L&D is dead – long live L&D!

Conference
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Susie Finch reflects on some sobering messages from the recent Learning Technologies conference.

I always come away from Learning Technologies buzzing with inspiration. This year was no different, but I also came away a little unsettled and nervous for the industry that I love.

Marshall Goldsmith’s excellent keynote spoke to me both personally and professionally and set the tone for the conference, with some sobering advice which can be summed up into: Stop trying to always be right! His message was similar to the ethos of servant leadership – that when it comes to learning and development, we are servants not masters and we let our egos get in the way at our peril.

This was echoed by Charles Jennings call for L&D professionals to be more like Sherpa’s than engineers. Again, this isn’t new, and is referred to by Andrew Jacobs, Martin Baker and others as L&D practitioners acting like ‘engineers not shopkeepers’, taking on a supportive role rather than being a training order taker.

The fabulous Tesia Marshik then really stuck the knife in, dispelling myths a plenty, and revealing that we don’t know nearly as much as we think we do. We are in fact all deluded, thinking we are more attractive and knowledgeable than we actually are. In other words, we’re not always right – is this starting to sound familiar?!

You couldn’t have two more experienced people than Marshall Goldsmith and Charles Jennings sharing their wisdom but what Tesia brought to the debate was science, and lots of it - just in case we were in any doubt of our own flawed nature, and our ability to actually get in the way of learning.

Again the message was loud and clear: adapt or die.

Donald Taylor summed this up in one sentence at the start of day two, with the loaded question for delegates: Who is in charge of learning?

Futurologist Ben Hammersley’s often jaw dropping presentation wasn’t so much about the future of learning technologies as about the now. Again the message was loud and clear: adapt or die.

Geoff Stead rounded things off nicely for me with a great case study of learning technologies at Qualcomm, where there was a general mistrust around L&D, until they stepped to one side. A fantastic amount of user generated content was developed once the word ‘learning’ was taken out of the equation.

This was all wonderful storytelling, which often left us on the edge of our seats, but surely L&D professionals know most of this already? Nigel Harrison has been pushing these hard-hitting messages for years, calling for L&D to meet the real needs of the business.

He’s part of a growing group of professionals – with Nigel, Donald Taylor and Charles Jennings at the forefront  – that have been warning of L&D’s potential irrelevance for as long as I can remember.

Against this backdrop, a friend told me they had been nominated by a colleague (who couldn’t attend) to go on a three day residential training course in London, with compulsory networking dinners, at vast expense to their multinational company. I grilled them as to whether anyone had spoken to them about either their needs, or the needs of the business.

We need Learning Technologies to be shouting warnings of potential extinction from the rooftops, again and again and again.

What problem was it solving? Was their manager involved in the process? What was going to happen before and after the course? They looked rather surprised at the questions, as the course had been conferred on them simply as a treat!

This is of course just one bad example, but I fear that all the while L&D like this still exists we need Learning Technologies to be shouting warnings of potential extinction from the rooftops, again and again and again. Just in case someone, somewhere genuinely hasn’t heard yet.

Susie Finch is the former editor of TrainingZone and helps learning and development people tell their stories.

Susie Finch
Freelance
Susie Finch
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16th Feb 2016 09:49

Thanks Susie - I was particularly interested in the talks from Tesia Marshik and Ben Hammersley; very different topics but both show how much needs to change in the way we approach learning and work in general, and that the change needs to happen soon, rather than constantly being talked about and not addressed.
Another problem which seemed to come up a lot though, was how isolated these concerns are to L&D/HR professionals, so there needs to be a lot more representation of senior management and other organisational departments at these events if we're going to make any headway.

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23rd Feb 2016 13:28

That's a such a good point Shonette - wouldn't it be great to engage a wider audience with Learning Technologies!

A lot of the presentations from this years event will be on Time Tag TV in due course by the way: https://www.timetag.tv/learningtechnologies

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25th Feb 2016 10:33

I wasn't able to hear these speakers myself but the summary in this article doesn't surprise me. I've been involved with L+D for over 30 years and I'm not sure that current L+D practitioners really understand learning, especially how to support and encourage personalised learning, create learning environments and build learning capacity. Much L+D is focused on content, delivery, training and the administration that supports this without a really clear learning strategy (as opposed to training plan, workshop schedule, elearning programmes etc). Real learning, as we are beginning to recognise, happens experientially, often informally, when learners need it and only when they have the 'learning to learn' skills that enables them to take advantage of every day learning opportunities and plan their own strategies. This is where I think L+D needs to be heading and it means giving away a lot of the power and expert status that often goes with the role.

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04th Mar 2016 12:51

Thanks for this Susie, I think L&D/Hr Professionals can feel overwhelmed and not know where to start, this is partly because of their need to "get it right first time" but if they let go of that and accept it is moving and changing all the time, they might be able to take some positive steps right now. Engaging managers more would be a key one, and I love Shonette's suggestion about inviting them along to these types of events.

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07th Mar 2016 15:00

This is really refreshing unfortunately sometimes the technology in L&D gets in the way. Most of the technological innovation in L&D still revolves around better authoring tools, LMSs and the like. I think it's less about technology and more about how we think about support. We need to start acting more like learning facilitators rather than learning providers.

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