This article was originally published in Learning Solutions Magazine, 15 February 2016

2015 was a big year for mobile—and 2016 is going to be even bigger. It is well documented that last year mobile Internet usage surpassed all other devices. Smartphone usage alone surged by 394 percent, and our mobile devices have become an extension of ourselves for a whole host of digital services that we rely on every single day. This is important for learning and development departments (L&D) because it’s also been found that workers are spending more time online developing themselves—on their own time, on their own devices—than L&D is influencing and that they are doing so, primarily, because they want to do their jobs better and faster. With such a huge opportunity to positively impact both performance and productivity, what can L&D do to support this?

We all know that learning is much more complex than transferring knowledge and know-how from one person to another (or to many). We now have the opportunity to extend the value of L&D by creating a range of online experiences that learners access when the time is right for them—helping them to immediately overcome the challenges they are facing in their jobs, when they are motivated to do so.

There is a line in the book Traction: How Any Startup Can Achieve Explosive Customer Growth by Gabriel Weinberg and Justin Mares that is particularly helpful for L&D to bear in mind when looking at this: “Help people to do what they want to do, better.” This means that if people are already developing themselves professionally online, and more and more often on their mobile devices, then how do we help them to do just that, but better?

Let’s break that statement into two to explore what it could mean for us, starting with, “Helping them to do what they want to do.”

Open up the conversation

Make it your business to know how people are already developing themselves. If you don’t already support the marketing function on developing their technical expertise and staying abreast of innovation, how are they doing so for themselves? If you see senior executives only once a year in programs, how are they developing themselves in all manner of different topics throughout the year? Strike up a conversation with as many people as you can about their development. Surely, it’s the most obvious thing they will be expecting to speak with you about, isn’t it? Ask them what their priorities for learning are right now. Ask them how they are learning online to support their development. And ask them how you might make it easier for them.

Understand and “own” their biggest priorities

Following all those conversations, you will have identified some common priorities—and it’s likely to be some of the biggest priorities for the organization as a whole. Whether these are around digital transformation, changing consumer expectations, growing business in new markets, emerging technologies, or anything else, pull together those themes—as well as the insights you gleaned from how people are developing themselves online today. This is because the opportunity is to go “with the grain” and support people in a way that they already recognize, trust, and prefer. This is the important first lesson in gaining traction in any new initiative with your client group: Helping them to do what they want to do.

But how do you help them do this BETTER?

Add the context

It cannot be understated just how important “context” is to organizational learning—although web-search is completely remiss of organizational context. Closing the gap between “content” and “the work itself” is an important role that L&D can play. This can so easily be done by creating, curating, and sharing online resources that work in a similar way to the sources that employees are finding for themselves, i.e. short articles, videos, how-to’s, interviews, infographics, and all variety of other mediums. Context comes with the end-user understanding why it is important to them and what they should “do” with whatever was shared.

Inform, inspire, and instruct

When creating or curating resources, think of the different ways you can prepare the content. This can be as easy as deciding whether you will design any resource to either inform the user, inspire them, or instruct them.

Amplify what successful people do

This means putting successful people in front of a camera, sharing with colleagues what they do, how they do it, and what they are learning. It may not be in your L&D toolkit yet, but video is by far the most important medium available to you. Online video views are rising rapidly and Cisco predicts that as soon as 2017, video will make up 69 percent of all Internet traffic. “No matter the screen size, users clamored for video—users spent an average 5.5 hours each day watching video content in front of a screen in 2015.” You can produce—and even edit—really good quality videos with your smartphone, a $60 lapel mic, and free editing software (such as iMovie). The value far outweighs the investment, and you will soon be impacting many more employees than you do right now. If video isn’t in your toolkit yet, it will need to be in order for you to remain relevant.

In summary

Helping employees to do what they want to do (better) means fully understanding how they are learning what they need for their jobs now. The opportunity to extend successful behaviors and outcomes—beyond the limitations of the “course”—is one that can truly impact performance andproductivity. As well as impacting personal effectiveness, if employees are better equipped to perform there is the potential to positively affect engagement too.

Supporting learners on their terms—with resources that help them overcome challenges in doing their job—is one way that L&D can extend its value to an entire organization. The shift from “Courses to Resources” is one that has been extolled by L&D visionary Nick Shackleton-Jones for some time and now business needs this approach, while employees demand it.

About David James

David James is a seasoned Talent Management, Learning & OD leader with more than 15 years of experience in the field. Until recently, David was Director of Talent, Learning & OD for The Walt Disney Company’s EMEA region and has since joined Looop.co as Learning Strategist. Renowned for extraordinary levels of learner engagement, Looop is a powerful online learning platform for business that capitalises on how people really want to learn today.

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