When Will We Learn?

How well is our learning organization tranforming to meet the demands of the modern workplace?

 I recently was doing some digging though content I previously created on blogs and wikis and came across a post I wrote in Learning Circuits Blog that I feel deserves a revisit.

Back in July 2006, I wrote We’re #3! We’re #3! in which I suggested that training departments, at that time, weren’t the home of the best training in organizations when it came to helping employees or customers learn what they needed to learn. I suggested that IT and Customer Service, on average, did a better job of meeting their audiences’ needs. I also pointed to Sales, OD and Finance employee training as perhaps better than what training departments were producing.

Comments in reaction to my post pointed out that IT Help Desks and Customer Service teams often fell short of helping those who called them. But my general point that the training department might not be the home of the best training within an organization was supported.

I provided a long list of practices that are found in IT and Customer Service for developing their own employees and helping customers. A summary of those practices would be:

  • They diagnose the immediate need of the learner in real time
  • They provide a response at the moment of the learner’s greatest need for that response
  • They provide a proposed solution as quickly as possible
  • They check in with the learner after they have had a chance to implement their learning to see if the need was resolved
  • They track the question, the answer provided and the result – in detail
  • They maintain a knowledge base of previous responses to learners’ needs and the effectiveness of the response provided
  • They maintain a practice of sharing best practices and peer-to-peer learning
  • They provide feedback to parts of the organization that might be able to solve the situation that created the need or better anticipate future needs
  • They constantly gather feedback from key stakeholders regarding their performance
  • They do very little of this through a pre-designed curriculum of courses.

I suggested that learning professionals might have a lot to learn from the practices used by other parts of the organization to better serve our “customers”, key stakeholders, and organizations better.

Yet 13.5 years later, only a small percentage of L&D teams are implementing more that a few of these best practices. Why?

With all the talk about being learner-centered, building a culture of learning, self-directed microlearning, etc. You’d think we’d be further along than we are? What’s the hold up?

Here are some thoughts as to why we aren’t making the progress towards the change we as an profession have been advocating for over a decade:

We don’t want to or don’t know how to change. We’re comfortable with the paradigm we’ve been using. We’re used to providing wide swathes of knowledge and instruction to prepare employees for the situations they may face in the future. We work with SME’s and do research to provide the ideal corpus of knowledge and set of skills they will need to know.

We haven’t developed the processes needed to provide immediate solutions at the moment of need.

  • Do we understand the day-to-day work well enough to suggest appropriate solutions?
  • How well do we understand the strategic objectives of the organization and how the target audience fits into them?
  • Do we identify ourselves as problem solvers and pain relievers?
  • Do we understand how various parts of the organization currently learn what they need to know?

Our stakeholders keep demanding or expecting standard training. The way we’ve done things in the past is the only way they ask for us to do things. We, in turn, in our order taking tradition, build what they ask for. After all, they often hold the purse strings to the funding we need and the access to SME’s and the target employees to be trained.

We aren’t used to pushing back when their requested solution may not be the best solution to the problem they are trying to solve.

  • Perhaps we don’t know their business well enough to suggest an option that will work better.
  • Maybe we don’t have the knowledge of their work or understanding of organizational strategic goals to build a compelling argument for a different approach.
  • Or we haven’t developed a business relationship of trust in which they understand and appreciate our professionalism at what we do.
  • We lack the awareness of different ways of organizing learning solutions or the tools to deliver them.

We lack evidence that shows we are effective or don’t see the need to promote what we do. We’re happy to keep doing what we are doing rather than rocking the boat. Neither we nor our stakeholders truly understand what the other does, so we keep focused on what we do and don’t challenge each other. We’re comfortable with the status quo.

We aren’t created evidence based solutions that can be pointed to as changing individual performance and driving organizational strategy.

  • Do we gather evidence that we are adding value to the organization?
  • Are we providing managers with the tools they need to support their employees who are involved in our solutions? Are we holding them accountable?
  • Do our solutions form an ecosystem of learning that builds a culture of collaborative, work-based learning?

Obviously, the these thoughts are not equally applicable from organization to organization. There are learning professionals who are successfully changing and are becoming better partners to their organizations. But as a field, we are lagging.


Do you think these regulations will change anything? Will they drive greater support for data collection in learning? Motivate more collaboration between the business units and L&D?

Feature Photo by Suzanne D. Williams provided by Unsplash.

Retooling for the Future

Connie Malamed does a nice job of defending we Learning and Development professionals in her blog post, Retooling Instructional Design: 7 Ways Learning Professionals are Preparing for the Future. There has been a massive wave of change that has often left us subject to criticism that we’ve fallen behind or obsolete. Connie points out that many of us have been working at changing our methods, approaches and tools in order to prepare for new ways of doing what we do.

She provides a list of 7 ways learning professionals have been working to meet the demands of the modern workplace that is evolving quickly.

  1. Acceptance of Evidence-based Strategies
  2. Focus on Human-centered Design
  3. Adopting UX Techniques
  4. Use of Agile Models
  5. Creating Learning Journeys
  6. Applying Learning Analytics
  7. Designing for Newer Technologies

I wholehearted agree with Connie on these 7 trends that are at the core of what learning professionals will be doing now and in the future. I do feel she slightly missed the mark on #6 and #7. And I would add a #8 to the list.

Applying Learning Analytics

While she does indicated we are making more data driven decisions, she only mentions “the value of learning analytics for continuous improvement.” While this is true, it’s not a huge change from what we’ve always done in evaluating the effectiveness programs. Big data is enabling faster, more responsive analysis, but it’s not the game changer when it comes to Learning Analytics.

The real power of Learning Analytics comes in our ability to use data to:

  • make predictions of what is needed and what will work,
  • we can combine learning data with business data to determine true business value from learning activities, and
  • we can use data in real-time to provide truly personalized learning experiences in the flow of work.

These are the game-changing promises of Learning Analytics that will enable us to get in-sync with our business unit colleagues and finally demonstrate our real value to the organization.

Designing for Newer Technologies

Here I feel like Connie over simplified by limiting her discussion to the impact that virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR), and conversational interfaces (I’m guessing she is referring to Chatbots and other tools that take advantage of voice recognition and Natural Language Analysis) are having on.

She is right that learning professionals are leveraging the latest technologies. I’d even argue that this is a trend we’ve been at the forefront of for decades dating back to pre-internet days.

She correctly points out that we have an awareness that “a new tool will not magically solve a performance problem.” Yet we fall for the bright shiny new toy as quickly as others. There are all kinds of new technologies emerging (artificial intelligence, machine learning, xAPI, geo-presence, sensors and other internet of things devices, image recognition, pattern recognition, robotics, and more) and the “old” technologies are still viable (ink on paper remains a great, cost effective delivery mechanism for learning) depending on the solution needed.

Designing for Newer Technologies really points to the necessity to determine which technology:

  • resonates with our learners (irregardless of whether it is a “learning” technology or not),
  • can deliver the best learning experience for the given need, and
  • does so in a cost effective manner.

Be Marketers of Learning

Connie does touch on a bit of this trend when she discusses using personas and conducting learning campaigns. But I believe it should be called out separately. One, because there are numerous learning professionals and organizations who are starting to do this and, two, I believe it is vital to our successful transition into our future state.

We need to be champions of individual and organizational learning. The evangelists of a new learner centered, lifelong culture of learning that is supported by senior leadership and frontline managers. The learning journeys that Connie discusses need to supported with well articulated marketing campaigns.

Like our Marketing colleagues, we need to have an intimate knowledge of who our audience is. Who are the thought leaders? Who are the saboteurs? Who are the influencers? Who are the campaigns of change? What social networks already exist? Can we leverage them to help or will they resist?

Finally, we need to target managers and provide them with the meta-learning tools and the evidence that they are working that will lead to a conversion experience about learning.


Do you think these regulations will change anything? Will they drive greater support for data collection in learning? Motivate more collaboration between the business units and L&D?

Is Being Overwhelmed Required?

What can we expect of learning professionals?

Clark Quinn provides a comprehensive look at what defines professionalism for L&D practitioners in his blog post,  What is a true L&D professional? Litmos Blog.

Having just completed ATD’s Certified Professional in Learning and Performance (CPLP) process, this topic is obviously fresh in my mind.

On one level, I completely agree with Clark regarding the

atd competency model
ATD Competency Model 

extensive list of components required of a competent practitioner of L&D.  A revelation that became very real for me as I studied for the two exams required of candidates for the CPLP is the breadth of knowledge that is required in our field just to do our jobs.  The ATD Competency Model spans 10 areas of expertise which extend beyond the 6 foundational competencies.


While it may not fill every component in Clark’s list, it’s close.  and I can attest to how overwhelming it is in its scope.  The Knowledge Exam covers all 10 Areas of Expertise.  The study guide, The CPLP Learning System, is 1000 pages jam-packed with the information expected of a CPLP to know.  The approach to the Skills Application Exam is an attempt to expand upon the working knowledge of candidates as well as to test the understanding of the processes L&D professionals use in their work.



I’ll admit, there is room for improvement in the process for the CPLP, I believe it is in the right direction for credentialing professionals in our field.  It is extensive, comprehensive, overwhelming, and exhausting.

On the other hand, I disagree with Clark on two points.  The first is a factual error.  He states that “L&D may not have continuing education requirements like accounting, law, and medicine”.  At least in the case of the CPLP, I am required to earn 60 recertification points in a 3 year period to maintain my status as a CPLP.  I believe that Training Industry’s CPTM certification also has a continuing education requirement.  Whether these are as rigorous as accounting, law, and medicine may be debatable, the statement that there is no continuing education requirement in L&D is false.

Clark also maintains that L&D professionals must maintain a current knowledge in all of the components of Knowledge and Process just like professionals in accounting, law, and medicine.  I maintain that this is a strawman argument based on a misunderstanding of the actual practice in these other fields.  To become a CPA, pass the Bar, or be certified as an MD, candidates must demonstrate a comprehensive knowledge of vasts amount of information across the broad spectrum of their fields.

But, it is my experience, once an accountant earns their CPA, most specialize in a particular area – auditing, taxation, or forensic accounting and often lose track of other areas of specialization.  A tax accountant is more than likely going to make a referral to a forensic accountant if there is a disputed estate to be detailed for a court than they are to take on that client.  That’s ethical and professional.

To maintain that L&D professionals are responsible to know everything about every aspect of our field so that they can “practice” every aspect, seems wrong.  It also reflects a long-held practice of “we have to do everything to prove our worth” that I believe has harmed our field in the eyes of our business partners.

There is no way that any professional can know everything about their field on an ongoing basis.  Just as a doctor who maintains a family medicine practice will provide referrals to specialists for a colonoscopy or oncology care, it would be professional for an instructional designer to seek the assistance of a learning analytics specialist to help design a data strategy to gather the right data needed or to do big data analysis.

Overwhelming a certification candidate in the evaluation process is one thing, but to demand that learning and performance professionals live in a constant state of being overwhelmed in neither professional nor ethical.

What do you think?  How much do learning professionals need to know to be certified?  Do they need to maintain that broad knowledge on an ongoing basis? or is specialization after certification, like accountants, doctors, and lawyers acceptable?  Please comment in the space provided below.

Featured image provided by Mikito Tateisi on Unsplash.


Ask Why before Measuring

Recently I had the following scenario put forward to me:

If someone asked you: “How do I get started thinking about and moving towards a measurement-based approach to training?” How would you answer them?


My first question to them would be “Why?”
“Why are you feeling the need to move towards a measurement-based approach to training?”
To be honest, it’s a trick question.  Seeking to have a measurement-based approach to training is wrongly focused.  Training (and all learning) should be focused on improving specific and measurable organizational and/or individual performance.  Measurement (and data collection, metrics, and learning analytics) is in service of a performance-based, data-driven approach to training and learning.
However, there is value in the question of why a measurement-based approach to training is desired.  The answers, some worse than others, will reveal how much work is to do be done.

Nice Try, But Try Again

The really bad answers will be along the lines of:

  • My supervisor asked me to look into it
  • Every other department has great looking graphs and charts
  • At DevLearn/ATD-ICE/HR Tech Conference everyone was talking about measurement and metrics
  • xAPI enables us to measure all kinds of

The problem with these answers should be obvious.  Taking on any initiative to “keep up with the Joneses” or to meet an unrationalized task given by a supervisor is a waste of time and money.  Without a purpose, you’re simply taking stabs in the dark hoping to land on something valuable.   My response to these answers is “don’t waste your time. ”
Go back to the drawing board and determine if there is a business need to drive your exploration of measurement or forget about the initiative completely.  With no real rationale, it’s doomed to failure.

That’s Better, but…

There is a set of “middle ground” answers that are headed in the right direction.  But yet they fall short of providing an answer to the question “Why?”

  • The stakeholders for our new sales training want to measure the success of our solution by sales metrics (percentage of deals closed in first three months, overall increase of sales per representative)
  • We know we aren’t capturing Fitzpatrick Level 3 and 4 data and have to figure out how to do that quickly.
  • Finance won’t accept our budget requests without an explanation of how we are going to determine if each program is meeting its operational and financial goals.
  • We keep reading industry reports that say senior leadership of most organizations feel they aren’t getting adequate data from learning and development.  We approached our senior management and found out they feel this way as well.  But we don’t know what data we need to gather to satisfy them.

At this level of understanding,  the push for measurement is coming from external (to L&D) agents – various stakeholders, industry thought leadership,  organizational gatekeepers (finance/IT), and others.  These answers still reflect a reactionary stance regarding how we report on our initiatives.  Input from these external agents is important.  But it should be input, not strategic direction.  We need to synthesize this input and build a coherent and achievable strategy for projects and learning as a whole.

This may seem a little overblown, but generally, it’s not.  We are just at the beginning of the transformation of L&D to being evidence-based and data-driven.  Most of us don’t yet understand the nuances of performance measurement tied to business objectives

Purposeful Strategy

Asking “why?”  to this point in answering the original question has been posed in order to identify 1) a lack of true business goals, 2) a scattered, unfocused approach to data collection and measurement, and 3) to unearth the potential resources and roadblocks to performance-based, data-driven reporting and decision making.

But the real “why?” (or why’s) gets at the heart of the purpose of each initiative and the desired change in organizational and/or individual performance.  Once this purpose is fully understood and a preliminary learning strategy and supporting measurement strategy can be developed.  Data collection, measurement, metrics, performance evaluation, and learning analytics are in support of the overall learning strategy. They are the means to an end, not an end in themselves.

It Comes Down to the Data

With all of this said, I still haven’t answered the original question, which re-written to address my initial concern would be:

If someone asked you: “How do I get started thinking about and moving towards a performance-based, data-driven decision and reporting system to support learning here at XYZ Corporation?” How would you answer them?

In general, I advocate choosing one or two new projects that are small-to-medium in scale to serve as a pilot and/or guinea pig.  One, if something goes haywire, it will have less of an impact. Two, you’ll be able to cycle through it faster – validating your new approach more quickly – so you can replicate your success rapidly.

On a more specific level, my response would be: Do you have a Data Strategy?

Do you know the answers to the following questions?

  1. Figure out who are the stakeholders in your project’s success. What role will they want to play in the project? Who is ultimately responsible for achieving the desired performance change?
  2. Make sure that the requested intervention has a clearly identifiable expected impact upon the business. If the stakeholders can’t define the benefit the change will have on the business, how will you create appropriate learning or performance management experiences?
  3. Understand how the stakeholders for this intervention expect to determine the project’s success or failure. What is the measure of success? Some may be qualitative.  Some may be quantitative.
  4. With your stakeholders, determine how each measure of success should be measured and set a SMART goal. If the measure of success is “increased sales” will it be measured by region? individual? company wide? Will it be recorded in units? currency? signed contracts?  Will the goal be an increase? a raw number?  a percentage over last period? 
  5. Determine the specific data that is needed to complete each measurement. What is it? Where in the process would it occur? Is it quantitative or qualitative? How might you measure it? Does the measure of success have component points of data that much be collected separately then calculated together? This should be done in an “ideal world” exercise.  Don’t worry about technologies, policies, collection methodologies, etc. at this point. What data would you need to provide the best information possible?

At this point, if not before, I’d stop and let them know that while there is much more beyond this, I’m guessing that their head is reeling.  My point is, it all has to begin with the business purpose behind the initiative which needs to be analyzed down to the data points needed.

The five steps I’ve outlined above, are required if you want to establish valid measurements that meet the business objective(s) of the initiative.  You will have powerful stakeholder buy-in and a foundation for valid and accepted reporting.  You’ll have the basis for ROI figures that are supported by senior management.  You also will be on your way to becoming a trusted business partner.

Determining the data you need to collect before you begin the design phase of your project is crucial, otherwise your design may leave out critical moments that are needed to generate the correct data.

SECRET: You Already Know How to Do This

You are doing stakeholder analysis already.  You’re already talking to your stakeholders doing a needs analysis, you’ll just add a few questions about their dreams and aspirations (and ask them to quantify them if they haven’t already).  You do task analysis of the process to be taught. You’ll add a few columns to your task analysis table for information regarding the related data.  You already know how to set SMART goals.

What do you think? Is this doable? Do you agree that sweating the data is worth it?  What would you change?  Why?  Please add to the conversation in the comment section below.

L&D’s Authenticity Challenge

I’m doing the lonely slog through a MOOC that has finished it’s prescribed time long before I was able to complete everything.  I just finished the activities in the unit on Authenticity in Julian Stodd’s Foundations of the Social Age which ran earlier this year but has remained open for dudes like me.  The last assignment asked us to reflect upon Authenticity however we’d like – for me, that’s what new eelearning is for.

In Julian’s conceptualization of Authenticity in the Social Age, it is something we earn through the stories we tell and the genuineness and consistency of our actions.  The people, organizations, and communities we are a part of listen to our stories and match them against what they know of our experience.  If there is congruence, then authenticity is earned.  If, however, there is disparity between our stories and our actions (lets say I always talk about graduating from Harvard, but all my college day activities were in Talahassee) then authenticity is lost.  People trust us less and are less likely to follow our leadership.

L&D as a field finds itself with an intriguing dichotomy it is dealing with on the authenticity front.

Authenticity?  What Authenticity?

On the one hand, we have a history of inauthenticity regarding the effectiveness of the training and learning we have created and implemented. In most cases, we have no evidence that it has been successful, In many cases, we aren’t even collecting the data that is truly needed to do build the metrics to determine whether we are successful or not.yet we and upper management have agreed on a narrative that it must be successful.  In research study after research study, year after year we see the reports that we’re not delivering the the data that would indicate we are providing the needed value for the c-suite.  We put reports together with the data we do have, but I dare say that even we’don’t believe THAT story.  We’re not authentic.  Our reports don’t match what are getting from our instructional design and data strategy.

The Tools are Emerging

On the other hand, new practices including social and informal learning, new data collection capabilities and a renewed effort to build analytics from business outcomes back from effectiveness and efficiency to specific behaviors and resulting data that will drive decisions; are providing us with the opportunity to reinvent everything we do and the potential to meet the actual needs of the businesses we serve.

The Challenge

To get from the current state to the potential state will require a willingness by L&D to humbly admit that we haven’t been serving the organization well but are prepared to radically change people, processes, and products to do so. Following through on this promise should have a large positive impact on L&D’s authenticity for the future.

L&D – No Longer Child’s Play

(NOTE: To be clear, I am using a metaphor in this post. I have a deep understanding and respect for the work we do in L&D.  But we need to grow.)

While reading a lively discussion on LinkedIn today regarding L&D’s role, reputation, and the ongoing disruption of organizational learning, I realized that L&D finds itself today much like a group of children sitting in the corner playing with their toys while the adults converse on topics that matter – the economy, their investments, strategies for saving for college educations, etc.

The children are completely engrossed in their “projects”.  The adults are happy the children are quietly busy and aren’t nagging them to “play with me.”  The children collaborate, argue, and critique each other’s creations.  This arrangement works for the adults so they are happy to regularly by new toys for the children.

Occasionally, one of the children will gather up the result of their efforts venture over to the adults and exclaims look what I made.  The adults, not quite sure what it’s supposed to be, smile, pat the child on the head, and say, “That’s nice dear, why don’t you go make another one. This time blue (and micro).”  Happy with the affirmation of their good work and knowledge that making a blue one will be relatively easy after having made the green one, the child returns to the play group to report their success.

Am I very far off?

Eventually, the children realize that they want to be a part of the adult conversation, but they don’t have the knowledge, language, skills, and relationships to fully participate.

Through adolescence and into young adulthood most of us “decide what we want to be when we grow up”, we get our formal education, we identify mentors, allies, partners, and heroines.  We form coalitions and groups of friends. We try things and fail.  We earn necessary credentials. We apprentice and mimic.

It’s the same for L&D, both individual practitioners and the industry as a whole.  As the discussion On LinkedIn discusses there is worked to be done on industry standards and credentialing. We need to change our focus from order taking to solving business problems. We need to use data in showing our value to the organization and in our decision-making.

But we also to forge new partnerships throughout the organization.  Just like we did in real life, we need to seek out mentors, coaches, and gurus to guide us, heroes we can aspire to become. Allies who will have our backs as we learn and sometimes stumble.  Friends who will be honest with us on how we are performing.  We need to expand out networks throughout the organization.

An example addressed in the LinkedIn discussion is around Learning Analytics. The traditional way of thinking is L&D needs to add a Learning Analyst to their team.  But the reality in mind to large sized organizations is they already have a data analysis function/department in place. L&D should be partnering with that group to build capacity around learning analytics.  L&D still needs to be literate in the inputs and outputs involved, but leave the bulk of the work to the data scientists who have the expertise. It will also remove some of the barriers to access non-learning data for our efforts to show business impact.

As is adolescence, this transition for L&D will often be difficult.  But by seeking out partners we can ease the journey.

What do you thinking of my metaphor?  Is it accurate or inappropriate?  What challenges do you feel the transformation of L&D will present to us? Are we prepared?  Please add your thoughts in the comments below.

Times are a Changing – That’s Good!

[Reflection is a key part of the learning process.  Time for me to incorporate it into my blogging!]

This week (which isn’t over yet!) has been crazy busy, but inspiring and edifying.  Between preparing for teaching/leading a second of my CPLP study group, the Masie Systems and Tools conference, presenting our project as a part of the xAPI Spring 2017 Cohort, and my usual personal learning activities, it’s been a week of seeking>sensing>sharing at its best.

Some of the insights from others and that I’ve had this week:

  • The breadth of knowledge we are expected to understand as L&D professionals is astounding – yet this week, I met and interacted with dozens of folks who navigate between learning theory, finance, analytics, social dynamics, impact of future technologies, technological infrastructure, group and organizational dynamics, etc. and do so effortlessly.
  • Elliott Masie shared three fundamental changes that are occurring in how humans learning:
    • Memorization for learning is declining being replaced by Familiarization as a tactic.
      • Based on the research of Betsy Sparrow
      • We aren’t as concerned about absorbing information as we are in learning how to navigate to it
    • Reading is being replaced by watching
      • 60% of all web landing pages incorporate video
    • It is no longer the WHAT that matters, but the WHO
      • learners will search for information, determine WHO provided it, and contact them for the learning
  • “We’ve become a world of self-service.  Except in corporate learning.” – Bob Mosher
  • Meeting people is easy, building network connections is hard.
  • Millenials (and other learners as well) want intense, immediate experiences to learn from.  They don’t want to wait until a workshop in June or a webinar next week.
  • Rob Lauber’s (CLO at McDonald’s) answers to rapid response questions from Elliot Masie:
    • xAPI – “Could change the game – personalized and transparent; aspirational”
    • search – “I’m already there.”
    • interoperability – “Has to happen for the future.”
    • badges – “I don’t see recognition from outside organizations”
    • virtual reality – “Not serious. I have people pitching me how great it would be for employees to be learning in a virtual restaurant while they are in a real restaurant.”
  • Getting back into a full-scale learning/study mode is challenging!
  • Building a data strategy is probably the last thing most L&D Professionals want to do, but not building one is much more perilous.
  • Irony – one of the two courses I got a C in back in college is fast becoming a component of my everyday life.
  • No matter if it becomes the standard or not, xAPI is driving a conversation about what learning is and how learning analytics should be formulated.  It is driving data knowledge/literacy in L&D.  These are good things.
  • In her article The Future of Learning Measurement has Arrived on TrainingIndustry.com, Caroline Brant says, “now is the time for innovation in L&D”.  She points to innovations like Artificial Intelligence, micro-credentialling, intelligent learning, and xAPI that are promising to radically change L&D.   She makes the point that it’s time for us to prepare ourselves so we can be a part of the innovation.

I couldn’t agree more with Caroline’s reply to a comment on LinkedIn where she reposted her article, “It’s a great time to be in the [L&D] space.”

What are your thoughts on the state of L&D and the challenges we face?  Are you optimistic or apprehensive?  Please comment below and let me know where you’re at.


10, no 11, Trends that Promise to Disrupt L&D

Recently, Josh Bersin posted about the changes happening in workplace learning in The Disruption of Digital Learning: Ten Things We Have Learned.  I’ve known Josh and his work for 12 years now and from the beginning, I’ve found both his research and his analysis to be rock solid.  This post is no different.

He generally isn’t swayed by today’s latest fad.  Microlearning and gamification are variables in the mix, but not what Josh views as trends.  He looks at more foundational/structural trends that the fads may be an element of.

He opens the post by talking about the gravity of the change ahead.  L&D has grown into a $140 Billion dollar industry.  He also notes that 83% of companies see delivering compelling, digital learning experiences as urgent or important. Add to this the data from so many other sources that C-Suites around the world are growing weary of L&D to become a strategic partner in the enterprise and you have a massive, volatile transformation in progress.

He points out that this isn’t just a shift in the tools we use it’s a complete shift in what L&D professionals do.  It’s not about changing textual content to video or making small chunks of learning.

…so our job now is simply to “deliver learning to where people are.”

It’s about phones or VR.  It’s about bringing learning to where employees are.  We’ve been talking about delivering what the learner needs, when the learning wants it, whenever the learner wants it, where ever they are for ages now.  Well, rehearsals are over – the curtain is going up!

Here are Josh’s 10 Trends that will disrupt L&D. (my commentary is in blue)

  1. The traditional LMS is no longer the center of corporate learning, and it’s starting to go away.  Why?  It’s old.  Based on a 30-year-old mindset focused on a course catalog and compliance.  The paradigm has shifted.  As Bersin quips, “their cheese has been moved.”  I agree that the “traditional LMS” is on its down slope.  But I’m curious to see how well those who are dancing on its grave will react to the new world order.  The expensive, controlling LMS is out, but L&D has had the luxury, in most cases, of being left alone with its big toy.  The learning ecosystem will be dependent upon systems that L&D has limited control over.  New rules of usage may impact learning implementations.  Whether a needed functionality is turned on or not will often be in the hands of IT or Sales or Marketing.
  2. The emergence of the X-API makes everything we do part of learning.  Everything we do is part of how we learn at work.  xAPI will enable delivery and tracking of all of it.  Bersin indicates that vendors will be building more and more tools that are xAPI compliant. No doubt, you know this brought a smile to my face.  If it gets rolled out properly and quickly, xAPI will be a game-changing enabler of new ways of guiding and tracking learning.
  3. As content grows in volume, it is falling into two categories: micro-learning and macro-learning.  His point here is that there is micromacro-1an appropriate time for all “sizes” of learning during an employee’s learning journey.  I believe that microlearning has been blown totally out of proportion in the past 2 years.  Microlearning isn’t new.  We used to call it “chunking.”  It plays a role in effective learning at different times in the learning process.  But it isn’t the square peg that finally fits into the round hole.
  4. Work has changed, Driving the Need for Continuous Learning.  Reading and answering emails takes up 28% of our time. 19% of our time is spent searching and gathering information.  Combined with the statistics Bersin quoted at the beginning of the post about the need for more learning because of rapid change and growing complexity, the 24 minutes employees spend, on average, in learning activities clearly isn’t enough.  No one has time for “course level training” anymore.  Combined with the trend above about crafting learning journeys and the trend below about spaced learning, this trend is obvious.
  5. Spaced learning has arrived.  No need to go into depth here.  We’ve finally discovered that research begun in the late 1800’s shows we forget things.  And with all the information flowing at us, we forget more.  But we’ve also discovered that spacing out learning and reviewing and questioning for retrieval increase our ability to retain and recall information.  OK, Bersin wasn’t as snarky as I may have just reflected it.  This is a major shift in the way L&D thinks about learning.  It’s also a trend that will give us some quick wins if we measure it well.  Retention up.  Scrap learning costs down.
  6. A New Learning Architecture Has Emerged: With New Vendors to Consider The LMS isn’t dead, but it’s only one of the players on the field.  There is a wide range of new tools hitting the market to meet the needs of the learning that is more personalized, self-directed, and just-in-time.  Some of the new tools are from vendors we know, but many are by new players.  The landscape is going to be shifting for a while through this transition.  Not much to agree or disagree with here.  I would advocate that L&D professionals put their curiosity caps on and invite vendors in to pitch these new products or sign up for their demos online.  Sure, it will take up some of your limited time, but it will be well worth it. There is some amazing stuff out there.  Make it a team activity one a month.  Yes, you will get a biased view of the world skewed to that vendor’s sweet spots, but they’ve also had to spend alot of time synthesizing some of the issues in this blog post to get to a point of being able to program a solution.  You’ll learn and, maybe, find a new tool.

    Today learning is about “flow” not “instruction,” and helping bring learning to people throughout their digital experience.

  7. Traditional Coaching, Training, and Culture of Learning Has Not Gone Away  With all of the “new toys” to play with, two key factors in high-performing organizations are mainstays of current practice – culture and coaching.  (I’m not sure why “Training” is in the title of this trend)  Bersin talks about the importance of the four E’s of learning at work (education, experience, environment, and exposure) to generate sustainable development. He shares that he feels there will soon be a tighter linkage between L&D and performance management tools.  Culture is clearly vital to the success of this vision of learning.  Peer support, knowing the organization supports you in taking the time to learn, linkage between learning and organizational objects are examples.  Coaching by managers not only can provide direct support for learning, but it also should generate a “my manager cares” and “I’m not just a number to leadership” feelings, which increases engagement.
  8. A New Business Model for Learning  With the diminution of the LMS and the de-emphasis of 3rd party content collections, L&D will no longer be in the massive capital investment game.  Bersin encourages a “pay by the drink” approach and encourages L&D purchases to push back on vendor pricing.  He also warns that the technology marketplace is going to be volatile for a while.  Vendors will come and go and there were be mergers and acquisitions.  He argues that signing long-term packages might be risky until things settle out.  My reaction is mixed to this trend.  One of the things that got many L&D departments “to the table,” sometimes briefly, was the acquisition of an LMS for millions of dollars.  There are numerous new tools out there that are testing out “pay by the drink” pricing methodologies.  Unless you have strong historical data that can inform what your potential usage might be, these methodologies could result in much larger invoices than you are expecting.  Bersin also doesn’t address the use of open source tools which in some cases are as powerful as their commercial competitors and just as secure.  Finally, APIs, webhooks and other connecting tools like IFTTT, Zapier, and Apiant are making it easier to mix and match vendors and to short cut review periods.  I’m not even going to go into the impact of the Internet of Things that is coming.
  9. The Impact of Microsoft, Google, Facebook, and Slack Is Coming  Tools from these companies are radically changing the digital experience at work.  Up until now, L&D has generally stayed away from email and messaging tools as part of the learning ecosystem, but these tools are incorporating learning capabilities.  Bersin encourages us to think about Microsoft incorporating LinkedIn’s Lynda.com courses into Excel.  He suggests we need to open a dialogue with IT regarding the next generation of messaging tools they are likely considering today.  This is a very important call to action, in my mind.  I am concerned that this may prove to be L&D’s kryptonite.  For numerous reasons, we have stayed away from using normal workplace tools as learning tools.  Microsoft Office, Salesforce, Slack, Google, Github are all already incorporating learning functionality.  If we don’t incorporate these and other tools into our learning experience designs, we may be perceived as out of touch and irrelevant.
  10. A New Set of Skills and Capabilities in L&D Roles in L&D are going to shift and, likely, some will go away as we take on these new challenges.  New roles will arise. new LD technical needs Many companies are already re-training their L&D teams learning design thinking, MVP (minimal viable product) approaches to new solutions, and understanding the “employee experience.”  He does point out that the overarching principle that has historically driven L&D’s work: Our job is to understand what employees jobs are, learn about the latest tools and techniques to drive learning and performance, and then apply them to work in a modern, relevant, and cost-effective way. This can’t be overstated. L&D and it’s professionals are in an “adapt or die” situation.  To use two overused, but familiar terms; we need to be responsive and agile to deal with this changing environment.  Some of us may be sitting in the same chair in 5 years, but the work in front of us is likely to have little resemblance to what is there now. 
  11. (Wait, you thought there were 10?) Based on a comment to Bersin’s post by W. Nema, I’m adding an 11th trend – the Need to Understand and Incorporate Business Structure.  Nema is specifically advocating that business-specific ontologies, taxonomies and metadata are necessary to enable effective contextual search (which is a mainstay of the modern workplace).  Of course, to add to the degree of difficulty, these structures are rapidly changing due to Big Data, Cloud-based interoperability, the Internet of Things, and other factors.  On this specific concept, I totally agree. Those working on xAPI are spending 4 months this spring re-evaluating the role of Profiles in the standard.  Profiles include what Nema is suggesting.  Without rigorously developed profiles xAPI is clunky and hard to program to – at best.  Well defined profiles will enable vendors and practitioners to fully exploit the full potential of xAPI.  But I would expand it to include more than what Nema is calling for.  We need to understand IT, Processes, and Cultural Structures in our development of learning experiences.

PHEW!  Hat tip to Josh Bersin for his ability to synthesize all of this.

Now it’s your turn.  What do you think of any or all of this?  Is Josh on the mark?  Am I a suck up for agreeing with most of it?  What do you think the challenges are that L&D must address?  Please feel free to use the comments section to share your thoughts. Or do like me and refer to this post and comment on your own blog.

Feature image: “Wheel of Disruption 2014 by Brian Solis” by Brian Solis is licensed under CC BY 2.0

2020 Vision for L&D

In her article,  3 Traits That Will Make You a Learning and Development Rock Star In 2020, on ATD’s website, Cheryl Lasse provides a compelling picture of what Learning and Development will look like from the perspective of an L&D professional.

I think she’s dead on with what they ideal fully transitioned learning function will look and act like in the future.  It is a vision that draws on marketing principles which I have previously discussed in my Do It As Marketing Does series.

Lasse groups her thoughts under three traits – Be Customer- and Learner-Focused, Be Curious, and Embrace Diversity.  While she doesn’t state it directly, I believe that there is an assumption that there is at least a developing learning culture in the organization.

Be Customer- and Learner-Focused

The learning function in the organization needs to be 100% focused on its customer – the learner.  The learner will have ownership of his/her personal learning plan.  L&D will facilitate learners in their development providing resources – curated or created – that align with the competencies required by the roles employees have and wish to have in the future.  Learners make the choices on how to meet their learning goals in an all pull, no push model.

Lasse says that this customer-focused approach means L&D must understand the expectations the organization has for each role.

The expectations are the tasks the must perform, the behaviors that make the tasks executable, and the required levels of proficiency.  That’s a competency model.

I agree with this idea.  Focusing on the competencies necessary to execute the work required throughout the organization ensures alignment with the business outcomes that should be the focus of everyone in the organization – including L&D.

Be Curious

Under this trait, Lasse charges L&D with exploring the industry, the company, and the audience they serve.  The goal is to become intimately familiar with the needs of its customers (learners) needs.  Our colleagues in marketing live and breathe based on their ability to know the customer as closely as possible.

This familiarity will enable learning professionals to develop a competency-based model of learning in which resources are readily available to meet the changing needs of learners and the organization.

Knowing the employees, how they fit in the organization and it within its industry also means L&D can lessen its learning curve when it in presented with a need for learning.  This should lead to greater efficiency, reducing costs and scrap learning and quicker turn around time from need identification to delivery of the learning experience needed.

Embrace Diversity

While I’m not sure that diversity is the best label for this trait, I agree with Lasse on the components.  What she is talking about is attending to Informal, Social and Formal Learning when creating resources activities and experiences.  The greatest focus should be placed on in-the-job learning.

…an L&D rock star will first ask, “What activity could this person perform to learn this skill?”

Created content will be microlearning, quickly digestible.  Except the most complex, large topics which will continue to require more formal learning.  Lasse suggests that the entire organization will be focused on mentoring and being mentored as a part of its culture.

L&D with be brokers of content and resources that they can provide in a matter of days to meet new needs.

One commenter on this article on td.org raised the legitimate concern that personalized learning plans might be too burdensome on management, pointing to the generally poor execution of performance reviews.  My reply to her comment was two-fold.  1) if we support it right, the employees will have more ownership of their own learning. Making the burden on the manager less of a heavy lift. and 2)  most companies don’t support or provide incentives to managers to build capabilities and schedule time to guide employees in performance development. L&D needs to spend more effort in teaching managers how to teach and less time teaching employees.  Two traits of a good learning culture.

While I really like this vision of L&D’s future, I’ll be curious to see how many can achieve this vision by 2020.

What do you think?  Is this a good vision for L&D’s future?  Is it achievable?  If you disagree, I’d love to hear your thoughts.  Please us the comment section below to chime in on the conversation.

Photo by Clem Onojeghuo courtesy of Unsplash.com

Yay Teams! The #1 Way of Learning in the Organization

In a new article on Modern Workplace Magazine, Jane Hart reports the latest results of her ongoing survey of worker opinions about the way they learn in the workplace.  The results point to the trend toward more self-reliant learning methodologies.

Jane asked respondents to rate how important each of 10 ways of learning are to them in the workplace.   The ten are:

  • Company training/e-learning

  • Self-directed study of external courses
  • Internal company documents
  • Job aids
  • Knowledge sharing within your team
  • General conversation and meetings with people
  • Personal and professional networks and communities
  • External blogs and news feeds
  • Content curated from external sources
  • Web search for resources (e.g. using Google)

Knowledge Sharing within your team, Web search for resources, Conversations and meetings with people, and Networking and communities are clearly the four top ways identified as important.  L&D can and should leverage these channels for learning.

That the work team is #1 is encouraging.  I believe that creating learning activities to be performed by teams and facilitated by their manager is an untapped channel for learning.  Average to great teams have a high level of trust amongst each other, a common mission, and more contact time with each other than with others in the organization.  The manager can coach/mentor and build the learning objectives into their performance management efforts.  They have common work products to reflect upon and learn from.

I’ve written about how I feel conversations are so important to learning (see Oh, The Conversations We Will Have).  L&D can do more to scaffold conversations around key learning needs of the organization.  “Marketing campaigns” can be used to initiate work of mouth sharing of ideas and concepts.  Special events (ie, meetings) can be arranged to discuss key issues, challenges, or to brainstorm new ideas.  There any number of ways work conversations and meetings can be influenced to be about or include learning experiences.

Helping employees to build their personal, organizational and professional learning networks and communities needs to be a role that L&D embraces.  Helping employees to understand how and why they should be continuously building their networks and joining communities that will help them grow professionally will have benefit in building a learning culture in the organization and in overall capability of the workforce.

Two other interesting results from the survey are that 1) L&D’s bread and butter – face-to-face training and e-learning come in dead last and 2) maybe self-directed learning and content curation might not be as well accepted as some would like to have us believe.

The fact that face-to-face and e-learning come in last isn’t a big surprise.  It’s pretty well understood that L&D needs to look a 1) moving much of learning out of these formats and into more social and informal formats and 2) what content is left that is best delivered via these formats needs to be looked to improve its quality.

While I do have my own reservations about how motivated overworked employees will be to be self-directing in their learning and how many will want to curate content, I also wonder if these two ways of learning may see an upswing in the years to come.  I’m not sure about how many employees 1) know what these ways of learning are or 2) how to learn through them.  Both are very new ideas and how they are best delivered hasn’t settled out yet.