What does L&D Need to Succeed in the 21st Century?

Last night I hurried back home from my weekly Thursday knit group to hear Donald Taylor (@DonaldHTaylor) talk about a topic near and dear to my heart.  “What does L&D Need to Succeed in the 21st Century?”

I’ve been in L&D for over 23 years but I have noticed that it’s only been in the last few years there has been a massive shift in my profession. So much so that I feel that through our fear, anxiety and possibly, ignorance of the pace of change of our business clients, that we are being left behind or not even considered in any of their major projects or decisions.

I get pangs of disappointment when I see the business working on exciting projects and initiatives that affect our customers but L&D doesn’t even get an invite to play with them anymore because of our stereotyped image. Or, the business may not see the relevance of L&D’s involvement.

It’s like organising a fabulous party and then someone asking, “did you invite Uncle Bert?” and you cringe knowing that having Uncle Bert at your party will put a dampener on everyone’s spirits.  He will tell everyone what they should and shouldn’t be doing; how parties were organised in his day; how if we don’t have an objective for the party we won’t be able to measure it’s success; and how the new-fangled parties with all their technical gadgetry and glitz of today really are of no value.

I don’t want L&D to be Uncle Bert.

I was also interested in this webinar because some time ago I was asked to be a guest presenter at Edutech at the Brisbane Convention Centre next year.  After much thought, I decided to  speak on a topic that was relevant to my profession today – namely, what skills do L&D need to have to prepare for the ever-changing workplace?

I could have been practical and talked about the instructional coaching framework I implemented for my current employer which gives adult learning transfer skills to business subject matter experts to conduct coaching on-the-job (which reduced facilitator-led workshops and created a collaboration on the work floor) but I realised this was only a result.  An output. A destination.

The true learning was the journey of how I came to that point.  I believe that the only reason this program was successful in our business unit (and is now being rolled out across the enterprise) was because as an L&D professional, I opened my mind to new possibilities and didn’t take the default option of classroom training or e-learning.

This was all because I had an immense personal learning journey this year.  It was time to put all the theory I learned, read, discussed and deliberated with my personal learning network into practice.  It also helped that I was given the opportunity to experiment, trial and pilot the program because I had a business manager who simply trusted and supported me to ‘get the job done’ without micro-managing me.

I didn’t feel like Uncle Bert anymore – I felt like the popular one at the party.

Treated with suspicion at first, when the business saw what I was doing was fun, different and interesting, they were coming up to me asking for an invite to the party.

This is how L&D must be perceived.

So in the end, after I considered my personal learning journey, I decided to talk about how an L&D professional like myself used the tools and networks available on the internet today to grow new skills that prepared me for the change in my workplace today.  So Donald’s webinar was timely.

Donald Taylor talked about the results of the Capability Map that was recently published by the Learning and Performance Institute and he categorised the skills that the L&D profession would have to be as follows:

Photo by @gerdrieson – These are the three categories and supporting skills L&D focus on for the 21st century

If you haven’t already tried out the Capability Map, I strongly recommend it because for me, it was an eye-opener to see all the skills on “paper” okay, the screen.

L&D has so many skills to offer the business that sometimes we simply don’t use them or are considered too hard or time consuming to be of any value.  For organisations where L&D is a “one man band” this would be doubly difficult.

Once you complete the Capability Map, the tool generates a PDF report that you can keep and refer to.  (I would love to see this as an application that generates a visual map of L&D capabilities that I can insert into my LinkedIn profile.  I’m thinking about a tool similar to the visual representation of ‘Vizify’ – maybe a future potential development we hope hint hint?)

One of the things that stood out for me is that the results signified that the strength of L&D professionals was with Training Delivery and weakness was with collective learning and learning analytics.  That showed me that we simply have everything the wrong way around.

But the results were not surprising really considering that most of the L&D professionals were trained or accredited in training delivery.

One only has to look at how Certificate IV in Training and Assessment in Australia [the workshop that teaches people how to teach in a classroom] seems to have become the minimum standard for anyone considering a career in learning and development.  Employers and recruiters go through resumes like hawks and woe to anyone who doesn’t have this specific certification on their CV – you simply don’t get a look in.

So what is the key message here?  If our foundational accreditation program for entry level L&D work is on developing a class-room based instruction then once again, we have concentrated on the main skill of L&D is to run classroom based training.  It’s flawed logic.  We need to re-visit the skill base of L&D and devise new programs or professional development that will ensure that the main skills around Performance Improvement; Analysis and Strategy and Collective Learning is obtained to ensure our profession’s long term survival.

Without this, we will always be seen by business as curmudgeons which will then subsequently result in the demise of our profession.

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About Activate Learning Solutions

Helen Blunden is the founder of Activate Learning Solutions and Third Place. She has over 20 years of experience within learning and development across private, public and not-for-profit organisations. With a specialty in performance consulting and networked learning, Helen believes that workplace learning is integral to business success. She has a passion for enabling people to learn beyond the classroom and believes in the power of networks and communities to drive collaboration and meaning within the organisation. From facilitator-led instruction, online and blended, Helen deploys social and informal learning such as enterprise social networking, collaboration tools and emerging technologies that have been proven successful and embedded workplace change.
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2 Responses to What does L&D Need to Succeed in the 21st Century?

  1. Thanks for the response Bill. I’ve been in L&D for 23 years now and there’s been more change in the last 5 years in our profession than there has been since the beginning. Technology is moving too fast (but maybe not so fast in corporate Australia – but we’re certainly feeling the impacts). I think it’s just part and parcel of our professional development to keep up so that we can provide business value to our internal clients. I’m really unsure what the future holds but I’m positive that they will see our value – as long as we also make some changes!

  2. Coming a bit late I suppose but a great post. I have just recommenced in L&D and there is so much to take on and learn myself to catch up from 2006. But it is also very exciting. And I have to agree with the Cert IV scenario … but there’s an opportunity in the waiting if ever I saw one 🙂

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