The Big L&D Reset – A Call To Arms From The Future

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Restarting L&D: It’s time to do things differently

Let’s be honest – you’ve read enough about change and Covi’ and how the world is different. You’re probably filled to the brim with information on what you should do and how you should adapt, pivot, shift. You’re likely inundated with virtual conferences and webinars and Zoom chats (video off pliz). But this change, and indeed the entrance into a new year does give us a chance to take a pause, doesn’t it?

 

Following such incredible disruption to both our personal and professional lives, it’s natural to look at the negatives this imbalance has caused us. 2020 was, after all, a bit shit wasn’t it? The highlights of my year included leaving the house for food and buying new loungewear (seriously). 

 

But it’s not all been doom and gloom. We’ve had some lessons too – change can happen and we can survive it. We can sometimes even thrive in it. Now the question is, can we and should we sustain it? I believe this pandemic has given learning and development REAL opportunities to do things differently both now and in the future. Because this change Covid has caused is permanent; our hearts and minds are not the same. Our learners are not the same. 

 

And we are not the same. And that’s OK.

 

Others in L&D are changing, but are we? Really?

I’m the first to admit that the learning and development industry needs a shakeup. I try to do a lot of shaking myself, but you are a stubborn lot at times! 😉

 

But what’s not changing? Well….for starters, a lot of the ‘thought-leadership’ in our industry is steeped firmly in the past, with perspectives tainted with the ‘old ways’ of doing things and why they were effective. We also lean too heavily on tech to solve problems which are so painfully big that I can’t even understand why we think a new LXP would fix it all. We’re constantly on the search for panacea, the wondrous and elusive gleaming genius of a solution to all our problems. 

 

But jesus guys, surely we know this just does not exist? 

Our challenges are big and interlaced with the business’ and the sentiment of the people within it. L&D’s problems don’t generally spur from the way training is created and delivered, at least in my opinion. They’re bigger and much more complex. Our learners are disengaged and would rather turn to YouTube and Google. Our business stakeholders have unrealistic expectations of what L&D should do. This often equates to a culture of order-taking which, in some senses, means very little of our own function is left for us to ‘fix’ in the first place. Sidenote: this is likely the reason we often turn to tech as our solution, because that is something we DO control!  

In a nutshell, we got some big problems.

l&d-changeIt is broke, so we do need to fix it 

These temporary solutions (ie, throwing tech at the problem) weren’t working for a long time before ol’ Covi hit. But what this gargantuan pandemic did (and is still doing…please go away now Covid) was give the world some time to take stock. Other industries which have been obstinate and just focused on short-term solutions suffered; Covid undoubtedly accelerated their slow extinction as they proved unable to keep up with the pace of change. And as a result, their success is dwindling…

The ‘high street’ was already dying, with retailers shifting to online, personalised shopping experiences… 

Industries such as print were failing, primarily due to the digital revolution. This may well have been the final nail in the coffin…. 

Steel and manufacturing began struggling to keep pace amongst the growing demand for more sustainable sources… 

These industries have simply had to evolve, or they die. To me, the changes we observe outside of L&D way beyond the pandemic are a barometer for the changes L&D too has been experiencing. To respond to changing audience needs we shifted to mobile learning (now basically just essential). We’ve then moved away from prescriptive learning and LMSs to more modern, social learning environments and platforms. We’re also starting to look at data, and analytics, and maybe even marketing to help us better solve our problems (yay for MAAS!). 

Slowly, glacially at times, we have begun to outgrow our old ways of working. But have we yet moved away from our old ways of thinking? I’m not so sure. And my worry is that as long as our old mindsets, old ways of thinking and working continue to exist, we’ll never really be able to reach our full potential as a critical business function. 

 

So, how can we truly capitalise on the potential of L&D? With this incredible opportunity of change at our feet, let’s ask ourselves: “what do we need to do differently?” 

 

So, what does L&D need to do differently? 

Well, I asked some of my friends…because they seem to know more about this stuff than I do. 

 

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LORI NILES-HOFMANN, Co-owner, NilesNolen

Whilst there are many things L&D needs to change, the most imperative is to mobilise deliberate upskilling and stop with the spray and pray generic course libraries. 

 

Companies are facing massive shortages where vital skillsets are not available in talent pools. Employee upskilling is the most direct way for every company to maintain viability and competitive advantage. L&D must begin to collaborate with talent management to analyse the HR data to identify and close the skill gaps imperative to the business, not track completions or hours of training.

 

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MATT ASH – Director of Learning & Performance, Media Zoo


We need to do less, better. I have yet to encounter a client where content is the solution to their challenges. There is a wealth of research on effective behaviour change that ties in directly to how people learn. It’s time to open our eyes to the reality of implementation of L&D across the business.  Benchmark, test, adapt.

 

 

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AMANDA NOLEN, Co-Owner, NilesNolen


Start focusing on business outcomes instead of learning outcomes, and stop talking about learning (for the sake of learning). Stop throwing stuff online or digitising it as fast as possible… when it wasn’t delivering clear value to begin with.

 

 

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JACK LOCKHART, Learning Experience and Performance Manager, PerfectHome

We need to show radical accountability for the experiences we deliver and support. I’ve started to really lean on the phrase ‘the standard you walk past is the standard you accept’ as a benchmark for what I do in the business. If I really hate that experience that I own, what are other people going to think of it?

I also feel we have a responsibility to use evidence-based practice as a chance to educate others around us. It’s easy to chop others down for not doing it. Or that ‘they should know better’ when actually it could be a chance to support, coach and educate to bridge some of the divisive gaps that have come up. A rising tide lifts all boats.

 

 

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JOHN HINCHLIFFE, Talent Manager, Jam Pan

For me, it’s about how we provide answers to questions that meet people at the point that they need them. Organisations, and we as learning practitioners, have to acknowledge that we are fallible as human beings and forget a lot of information, thus we cannot rely on our learners to still know the information they consumed in the future. 

To provision for this we can create easily accessible, short pieces of knowledge to provide our learners with the information they need, when they need it and in as few steps as possible. This not only means looking at the content we create but also the systems we utilise to house this for ease of access. If you do not have a Learning Platform that supports this then maybe it is you have a Sharepoint site with relevant folders, a number of channels on your MS Teams with user generated content to provide answers to FAQs or even at its most basic level an email with curated links to external material that provide the solution.

 By allowing people to obtain the right information when they need it, it will bring a number of positive ROIs to the organisation, which in turn increases the value of the L&D function.

 

 

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EGLE VINAUSKAITE, Director, Skillbright Labs

What often gets lost among budgets, courses and completions, is that the L&D function, when done right, can help people reach their career aspirations and all the good things that come with them.

 

This responsibility needs to be taken seriously. Content, programmes and technology need to serve a business and/or employee need. Time spent talking with end users needs to be viewed as essential to create something useful, not a corner to cut. And data capability should be a strategic goal to know where, when and how to best support employee learning.

 

Sales, marketing, product and other business functions figured this out ages ago. There are skills and methods that can be readily borrowed. Support is available from more experienced industry peers. This is not the future—the time is now.

 

 

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LAUREN WALDMAN, Founder, Learning Pirate

L&D needs to start treating learning as a fundamental HUMAN skill and not that of a business transaction.  Look deeper into the meaning of true learning, how it’s done and how we have evolved as human beings to facilitate that process within ourselves.  

 

Learning occurs on an everyday basis, whether we realise it or not. We have an unlimited capacity to do so and once we understand ourselves and our operational system (our brains) much better, not only can we evolve as learners but as greater more aware humans. 

 

 

 

 

It’s time to truly put learners first 

Why on earth has it taken a pandemic for us to start to understand that our people are the glue of our business? Our people, their hearts and spirits and minds are precisely what keeps our businesses running, but at times our industry seems to lose sight of how human L&D truly should be. 

There’s some fantastic advice above, but one thing is for certain. We need to change and we need to truly humanise L&D if we are ever to be successful in this digital, globalised world we’re now living in. Evolve or die. I know which one I’m picking.

How to apply marketing to your L&D

One of the wisest things I’ve ever read about the job that I do said: “Marketing is a contest for people’s attention”, which is irrefutably accurate. But isn’t L&D fighting the same battle?

I recently chanced upon this quote again, and it got me thinking about the challenges the L&D industry faces. It never fails to amaze me how many parallels you can draw between marketing and the L&D industry. After all, we’re both aiming:

– To engage and drive interest with a potentially distracted, detached audience
– To instigate a change in behaviour, whether that’s to come to our website to buy something new, or visit a new LMS

We’re also both trying to achieve these same goals with a potentially large arsenal of tools such as social media, videos, websites (or LMSs), e-books and more. And in 2020, it’s not good enough to just spend money and hope for results. We’re expected to prove value and a return-on-investment where our output is concerned.

Suffice to say, there’s a lot of similarities. But that’s good, because there’s actually a lot that L&D can learn from marketing: an industry that is at the cutting edge of digital technology and is constantly pushing the envelope to evolve. They’ve done the leg work, so why not learn from their mistakes and adopt some of their most impactful approaches?

So whether you’re launching a new piece of elearning or trying to drive interest in your LMS, here’s my list of 6 approaches L&D departments can learn from marketing.

 

1. Swiftly adjust to an ever-changing landscape

When the internet was created, it completely disrupted business as usual for many industries, marketing included. There’s always disruption (the most recent of which is Covid-19) and as a result, we’ve had to adjust and adapt, innovate and move with the changes. When smartphones became prominent, how did marketing respond? They’ve gone where their audience is, providing mobile experiences and just-in time information delivery. Those that didn’t got irrevocably left behind.

Guess what L&D? You have to go where your audience is too.

Same as marketing has, you need to go digital, multi-channel, personal and targeted. Google, Amazon, Netflix and Instagram (and so, so many others) have taught your learners to expect immediate access to information they need or want, wherever they are. If you want them to engage with your learning, you need to do the same – give them what they need, when they need it.

Accept that your audience is evolving and changing; accept that the way you deliver training has to as well. You must be the driver of change.
 

2. Become a big data lover

Data is a big deal, particularly for marketing. Because of the volume and depth of data that can be captured, teams are now able to draw insights into the behaviours of their audiences and understand in much more granular detail what’s working and what’s not.

So, rather than assuming your audience’s behaviour, why not take a leaf out of marketing’s book and use the data you already have to make educated decisions about what you should do next?

Don’t have data handy? Then start collecting it. You could introduce email surveys (which can easily be set up in SurveyMonkey or Typeform) and see what your learners really think about your training programmes. And if you haven’t already, definitely install Google Analytics on your LMS to monitor user behaviour. Like marketers do, use data to drive knowledge about what your audience is doing, and then adjust your approach accordingly.

A continuous capturing of data also allows you to track successes and prove the value (and ROI) of the training you implement, which is becoming more and more critical for any department responsible for budgets.


 

3. Work to be resourceful

Marketing teams are a resourceful bunch, and often will produce several pieces of content from one source (ie, a whitepaper could be transformed into a slide deck, an infographic, blog posts, webinars and more). This multi-content approach means you’re providing your audience with a variety of consumable information, and one version is certain to catch their attention.

Same goes for L&D. Why can’t that elearning also be supported by a variety of different content, consisting of virtual classrooms, emailed infographics and blogs on your intranet?

Don’t expect your audience to come to you. Remember to reach, reach, reach.

In our time-poor industries, it’s important to make more of what you’ve already got, as there are likely more resources in-house than you think. Tap into assets from other departments, and don’t forget to leverage your own marketing and comms team for resources, tips, ideas and more.
 

4. Use all the channels you have at your disposal

When a marketing team has something to say, they don’t just say it once, in one place. They utilise a range of unique channels to ensure maximum reach. Sure, sending an email might be marginally effective, but pushing the same concept on social media and in a short video could well reach those untapped audiences.

So, time to reflect on your efforts. How do you get your message out? Your LMS is just one channel that you should be using for key messaging and information. What about email, social media, posters in the kitchen/toilets, your intranet and even visual content such as infographics and videos? Campaign out your news like a marketer would, and don’t be afraid to get visual.
 

5. Don’t be afraid to get personal

Personalisation is a major trend in marketing. As we discussed earlier, Google has set the bar pretty high in terms of a personalised experience for its users. For example, marketing can provide relevant content to someone who’s looked at a product page, or send them key information when their product is up for renewal. This approach is a great way to provide a relevant and more impactful experience for audiences.

L&D can replicate this experience by focusing on a personal experience for learners. You must bear in mind that you will require some form of data to do this well (see point 2).

Some options for personalisation with learners include:

  • Creating a unique homepage with relevant content for the user when they log into the LMS
  • Tracking their progress in the LMS and sending reminders when new learning relevant to them is available
  • Provide learners with a preferences selection, where they can identify key areas of desired personal development, then serve them information based on those preferences
  • Some of the key data points you could use for audience segmentation and personalisation include:
    • Job title
    • Challenges they face (ie customer-facing roles vs non-customer facing roles)
    • Location
    • Duration with company
    • Skill level
    • Usage of the learning

The key here is serving up content and learning that is relevant to the learner, instead of the traditional one-size-fits-all approach.
 

6. Testing is vital

Trying to be heard amongst all the digital noise can be a real challenge, and when we’re constantly vying for an audience’s attention, how can we stand out?

Think about what your learner is exposed to outside of work. They’re used to responsive websites, beautiful designs and seamless browsing experiences across smartphones, tablets and desktop, all of which has been tested by marketing teams across the globe to see what works best.

This testing approach can be applied to learning, as well as LMS layout and user interface to maximise results. Consider creating different versions of pages (especially those whose main goal is to instigate an action) that modify layout, colour and more. Test them over a set period of time to see which is the most successful.

Utilising split or multivariate testing ensures you’re maximising results and removes all the guesswork out of elearning and LMS builds and user interfaces.
 

Getting more from what you’ve got

I’ve often considered what the L&D industry can learn from marketing. The main challenge is that learning is internal and is so often locked in an LMS silo, whereas a marketing campaign can go to many channels and build impact over time.

If we can overcome that key challenge and break down the barriers of the LMS, then we are revealing huge opportunities to engage our learners.

So, if you’re already doing a bit of light reading every week to keep an eye on changes in the industry, why not add a marketing blog or two into the mix, and get yourself some fresh inspiration to connect with your audience?

My favourites are:

Let’s start thinking a bit more about our people and how we best can connect with them. Marketing approaches really can help!