We spoke with Edmund Monk, CEO of the Learning and Performance Institute, to get his take on the transformation of L&D in an era of uncertainty and rapid technological development.
The LPI’s unique focus is on learning efficacy. Would you say the L&D industry is getting better at proving the impact of learning to wider business units? Or do we need to ramp up efforts here?
I believe the situation is improving. A recent report by The Economist suggested that lifelong learning is now an economic imperative. As such, we’ve seen evidence of learning raising its profile within the business, which is resulting in better relationships and more fruitful discussions around strategy, rather than just delivery of courses.
Also, we’re seeing evidence that people are getting better at proving the impact of learning – and they are able to do this because of recent developments in data gathering, utilisation and analysis. Without data, impact cannot be assessed accurately, so this is a real focus area for L&D. And the organisations we talk to are increasingly putting this at the top of their agendas.
What practical steps can L&D professionals take to support their companies with nurturing the right skills?
Firstly, we need to understand what the ‘right skills’ are. A recent report by the World Economic Forum suggested what the top 10 most employable skills would be in 2020. Each one was a soft skill.
L&D can use information like this to talk to line managers, and the wider business, about how the organisation can become more competitive in the talent space, and how it can appeal to potential employees worldwide. This information can be used to create new learning programmes that not only attract new talent, but retain existing talent.
The digital skills side is particularly challenging. We live in an age where the speed of technological change, and technological adoption, is unprecedented. It took 75 years for landline telephones to reach 50 million users; it took 14 years for television to reach 50 million users, yet it took just 19 days for Pokemon Go to reach 50 million users!
Learning professionals need to delve deep inside the business to understand the impact of L&D.
So the sheer pace and pervasiveness of digital technology means that people are learning digital skills away from the business, without L&D’s involvement.
Once we accept this as the new norm, we can focus on what technologies are essential and pertinent to the business, and not get distracted by the latest, shiniest thing.
How can learning professionals ensure they remain relevant in an age of uncertainty and develop their own skills appropriately for the future of work?
There are three routes available here. Firstly, learning professionals need to venture outside the business and connect with peers, join networks and get involved in discussions. There is a huge community out there that is very helpful and supportive: nobody needs to struggle alone. The LPI runs several such networks, as do other organisations, so there is plenty to choose from.
Secondly, learning professionals need to delve deep inside the business to understand the impact of L&D. They need to talk with as many individuals within the business as possible to get a clear understanding of the effect L&D has on the performance of that individual.
Thirdly, L&D professionals need to prove their impact with real data, e.g. case studies and data analysis reports – so the development of skills in this area is paramount.
An L&D professional armed with accurate and persuasive data, primed to talk to businesses in a common language, and backed by a deep knowledge of current approaches, could be seen as not only relevant but influential.
Businesses are starting to see the value of continuous learning, but creating and nurturing a learning culture is a hefty task. What key steps should L&D teams take to get started?
The first step would be to understand the culture of the business. From this, we can deduce the most effective types of learning. We can do this by gathering company-wide data, perhaps through surveys, and ‘being where the learning is’ to see what approaches resonate with employees.
We may well discover that people are learning away from the workplace in entirely different ways from how they are learning at work. If this is the case, we need to embrace it and encourage the organisation to implement forms of learning that best replicate those that people are using outside work.
There’s a movement towards democratisation of digital learning assets, fuelled by employees feeling empowered to self-generate and share content for the good of the company.
This might mean that we foster a culture of curating content that can be shared on a learning experience platform, or a culture that is rich with internal social communities. It may even mean that we ‘hand over’ the creation of new learning content to the employees themselves, and allow them to build videos and other resources that can be shared with peers.
What key L&D trends have come to the fore over the past year?
We’re seeing a lot of talk about AI and the value that can bring, specifically in the recommendation space, where algorithms can suggest learning pathways. Even so, AI is in relative infancy in most L&D functions, so there is much to be gained here.
We’re also seeing learning within organisations moving from being the sole remit of the L&D department to being the collective responsibility of the entire company.
Employee-generated content, which helps other people in similar roles, is a recent trend that’s growing fast. This is very exciting as it democratises the sense of learning and builds a strong learning culture.
What challenges and successes do you anticipate for L&D as we head into 2019?
The big challenges are still: first, the digital transformation of the L&D function and balancing this sense of convenience with efficacy; and second, being able to prove the true impact of L&D within the business.
But, in the past 12 months, I’ve witnessed some really positive changes in both these areas. Without doubt, there’s a movement towards democratisation of digital learning assets, fuelled by employees feeling empowered to self-generate and share content for the good of the company, rather than hoarding their knowledge as a form of self-protection.
On demonstrating impact, there are now several platforms available that allow people to do this quite easily. But it all starts with people and trust.
People + Technologies = Performance
Now is an exciting time to be in L&D. The point I made at the beginning about lifelong learning being an economic imperative would have never been said about L&D just 10 years ago – but now L&D is a key intrinsic player in business and has the potential to be the number one factor in talent development, recruitment and business performance.