Is L&D forgetting about the learner?

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Learning strategies, business alignment, new technologies, analytics, budgets, stakeholder engagement… the list of things we need to be considering in L&D goes on. We now need to juggle more than we ever have before, and while this is exciting and brings great opportunities, it doesn’t come without risk.

In our efforts to provide great ROI, influence our stakeholders and deliver on new, stimulating strategies, we run the risk of forgetting about the most important person in the learning equation – the learner themselves.

This may sound crazy – after all, without the learner how would we get any analytics, results, successes etc.? But the reality is that, in the drive to deliver the best learning possible, we’re seeing many L&D departments are actually slipping further away from their people.

Don’t get me wrong, we’re remembering them in many ways – the numbers, the stats, the financial returns – but what it really comes down to is that we are forgetting that they are human. We’re losing that emotional connection with them, and that thought is synonymous with a scary future.

When did you last speak with your learners?

It can be easy to think we know our learners well enough to deliver what they need, taking business objectives into consideration at all times, delivering strictly on those objectives and assuming that we know what people want. But, recently, when I have asked L&D managers when the last time was that they really spoke with their learners, most couldn’t answer.

Consider culture for a second. There are very few, if any, of us that have reached the ultimate goal of having the perfect learning culture. We want people to pull learning, we want them to be excited and driven, and we want them to achieve the results that will benefit the wider organisation.

We need to start asking questions and listening to the answers.

However, creating a library of solutions, or a fantastic blended learning programme, doesn’t mean engagement. Even if you have some learners pulling learning in exactly the way it was intended, do you know what they really think about it?

Find out what your learners like and dislike

Emotional connections with individuals is so important, and L&D really need to embrace it. I’m not suggesting that you go out and personally get to know every person in your organisation. If you have a company of 10 or 15 people, that is possible, but if you’re in an organisation with thousands of employees, it’s just not achievable.

What I’m referring to is thinking about your people every step of the way. Gaining an understanding of what they think, what they feel and how they react to different learning solutions. Perhaps they feel forced to do the learning. Perhaps they feel it’s irrelevant, or boring. On the other hand, they may love elements of it and thoroughly enjoy participating – but if you don’t know this, you run the risk of changing something that works or leaving something that doesn’t.

Carve out time to properly engage with your learners

Our learners are at an engagement precipice – this is our opportunity to bring them deep into the fold of learning and gain their trust. The alternative is not really an option. But how do we do this?

There are thousands of articles available about the tactics of engagement – introducing social learning, delivering outstanding solutions, getting learners involved in ROI, using gamification and new technologies. The list is almost endless. But what we need to do is start right at the beginning.

We need to start asking questions and listening to the answers.

If we don’t have a true understanding of the why then we can’t fix long term challenges.

Take a break from the endless planning and strategizing for a moment and think about what you really want to know from your people. If you can’t answer that question, find some of your most engaged learners and some of your most disengaged learners, and spend some time with them.

Ask questions about what learning they’ve accessed, where they look for it, how they found your solutions and how it helped them in their role and development. But most of all, and this is really critical to the success of this activity, ask why.

If we don’t have a true understanding of the why then we can’t fix long term challenges. We can solve the immediate issues we face, and we can do a good job of that, but it doesn’t help us in our consideration for the future. It doesn’t give us the knowledge and understanding to continually develop our offering effectively.

See your learners as humans, not just as numbers

Learners are the key to any success that you have, and if you can not only deliver the solutions that they need and want but show them how much you are personally invested in their development and futures, you’ll start to gain trust.

As we all know, with trust comes respect, and it’s hard not to participate in something that is created with your needs in mind and that is coming from someone you respect and trust.

Don’t send out surveys initially, despite the number of people in your organisation. Remember, learners are not just a number. Use your voice, get people talking, understand their emotional connections to learning and the solutions you provide. This is the only way to keep your learners at the heart of your strategy and get them excited about what’s around the corner.


About Stephanie Morgan

Stephanie Morgan Bray Leino Learning

Stephanie Morgan FLPI is the Director of Learning Solutions at Bray Leino Learning. Stephanie a skilled public speaker has extensive experience in Learning and Development and is passionate about helping people thrive in an ever changing world!

 One particular passion is helping people progress their careers to board level. Stephanie believes that learning is at the core of becoming a great leader.


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