The learning landscape in organizations is shifting and a new era is being created in the development industry. This change, which has its roots in digitization, social platforms, and search engines, is not brought in by the needs of the learner, but by the change in technology that is transforming every aspect of our lives.
The development industry is evolving and changing every day and so is the learning landscape in organizations. Digitization and technology are the root causes of this change. In this post, we will be discussing being an L&D professional who is the prime stakeholder for supporting people, learner, and the employees to get along with this change, how does the business view us and what a learner expect out of us.
The Business View
1) ROI – As L&D professionals, when we have conversations around learning, we have enough stakeholders asking us about ROI or the training effectiveness.
2) The seat at the Table – There’s a huge challenge getting a seat at the table as an L&D professional or as an HR professional. It is often a bone of contention within the organization as well as many conferences that we attend.
3) Learner’s Participation – We do face challenges in participation. The conversations around which medium to use and which will get us the better participation from the learner is a very crucial discussion among L&Ds.
4) Digital Learning Platforms – We have a plethora of technologies coming in. The different types of LMSs can give pose multiple questions to the L&Ds regarding the choice of content to be used, how to make it more engaging, whether multimedia should be used and finally, the question of whether learning should be available anytime, anywhere. The rate at which digital technologies can innovate and literally transform any function is mind-boggling. This is something I have experienced while talking to a lot of service providers who are operating in this space.
5) The Modern Learner – The biggest problem that we really grapple with as L&D professional is the ‘Modern Learner’. There is so much information available for ready consumption that employees are unsure of which to pick up, which context to learn and when to learn. For instance, an Engineer who is into coding and working in the AI and ML space, when hears something about cryptocurrency, immediately gets excited and thinks what he can learn and do in this space? In such scenarios, what is the mind space of a modern learner that an L&D professional can really tap into?
Regardless to say, L&D professionals face overwhelming pressures from their surrounding environment. They are often at crossroads deciding where to take their audience and the best way to take them. The plethora of options available is what creates confusion for an L&D. In this post, I’ll try to simplify these into few elements, which I usually term as Lenses.
I am going to introduce a few lenses which would be different ways to look at the work an L&D does, the audience they cater to and the stakeholders who work with them. I’ll also share a few guiding lights which can be frameworks which an L&D employs. Together the lenses and the framework will help you understand the business context better and understand what solutions would be suitable for your customers.
1) Business: Technology and People
Often we talk about how businesses are becoming more about technology and how people are enabling it. However, I believe that increasingly businesses are rather becoming more about technology and as well as people. What this actually implies is that when an L&D professional go and speak to their business leaders (or customers in terms of the business they want to solve a problem for or they look at their enabling business leader like a finance or procurement function), there is a need to function like an evangelist and shed light into how technology and people have to come together to make the business successful.
It’s not a Laptop who walks into an organization and brings a person along. Any conflict cannot be resolved with a laptop and a mobile. It is people who need to get together and communicate. That’s a critical element as an evangelist in this space that we as an L&D professional have to do.
But having said all this, what does this mean for a learner? Learning is technology for the people. For instance, every time on your device, when you get an OS upgrade, you are looking forward to what is the next feature or capability the device will have. Unless it really delights you, it’s a very insipid and regular kind of an update. Similarly in a distracted economy or mind-space, when the learner does not get a new experience or new capability that he can put to practical use even after an L&D offering, his engagement with L&D is going to be increasingly limited.
2) Organizations are incidental
People do not join an organization with a thought of retiring from there. The probable average lifecycle of a millennial employee is not more than 2 years but what’s going to be enduring is ‘Growth’ in the sense of learning. People are increasingly seeing organizations and learning as platforms where they can grow both personally and professionally. They want to grow holistically.
This is the second critical lens that we have to look at, whether we are going to be designing long-term interventions like leadership program or a short-term one event program.
3) Design Thinking
Let’s consider design thinking. The classic approach has been what is imperative for an organization, where it needs to go, what is the behaviour expected and what skills are needed to be taught. But if the first two lenses are true, then there is a need for an organization or an L&D professional to reverse this approach and ask, “What do my employees want to learn?” Yes, it does not take away the perspective that there is going to be an organizational imperative but that’s where as an L&D professional, we need to take a call on how to stitch these two ends together. One without the other will not deliver the best efficiencies.
Now, who are these people? These people are not just the leaders at one end of a spectrum or learners who walks into an L&D program at another end. Your biggest votaries can be the middle-level managers. These people have been in the organization long enough and as they know space better, they can benefit from L&D as a function. They are aware that when they behave in a manner that is consistent with the growth of the people they lead, they get higher engagement and higher attraction which translates to higher engagement with any well-thought-out learning intervention they bring in. One of the most critical things to do while engaging with them or trying to help them be better managers is to use the art of powerful questioning.
As you know, individuals in any organization need more autonomy. They want more empowerment and want to be more connected. They don’t want to be mercenaries in an organization. This consent rather than compliance is going to come through the art of powerful questioning. As a coach when I work I find the techniques of coaching being very useful for a manager to imbibe in leading their teams to whatever goals have set out for themselves.
4) Human Beings or Resources
This is one of my personal favorite lenses to look at. We tend to look at human beings as resources and call it Human Resources. As you know, resources technically have alternate uses which mean in case you look at them as something transactional, you will only get so much out of them. However, if you look at them as creative energy in human form and see how it can be unleashed, as managers and as L&D professionals we can help them to grow and expand to capabilities that even they have not experienced or realized yet.
Now that we discussed these lenses, allow me to introduce a few different important frameworks to understand how these operate. I call them the Guiding Lights. The first one is modern workplace learning. The idea is that rather than a classic 70-20-10 fixed approach of what the blend should look, let’s look at the four categories of blends.
a) Courses – This is the traditional learning from instruction usually done in a classroom.
b) Resources – Resources refer to the materials/things that can be consulted even after the learner walks out of a classroom, like additional readings.
c) Social Collaboration – This relates to learning from each other
d) Personal Learning – This refers to individuals learning through a source or platform like Udemy or even YouTube for that matter.
In a very simplistic way, the idea is that a blended learning approach should blend all these above-mentioned kinds. The yardstick is that courses should not go beyond 10%, however, I personally don’t find this to be a very sacrosanct way of looking at it but what I do take away from this whole thing is that the more autonomy there is for the learner to be involved in ways that they learn the best, the greater the values are going to be.
The second element. Plato said that human behaviour flows from three main sources – Desire, Emotion and Knowledge. When we look at the question of what role Technology plays and what will it increasingly play in the future of L&D, this knowledge base is the part where I really find technology to play a brilliant role. Technology enables us to work the lot more upscale. It enables us to disseminate that information which a person can absorb at the time of their choosing. We can use technology to provide information not just as resources but also in the space of personal learning. You do not have to learn it contextually as we go.
The other element where it plays a role is when we experiment with it to drive behaviour change through contextual nudges. For example, when a food delivery boy arrives at the delivery location, if his device can also give him a prompt reminder that it’s an evening and that he needs to greet the customer with a smile, at that point technology is helping him to learn a new behaviour which will enable him to deliver better customer experience. So when we look at technology in these newer ways rather than a classic LMS where content is going to be hosted, individuals will go or a pre and post assessment, we will find that technology can really aid the larger learning experience rather than become the driver of experience.
Yet another Framework I usually referred is 1-2-3 Framework. At the basic level, we will be talking about skills, behaviour and knowledge. We tend to import new skills by teaching people what preferable behaviours are, but often we tend to teach a lot through cognitive knowledge base frameworks, be it through online or be it through a classroom. What do we actually expect? Is it the perception towards running or why I need to learn this or where I’m going to apply is going to shift significantly. As the shift happens the impact on the organization or the learning objective should get delivered. As an end result over time, we will have a whole people transformation. The reality is far from that because of the debate of e-Learning versus the classroom learning, we forgot the continuum which pretty much was about the two elements – the resources and social collaboration.
Social collaboration is the only way to bring about people engagement, where they are able to cross-pollinate and come up with newer things. It is important to understand that perspective when an L&D is going in for an intervention. Thus, a learner can better understand these questions: what is an L&D going to accomplish and whether he is providing new behaviours, knowledge or skills? Is he bringing about a conceptual shift in how to experience the situation at hand? Or is he helping them to be more evolved kind of professionals?
The human race really has adapted every time the conditions around them changed. Yes, it is true that the individual has to demonstrate the change but they demonstrate fastest when there is an imperative for the change. If we can engineers the system around, revert the right things and showcase that those things that really are acceptable as behaviours are actually being put right up there as valued and said living those things, the rest of the employees will start moving in that direction. Whether it is to say a learning culture or whether within a function you trying to drive a specific goal based change. Look at how we engineering the whole system.
Know your learner and pass on great learning experiences rather than just interventions and transactions. Use blended learning as much as you can. To do so, while taking into account other stakeholders or the employees you are gonna target, make sure you are doing these three things – Be present, Trust and Empathize.
These are the only functions which reach out to employees in an organisation to help them in being better at what they doing. This primarily is the only selfless function you can deliver as an L&D which will ensure your employees’ trust. This will pave a way to an environment where employees are able to share with you their challenges and when you empathize with what they are experiencing as an employee and as a learner, you’ll find that there’s a lot of traction happening.