of L&D

  • 26 Jan 2016
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Change can be a prickly thing but, in the world of learning and development, it’s also unavoidable. With the profound shifts in how employees communicate internally and externally, and the busting open of business networking, the traditional classroom model seems hopelessly outdated. L&D practitioners know this, but find it harder to change mindsets inside their organisation.

Towards Maturity’s latest flagship report, Embracing Change, found that while respondents want to create learning organisations, 55 per cent of all training programmes are still entirely face to face. And the 2015 CIPD L&D Survey reported that social learning, job shadowing and mentoring are expected to become ever-more prevalent in businesses – but L&D departments lack the resources and capabilities to fully realise them. People Management spoke to leading L&D experts to find out which trends will help professionals make sense of the new ways we learn in 2016.

These days, everyone is a knowledge worker

The predictions about automation can make gloomy reading, but the one chink of light is that initiative and creativity are two areas of endeavour that machines will be hard-pushed to replicate. The prevailing narrative says automation is already making manual labour redundant and will come for knowledge workers next. But that is a false dichotomy, says Harold Jarche, the social learning guru: everyone is a knowledge worker and, by emphasising the parts of our jobs that require creative and mentally dexterous effort, we can all enjoy more fulfilling work while C-3PO attends to the drudgery.

“If all the routine work is computerised, then what remains is the stuff robots can’t do,” says Jarche. Even sales assistants can be creative, he says, using judgement to guide buying decisions and second-guess customers’ needs. The challenge is that the way we teach employees still emphasises process and routine. Jarche compares the way artists learn, through experiment and discovery, with what he calls the “drill and fill” approach most businesses employ.

L&D professionals, he says, must rediscover the wonder of knowledge: “If you’re promoting learning, part of that is being curious yourself, then taking that curiosity and saying ‘how could this be interesting to someone else?’”

Businesses need to create better humans, not better workers

Occupational psychologist Gary Luffman, of the think.change consultancy, spends plenty of time listening to business leaders. He doesn’t always like what he hears. Their appeal to employees to be more productive and develop broader skills is all about improving the bottom line – but that isn’t what motivates us as individuals.

“Just banging on about business needs is quite a mercenary approach to development, particularly when people are concerned with so much more than just business goals,” says Luffman. The shift, he says, is from compelling people to master a particular role or skill to enticing them to become better humans, not just better employees.

Psychologists acknowledge that how much effort we expend at work is directly related to what we perceive as the eventual pay-off. If we can show staff that learning will make them more successful, richer and more employable in future, they are more likely to do it.

As Luffman puts it: “I might do something now for the greater good, but I’ll expect something in return later on. There’s no such thing as a truly altruistic act – although promoting ourselves doesn’t have to be done to the detriment of others.”

Learners would benefit from a “social mentor”

Plenty of thinkers have considered the question of just what role L&D professionals will play in the organisation of tomorrow. The consensus is that they will be curators of knowledge, pointing employees to resources and individuals who can help them, cultivating networks and pre-empting development needs.

But what does this look like? For Jane Hart, the social learning pioneer and blogger, one key role that emerges is as an enabler and supporter of social mentoring. Unsure of how to deliver a presentation? There’s an individual, either inside or outside your business, who can help – if only you knew how to find them.

“L&D will be like a matchmaker, but a different kind – connecting people who might need to know one another, facilitating network connections, creating networking events,” says Hart.

“But it’s up to the individual to self-select their own social mentors for short- or long-term projects. L&D can’t organise everything everyone needs to learn. Managers will need to take more responsibility for supporting their people and building those social teams. L&D can play a big part in helping that happen.”

Stop measuring stuff that doesn’t matter

The traditional metrics of L&D have been blunt instruments: sheer numbers of people taking part, or total completed courses. But that doesn’t matter to business leaders who want to know how learning will help them increase profitability, reduce churn or face the future with greater confidence.

“L&D has tried to create its own metrics, but that forces it to focus on stuff that doesn’t matter,” says workplace learning expert Charles Jennings.

L&D should be talking the language of business stakeholders, asking them what improvements they’d like to see, then introducing interventions that will help them get there. Once you do that, says Jennings, you’ll find you won’t have “L&D leaders almost doing nothing other than work on the numbers”. Instead, they will trust what you’re doing is right: “Senior executives want data, but they don’t want people to justify the existence of L&D. If you have trust, you don’t need masses of data.”

Don’t ignore your own development

“L&D professionals know they have a new role in a new environment, beyond delivering courses, and they are starting to embrace that,” says Laura Overton, managing director of Towards Maturity. That means they are prepared to think in a less linear way about learning: “You might come to me and say your team needs a course on time management. I can take an order for that course, or I can find out more about the problem and really talk it through. It might be a behavioural issue, or something really simple that can be solved with a checklist.”

Overton says there is a chasm opening, however, between businesses that are proactive about learning and the rest. And that manifests itself in how carefully L&D professionals attend to their own development.

“Much is being said about the seismic changes taking place in workplace learning,” adds Andy Lancaster, the CIPD’s head of L&D. “But CIPD research also highlights that only about 30 per cent of L&D professionals are being developed to ‘any great extent’. We desperately need to bridge the gap in learning strategy and practice.

Delve deeper into learning

If your appetite has been whetted to put emerging learning strategies into practice, the CIPD’s new online Future of Learning hub could be the answer. Built around a virtual learning campus, with curated content, a professional community and live events, it is aimed at L&D practitioners at all stages of their careers.

“We believe this is an important response to help L&D and HR professionals transition to a future-focused learning approach,” says the CIPD’s head of L&D, Andy Lancaster. “It also recognises a commitment to continuing professional development and reflection through ‘badges’ awarded to both CIPD members and non-members.” Find out more at futureoflearning.co.uk

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  • This article absolutely hits the spot for me and highlights the approach that some forward thinking L&D teams are already taking. We do need the support of HR to drive this change together.