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?

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 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

Do As Marketing Does – Summary

Last week, over six posts I looked at six concepts that Learning and Development can adopt from our colleagues in Marketing to do our jobs better:

Now, I wouldn’t be surprised if some of my peers were put off by the title of this series or the idea that those pushy, party-loving marketing people could teach us anything about how to help educate our employee base.  Marketers want to figure out how to make us buy stuff we don’t want.  Workplace learning is about helping people better themselves…..STOP!

Workplace learning is about changing behaviors to meet organizational goals.  Often we need to get employees to give up their old comfortable ways in order to take on new behaviors that are uncomfortable and stress inducing.  I’m surprised more employees don’t run when they see us coming because we’re there to ruin their day.  People don’t like change and we’re all about change.

These days, Marketing works on the assumption that there are folks out there who want to purchase what we are selling.  The hard part is finding them or, better yet, helping them find us.  Marketing is about making and building authentic connections with individual customers.

Motivation and Relevance are really about getting to know customers intimately.  Why do they do what they do?  What excites them?  Who do they want to be?   Learners will take on any challenge if it resonates with what drives or inspires them.  If they understand how it connects with their work today or what they will need to do tomorrow, they’ll seek out how to change on their own.  If we’ve done our work to know them, we can anticipate that need and help them.

Channels and Cognitive Load today are about Big Data and Big Noise.  We’re all flooded with too much information 24/7.  There is no escaping it.  But Marketing has learned that if they listen to the noise there are patterns to be found. It reminds me a bit of Morpheus and Neo in the Matrix.  Our colleagues in social media marketing are doing amazing things by listening to the social media noise and then using that information to reach out to individuals.  We’re about to have our turn as Big Data, by one means or another, is about to hit L&D.

Action and Objections are part of classic sales techniques.  Automobile Dealers have to take ‘er for a spin because they know that once you take a test drive, the chances that you will buy go through the roof!  Real Estate Agents “stage” homes, complete with fresh cookies out of the oven at open houses because if they can make you feel at home they know you’ll be more likely to buy.  Getting learners practicing the new behavior in a safe, but authentic environment before they have to “go live” in their real work is like that test drive of the new car.

Objections are about fear of change and not wanting to be sold.  They are about someone or something unrelated to the actual purchase of what you are selling.  If we’ve done our needs analysis properly, designed a beautiful learning experience, the last thing we want is for some VP to blow it all apart because she wasn’t included in the planning.  Or a Manager telling his team to not worry about doing our microlearning modules because we didn’t provide him with enough background to understand how to mentor them through the experience.

Hopefully, you know someone in marketing that you can reach out to and ask them about what they do.  If not, ask your manager to help you find someone to talk to. Find out how do they build a multi-channel campaign?  How do they parcel out a message over time?  How do they get to know what customers like?  What tools do they use to analyze Big Data?

And it doesn’t need to be a one-way conversation.  As L&D professionals, we do know a lot about how people learn, why the forget, how behavior can be changed, the role of prior knowledge in learning.  Things that would benefit Marketing if they knew.