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The new skills for Learning & Development Practitioners

Recently I facilitated a session for Learning & Development Practitioners at a financial institution to get them thinking about the new skills needed in the future.  L&D has always had to justify our existence to business – and the pressure to do so is increasing.  It is concerning to see L&D departments who are still not aligned to the business strategy, and stuck in the “old” ways of training.

Pre-reading for the day was an article from Degreed on the 3 new skills needed for L&D:  curation, marketing and data analysis.
Curation is about choosing learning solutions that are relevant for the learners you support.  The world is changing at an increasing pace, and time is precious.  Imagine that your learners identify a need for a specific skill.  After taking a brief from them, the L&D department starts the research, instructional design and development of a course.  Then comes the pilot and the edits.  Weeks (maybe months?) later the solution is finally ready.  L&D proudly presents the customised solution to the business – only to be told that it’s too late, and not needed anymore…  Sounds familiar?

Instead of developing new (and customised) content, L&D should be skilled at curating content from available sources out there – the internet, online learning platforms, articles, instruction videos – check the quality and compile these in a solution that will make sense to the learner.  In this way an 80% fit solution could be made available quickly instead of a 100% solution slowly.  You might be thinking that your organisation is special and unique – off-the-shelf content won’t work.  Well, you’re not unique.  And you’re not really that special.  Good off-the-shelf content is available and more economic than developing your own.  It’s this mindset that we will have to change.

Thinking like a marketer is a valuable skill for L&D.  When you’re marketing a product, you must understand your target audience.  In the session we identified elements that would help us understand what our learners needed.  The groups came up with profiles like this one:  “Our learner is a male between 30 and 40 who is ambitious and professional.  He has 30 minutes a week to learn and would like the solution to be relevant to him.  He doesn’t mind learning online, and videos would be the most relevant platform for him.  Ideally he would like to have a mentor to learn from.”  Or “Our learner is a graduate in her first job.  She is ambitious but with little experience.  She prefers a combination of classroom training, where she can network, as well as online learning available on her tablet.  She needs managerial and organisational skills most and would benefit from coaching.”

How well do you know the learners in your organisation?  Ask questions about their motivations, aspirations, needs and preferences and build up a persona that will inform the type of solutions you need.

The third skill is analytical skills, and more specifically deriving insights from data.  An insight can best be described as an interpretation of the information.  Renowned marketer, Jeremy Bullmore said that an insight is like a refrigerator;  the light goes on when you look inside.  Rather than just analysing data, L&D practitioners should ask the question “what does it mean?”  They should use their knowledge of the business to ask questions around what the data is saying, what the implications are and how these could be used to make better decisions.

There are some obstacles that stand in our way, mostly of our own making.  One of the biggest is the belief that all L&D content should be vetted by L&D.  We are the gatekeepers of quality, are we not?  But guess what:  the learners are already learning without us.  They are googling, youtube-ing and MOOC-ing when they need information or skills, and not waiting for us to catch up.  Empowering learners to use their own insight is a key enabler.

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