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?

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 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

Hey L&D! Your Underpants are on Fire!

This is the second of a 2-post series on the challenges L&D faces and solutions to overcome them.  In the first post, I addressed the challenges.  In this second post, I offer a suggested solution.

In my last post, Hey L&D, Your Underpants (gnomes) are Showing!, I discussed the black box that training and development has historically worked in.  Mimicking a South Park episode, I suggested that we have utilized the following model:


If we get honest, we don’t have any real clue if what we create actually will increase the ability of our learners to do their jobs better and impact business goals in a positive fashion.  We’ve gotten away with it because senior leadership knows that talent development is crucial to the organization’s health and ability to deal with ever more complex and changing markets.

But they are being pressured to justify every expenditure in the budget to ensure is is driving business priorities, goals and profits.  The free pass we in L&D have been receiving is about to be revoked.

We need to overcome what Matthew Syed calls “Black Box Thinking.”  We have been enabled by our organizations and the general culture to cover up and hide from our failures. One example.  If we don’t look at long-term retention of information, ignoring the forgetting curve, we can be satisfied with Kirkpatrick Level 1 and 2 responses that say our training was “great”, “just fine.”  Our learners don’t want to point out that they don’t remember what they learned a month ago – because it might make them look stupid.

We have to open up that black box and determine how to work in a new way and we don’t have much time.  Now a full-scale overhaul of L&D will take time and I’m sure that most senior leaders will work with us. If we set out a strategic plan to transform learning in our organizations and get working on the needed changes to make it so, they will give us the time to do it.  But the time to take action is now.

So what do we have to do now that we haven’t been doing?  (NOTE: these actions are interrelated.  This is not a step-by-step process.)

Data, Data, Data

And I don’t mean a compilation of smile sheets. We need data-driven evidence of the business impact of learning.  As CEB put it in a Learning Analytics whitepaper last year:

You can’t defend L&D activities to executives with anecdotal evidence, buzz from hallway conversations, or surveys that show program participants liked their instructors and were satisfied the learning experiences.

We need to build a comprehensive Learning Data and Analytics Strategy that will enable the collection, storage, analysis, and reporting of data.  Data about training efficiency, learning effectiveness, target behaviors, and business results.  Some of this data doesn’t exist today, some exists but our stakeholders “own” it (ie; sales, performance data), some might be at our fingertips, but we don’t know how to access it) and we may even need benchmarking data from outside sources.  It is vital that we work to develop an understanding of what data we need in order to answer the questions and then figure out where it will come from – is it collected manually or automatically?  where will it be stored?  who will analyze the data?  who needs to see reports of what? when? how?

We’ll have to understand how data, particularly big data, is handled, warehoused, and managed with our organizations.  What software tools do we need?  Are there IT resources to connect APIs?  to write scripts to link programs?

Change and Promote a Learning Brand

Even if you don’t think your learning has a brand, it does.  Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon, said: “Your brand is what other people say about you when you’re not in the room.”  More importantly, the quality of a brand determines how much people will trust you, how loyal they will be to you, will they have your back when others attack.

What do you want L&D to be known for in your organization?   A trusted business colleague?  A problem solver?  A group that uses evidence to make decisions?  A brand is a consistent message of who you are.  That consistent message is built through conversations and commitments fulfilled.  It is enhanced by actively listening and collaboratively determining business goals with your stakeholders.  Using data to drive decision making and in reporting results.

A Learning Culture focused on Continous Learning

Move away from event-based training and toward socially energized learning experiences.  Executives and Managers need to understand that helping their employees to enhance their knowledge and skills both specific to their current job and as professionals is a part of being a leader.  L&D needs to provide support, tools, and training so that managers can fulfill this role.  If you can get learning objectives incorporated into the performance management process, all the better.

Help employees to become self-directed learners.  Our employees know that in today’s world it is imperative that they expand then knowledge, hone their skills, take on new challenges, and become better professionals.  We need to aid them in this process.  Help them to learn how to learn.  Scaffold social learning experiences online and in their everyday interactions. Reflect on their work – on their own and with others.  We need to provide them with easy access to the resources they need to do their jobs.

Change Everything about L&D

We need to take a deep and honest look at how we are, or more likely aren’t, meeting the needs of our organizations and ourselves.   This will require the courage to face the fear of admitting past deficiencies and proposing radical change.

This goes to how we design our learning experiences which need to be grounded in business goals and data-driven decisions.  How we deliver learning needs to move to a multi-faceted, extended multi-c0ntact sequence of experiences.

We need to take the time and make the effort to learn the businesses we work in.  We must become peers with our stakeholders by understanding how they contribute to the success of the business.  We need to be able to engage in conversations that explore the details of their goals and the knowledge and skills necessary to meet them.  We need to walk the walk of a true business partner.

We also need to open ourselves to new ways of thinking about learning and living in a new world that is fast approaching. The science of learning, neuropsychology, big data, learning analytics, artificial intelligence, the internet of things are changing the world around us.  Think about how mobile devices has changed not only how we need to design and deliver learning, but also how humans interact with each other and the information they need.  The changes coming are even bigger than the impact of mobile.

Partner with Stakeholders as Never Before

Any major change in an organization that affects all employees (as learning does) is going to be disruptive, difficult, and met with resistance.  In order to effect the changes discussed above, we will need partners who are committed to our success.  Partners who trust that we have their best interest in mind and who will in return have our backs when things get rough.

Change the conversation.  Let them know that you know what their goals are and that you understand their needs.  We need to find an outcome or set of outcomes and related measures for learning that they can feel co-ownership because they tie to their business goals.  We have to be consultants to their business.

But simply setting agreed upon outcomes and measures isn’t enough.  We also must demonstrate a knowledge of the influence chain within our organizations.  Who do they listen to?  Does their boss delegate authority or do we need to help them advocate to their boss?  Do they defer to another manager or operations group (if IT says it’s ok, then….).  Are there roadblocks that they may not be aware of?  Knowing the political terrain around the solution will help both of you.  Because L&D isn’t siloed, you may have an oversight of the organization that they don’t have.

Communicate Early and Often

L&D should have a comprehensive, well articulated Communication Plan.  How do we plan to promote individual programs?  How do we plan to share our brand? What reports or dashboards can we provide to our stakeholders? sponsors? learners?

We need to be transparent with the organization about would we are doing, why, what our goals are and the results.  Reports and dashboards for our stakeholders and sponsors that show how we are contributing to their success.  Work out loud.

What “Phase Two” Should Say

In the end, we want to be able to say what Phase Two involves.  It won’t be easy, but we need to break the cycle of accepting less than we are capable of.  Our new model then would look like this:


What do you think?   Do we need to stop being underpants gnomes?  Can we make these changes?  What do you see as obstacles to making these changes?  Please share your thoughts in the comment section below.  I’d love it if you used the sharing buttons below to share this post with your social network.