Learning & Development in the 2020s and beyond...

Let me start with a question. What's the point of L&D?


Especially when there are (literally) thousands (or millions?) of hours of ready-made content out there (I'm thinking Skillsoft, Docebo, Linked-In Learning etc.). And then there's the hundreds of enterprise-scale consultancies and managed services. I mean. It would be easy to think that L&D's role is nothing more than a conduit between internal and external partners.


And as a consultant and supplier of content, you might expect me to agree. But I really don't.


I'll start with a bit of history.


When I started in L&D in 2004 as a 'Trainer' it was all in-person instructor-led training. And I worked in a contact-centre so we're talking four-to-six-week induction training along with product, process and systems training.


By the time I moved to working as a 'Training Designer' (Around 2007) there had been a shift towards E-learning and a flourish of Learning Management Systems (LMS) and Authoring Tools.


But let's be honest, this was just a shift in the 'tools'. The world of L&D was still the same.


Fast-forward to the 2010s and learning technology continued to evolve. As I shifted my own career from focusing solely on learning design and more into L&D Leadership and consultancy there was the rise of gamification, growth of 'Rapid' authoring tools that enabled SMEs with no instructional design experience or familiarity with bespoke authoring tools to quickly share their expertise. There's Micro-Learning, Virtual-Learning and the boom in the use of video (live & pre-recorded) learning.


Where are we now?


Like I said, we're now in a situation where it's easier than ever to create, publish and share your 'learning' products. You could probably spend every waking hour of the next year only working through learning and you'd probably never have the same experience twice.


So it would be easy to think learning, as an industry, is winning. Right?...

...Not quite. You see, the amazing learning products we all have access to, along with the impressive content from experts are amazing! I'm an evangelist so I will (and do) always promote opportunities for people to learn, grow and improve whenever they can. But I like to compare the learning industry to a supermarket.


In the last couple of decades we've upgraded our branding, we've built more, and bigger, shelves with amazing products. We've even branched out and have some 'boutique' products available for our niche markets. And then, on top of all of that we've improved our checkout systems and online shopping platforms (LMS/LXP?). Now think. How many times have you been in a supermarket (or online store) and had no idea where to start? Maybe you're like me and you only ever do any shopping with a list, and if it's not on the list, it's not going in the basket?


Maybe you're one of these crazy people who just wander into a supermarket and 'see what you fancy'!?


The point is, having lots of products that cover the 'top-of-the-range' to the 'own-brand' is great. But it's all pretty pointless unless I know what it is I want. And what it's going to do for me.


This is where L&D really needs to step up to the mark.


Learning & Development in the 2020s and beyond..


L&D is no longer the only place businesses can get content - ever heard of YouTube?

L&D is no longer the only source of 'expert' support - SkillShare anyone?


L&D is no longer the first port of call for employees and businesses alike.


More than this, L&D is supporting business partners, clients and learners who have higher expectations than ever before. So how can we do it?


Align learning to performance and progression


For so many years L&D has been focussed on reacting to business needs. It's been a case of 'You ask, we do'. This is great if you want to stand still. But if you really want to make learning relevant, and valuable to everyone in a business. Align your learning offer to competencies.


Imagine a time when your L&D department have a multi-modal suite of learning products that are aligned to every competency, for every role in your business.


Everything from inducting new employees, supporting high performers and managing career progression is catered for. Cross-skilling, choosing a new career path and developing specialist skills all become possible. All because you're aligning your products to what people actually need to do.


Know your audience


EVERY decision you make for your learners, whether it's a new product, new technology or new strategy should start with knowing your audience. Because if you don't, then what's the point? Who else matters but the people who will be learning?


You might know 'learning' but your anything you do without knowing your audience is really just self-serving. Your SMEs and Stakeholders might know the knowledge or the gaps but they fill focus on making sure people know, and can do the right things.


Your IT People might know Tech but they're focused on making sure it fits your current ecosystem.


Your audience? They want it to be useful, make sense and be easy. And if you know your audience, then supporting the requirements of your SMEs, Stakeholders and IT People just falls into place.


How to make this happen...


If you're part of an 'internal' L&D team


If, like me, you've been a part of an internal L&D team at any point in your career you'll know the four core elements - Design, Delivery, Business Partnering & Administration. They'll all be there somewhere.


The challenge in your reality is that the expectation of learning experience is higher than it has ever been. When you get to know your audience you'll realise that those of us who grew up with technology that fit in our back-pocket (#millenials #genz #genalpha) and even the younger Gen X & Boomers becoming more familiar with technology than they were five years ago the expectation is that we can quickly, seamlessly and effortlessly engage with learning when we need it, share it with our peers and interact with it at every turn.


This means you need to be experts (or have access to experts) in audio, video, graphic, and experience design. Not to mention the need to be familiar with business challenges and forward thinking!


So then you need to consider whether the full-time cost of an internal L&D team is even worth it, when you can pay a specialist business to do this at the fraction of the cost. Andy's thought - I wholeheartedly support internal L&D Teams. They're a critical part of any business success. But you need to step-up. Be more. Offer more. Do more.


The truth is, you need to be forecasting your stakeholders' needs and meeting your audience's expectations. And you need to be the driving force behind the learning culture you want to see. And if you're not. Start doing it or get out of the way. Because you're the problem, not the solution!


Learning Consultants, Suppliers etc.


As a Consultant and supplier, I know there are certainly things we can all do better to really make learning central to business success throughout the 2020s and beyond.


First - The bullshit. It's EVERYWHERE! If you're reached this from Linked In, you've probably see the kind of thing I'm talking about in your inbox in the last week at some point. The cognitive learning process hasn't evolved much at all since we discovered electricity - we just understand it more. So I'm doubtful that your 'new' technology, is going to radically change the way my clients' employees learn. It's a variation of the thousands of other LMS, LXP, Authoring tools out there. It's nothing special. So cut it out! You're ruining it for (literally) everyone! Secondly - If we're still selling/promoting the experiences we offered in 2010 we're part of the problem, not the solution.


Because, as I've said already, the expectation is higher. One of things I criticise most (almost every day) is that, for some reason, if I want to learn how to do something at home I can either 'have a go' and learn from my experience. I can Google it. I can ask a friend. Or I can jump on Social Media and find people who've been in my situation before. It's genuinely easy.


But for some reason, the moment I walk through my office door, or login to my VPN any opportunity to learn must be formalised, documented, controlled and tracked. And it takes me just as long to filter through thousands of learning resources or work through various levels of approval as it does to actually learn the thing I want.


And most of this is because too many 'expert consultants' focus on selling their own tool, model or experience which exists only to generate revenue and not genuinely enhance learning opportunity and culture.


Finally - Can we jump on Zoom and figure WTF we're calling things? And then tell people about it? I've touched a few times already in my blog about some of the jargon we use. But when we're using terms like Trainer, Facilitator, Delivery, Design, Instructional Design, Developer, Associate, Remote, Virtual, E-Learning, Computer-Based Learning, Video Learning, Social Learning, and the million other labels interchangeably then it's no wonder people often get confused about what on earth L&D is all about.


I'm fairly confident I could jump on Linked In right now and ask people to name a specific type of role and have more than a handful of different answers.


Can we please (I'm begging you) just tidy up our jargon?


Learners, Purchasers, Directors


You are the people who are really going to make L&D relevant into the next decade. And you can do it by being clear. What results do you want? Do you want it quick? Do you want it right? Do you want to invest in it? You can only have two of the three, so choose wisely. And go in with your eyes open because anyone (internal or external) promising you World-Class Training, Fast and Cheap is lying to you about something!

L&D exists to improve your performance, your results, and your experience. If it's not happening, help us know where we're going wrong, we'll all benefit!


Final thought


For me, learning is everything! And that doesn't just mean 'formal' learning. Learning is as simple as reflecting on why something went wrong and doing it better next time.


And despite the shade thrown around in some of this post, I suspect that the vast, vast majority of L&D professionals feel the same about learning as I do.


But with world being full of millions of on-demand, often free/low-cost, learning opportunities outside of work we really need to step up, show what we're made of and make 2020 the decade that L&D really changes the world for the better.


About the author


Andy Appleby is a Learning Expert who has worked at all levels of organisational learning across Learning, Telecoms, Energy, Insurance, Finance & FMCG sectors as an internal specialist, external consultant, contractor and supplier since 2004. Everything he does is to make learning easy.

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