Managing Director Notion Ltd.
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Why the reinvention of L&D post Covid-19 must start with learning culture

Experts say that we are in the midst of the biggest economic downturn for 300 years. The way we work – and consequently the way we train – will have to change, but is L&D up to the challenge? Dominic Ashley-Timms and Carol McLachlan of Notion Business Coaching examine the critical role our sector plays in business recovery. 

20th Jul 2020
Managing Director Notion Ltd.
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L&D is facing an existential crisis. The pace of change, accelerated by the coronavirus crisis, is outstripping the rate at which we learn. Exciting technological advancements are helping us to keep up, but to stay in the game we need to find ways to put learning front and centre.

Don’t people realise that in the current climate, learning is a matter of survival?

Learning technology alone won’t save us. We also need to create the conditions necessary for continuous learning to thrive. L&D teams have a critical role to play in making this happen, but are they taking on that mantle or missing a trick?

The red herring that won’t save L&D

One of the outcomes from the Covid-19 pandemic so far is that L&D teams are waking up to the fact that they need to evolve in order to stay relevant. In their quest for renewed purpose, however, they might be looking in the wrong places.

With the growing availability of easy-to-use software packages, it’s very tempting to displace external expertise in instructional design in favour of a more home grown approach. There’s no one better placed to respond to the needs of the business than you, right?

Well, that depends. That might be true in rare instances where the L&D team has deep knowledge of neuroscience and cognitive instructional design, but where this isn’t the case (which is probably true of most L&D teams), there’s a real risk that the software, and the technical capabilities or limitations of the L&D team, will dictate the quality of the learning outcomes.

Let’s face facts though: you can’t pick up these skills overnight. Unfortunately, the increased availability of software has created the impression that none of that is needed – ‘we’re just as good as the pros at a fraction of the cost, even if we do say so ourselves’. We’re all being sold on this instructional design package or that.

Here’s the challenge – could you say, confidently, that the content you’re producing is leading to a genuine and sustained change in behaviour? Have you ensured that the learning is intrinsically linked to the business performance strategy? Do you know (and have you measured) whether it has had any impact at all? Is your learning realising its fullest potential?

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Who’s left to bang the drum for learning in the workplace?

Is it fair to expect you to keep up with the advances being made by experts in the field of human learning who are using increasingly sophisticated, thoroughly researched and tested blends of learning theory and cognitive psychology? Even if you could, what would that mean for L&D? If you’re neck-deep in technical design, who’s left to bang the drum for learning in the workplace?

If L&D focus too heavily on creating content they’ll soon fall by the wayside because no matter how good the content is, employees won’t benefit from it if they don’t know how or why it’s important to learn, if they don’t feel supported to learn by their managers, or if they’re never rewarded for their learning.

No wonder many companies are dismayed by the impact of their learning initiatives. You only need to look at the appalling take-up of expensive LMS catalogues or attendance rates at live training courses. How many times have your people dropped out at the last minute because they put other priorities first? What does it say about how highly they regard the importance of learning? Do they even consider what the consequences might be if they don’t partake in learning?

Don’t people realise that in the current climate, learning is a matter of survival?

Shifting towards a learning culture

If organisations don’t learn ‘how to learn’ they simply won’t be able to adapt in time because one thing we can be sure of is that in an increasingly online world, without the right culture, learner accountability will be even harder to engender.

For several years, Notion has been signalling the rise of virtual learning, captured best in our whitepaper, How to make eLearning work, which examines the steps needed to ensure that all forms of virtual/blended training deliver a payload.

One of the strongest findings from our research and work with clients is the need for organisations to adopt a learning culture. The stakeholders in this endeavour reach beyond the embedded L&D, talent management and OD functions to embrace all managers as well.  

The rise of the ‘learning coach’

The Covid-19 crisis has given us all an urgent impetus to shift our working culture. The key to achieving this shift is to redefine the purpose of L&D practitioners, making them ‘learning coaches’.  

The problem is (and has always been) that designing and delivering programmes isn’t where internal L&D departments generate the most value. The value (and now probably future job security) is actually generated by ensuring that any new learning is applied into the business immediately and sustainably, and that the benefits arising from those changes in behaviour and the subsequent improvement in performance are captured for the business. This is something that L&D practitioners with their focus on design and delivery have busied themselves precisely not doing.

In the face of the largest recession for 300 years, training can no longer be offered without then immediately pinning its application to the business – there must be an ROI.  

Learning coaches have a role to play to ensure that what is learned from every programme is applied into the business and sustained, so that there’s growth, performance improvement and advancement.

Learning coaches need also to support managers across the organisation to develop effective operational coaching skills. By holding managers to account to improve their application of those skills, they can play their part by ensuring that training is thoughtfully selected for their team members, that learners complete their programmes and that they’re held accountable in turn for improving their own performance.

Interested in this topic? Read How can L&D embrace business-aligned learning in difficult times?

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