It’s a well trodden path…

A new L&D function is born – or a new custodian arrives into an existing function – and a review is undertaken of ‘what learning is required’.

Induction is developed. Courses are created. Programmes are designed. And a suite of e-learning is bought in. There we have it, the core L&D provision is introduced. Where nothing – or perhaps very little – sat before, now there is an abundance of ‘learning’.

L&D often begin with programmes to serve the ‘core learning needs’ (which is represented in the diagram below), working their way outwards, perhaps eventually reaching the outer ring of L&D Leadership. The problem they solve is: We don’t have provision for X (induction, communication, time management, managers, etc.)

The core is also where a lot of L&D professionals ‘cut their teeth’ as trainers, facilitators and learning professionals, by designing and delivering core solutions. It’s fun and exciting – and where there was nothing before, there is license to be creative. In designing e-learning (or co-designing with a vendor), this creativity can be extended into animations, games, interactive video, even VR and AR. There are now so many ways to experiment in the core to make it more ‘engaging’.

Working with teams to examine personality types and traits are other ways of using a burgeoning L&D kitbag to ‘deliver solutions’.

But it is easy to see how an L&D greenfield (or brownfield) site can very quickly become heavy on delivering stuff.

It’s also very easy to see how focusing on the core and building outwards creates a divide between L&D and the business. By solving the problem ‘we don’t have a core provision’ rather than ‘how can we best help our people to succeed in their roles – and for future roles?’ we can quickly become trapped in the core, as if it’s a prison… Which may not be a problem, until we look at the outermost ring on this diagram.

In my experience, and what I’ve included in the outer ring, is what L&D is really in organisations to do – and why L&D is a profession and not just administration or an art.

In senior L&D leadership roles, it can be frustrating to see allocated L&D resources (people, time and money) so focused on serving these core needs, for limited value – in terms of the number of people it affects and infrequency of experiences, let alone its lack of impact on actual working – to the detriment of the real needs of the wider business.

If L&D is to gain a seat at the table, be taken seriously, and overcome its internal anxiety about delivering value (perhaps ROI), it’s important to align at the outer ring and not try to retrofit core activities to business strategy.

When I read articles that tell me that L&D’s biggest challenges for 2018 include ‘lack of learner engagement and motivation’; ‘ambiguous objectives’; ‘measuring online training success’; and ‘creating memorable and meaningful online training content’, I see a profession that cannot see the wood for the trees.

There are people all across our organisations who need support overcoming day-to-day challenges; who want guidance on navigating the culture; who want support in preparing for and making transitions; and who aren’t engaging in ‘learning’.

I think we need to take a look at ourselves, to break out of the L&D bubble we create at ‘the core’ and stop thinking the problem is with our clients because they don’t want to learn, or they don’t know how to learn(!?)

There are real problems to solve beyond ‘we don’t have a core learning provision’ and it starts at the outer ring by understanding what the business and its people really need our help with.

David James is Digital Learning Strategist with Looop and was previously Director of Talent, Learning & OD for The Walt Disney Company’s EMEA region.

Now an authority in contemporary L&D practices, David works with businesses, globally, to develop and implement social, agile and digital learning strategies that make learning work, with Looop.

See also:

Next Generation L&D: From ‘Learning’ To ‘Performance’

When You’re Too Busy Delivering Training To Do Digital L&D

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