‘Learning and development must treat change like wearing new shoes – uncomfortable but worth it’

Lewis Carroll was not regarded as a futurologist. However, in writing the Red Queen’s race in Alice Through the Looking Glass in 1871, he seems to have glimpsed a vision of our increasingly fast-paced world

“Well, in our country,” said Alice, still panting a little, “you’d generally get to somewhere else – if you run very fast for a long time, as we’ve been doing.” “A slow sort of country!” said the Queen. “Now, here, you see, it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place. If you want to get somewhere else, you must run at least twice as fast as that!”

The world of work is changing fast. We live more transient work lives and the march of technology means we are able to conduct business with people continents away, across time zones and outside the traditional formal constructs of working life.

But just as the workplace changes, so must our approach to learning and development (L&D), not least because the workforces of the future will be more tech savvy. Give a toddler an iPad and you’ll see what I mean.

Change, especially one of magnitude conducted at speed, can be uncomfortable, and like the first time you wear a new pair of shoes, it can take some getting used to. But it’s important that we commit to the discomfort as that is what forces us to look at new approaches that can deliver greater results.

So the future of learning will look different to what we have become used to, but what shifts do L&D professionals have to make to ensure we move with the times?

First, we have to ensure that L&D is driven by business need, as opposed to generic learning themes that are so prevalent in organisations. By working collaboratively across the business and understanding the day-to-day challenges the business is looking to solve, we are better placed to grasp the requirements that will drive performance and productivity.

This also means changing the style of learning. We have all sat through a full day’s learning and death by PowerPoint. The developments in neuroscience have taught us that cognitive overload is a huge barrier to learning and therefore we need to deliver learning in smaller chunks of content that are more readily available.

Put another way, if I am going to negotiate a contract next Friday, the ability for me to refresh my memory a few days before is much greater value than a training session in three weeks’ time. The demand for content now is based on anytime, anyplace learning and that demands digital solutions that may need to be available beyond the company firewall. Options for self-directed learning are crucial to meet learning needs.

L&D now has a role that is far more that of a curator than a creator. Alongside the explosion in technology, we have seen an equally large growth in freely available content. So, like a museum curator who has the choice of the best pieces from thousands of artefacts, L&D professionals should act as content curators, signposting a variety of quality sources to build the best possible solution for the needs of the business.

Finally, we have to focus on learning effectiveness, what we measure and how we measure it. L&D has long focused on measuring impact after the event; you’d run a workshop and then ask for feedback.  Now, with the availability of data and analytics, we have to be far more prescriptive. We should go into a learning scenario knowing exactly the problem we are attempting to solve or performance we are seeking to support, with pre and post-measurement.

In the same way as workplaces are becoming less obsessed about the time employees spend at their desk and more on what they do when they are there, L&D professionals must focus on the outputs and impact of their work, not how many training sessions they provide.

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