Michelle Ockers outlines the future of learning while confronting the limitations of learning professionals.
“The profession is divided. Some are highly capable and progressive. Many are unable to manage their own learning, let alone enable others to learn and perform better.”
In recent years the conversation between learning professionals has shifted. There used to be a sense of entitlement about having a seat at the table with senior leaders. The tone changed to one of taking responsibility. The need to become better business partners was acknowledged. Focus moved to how to articulate and demonstrate the value of the learning function. This made me optimistic for the future of the profession.
I now realise that progress is too slow. The 2019 Towards Maturity(1) annual report on workplace learning innovation showed that learning professionals aim high. However, they are well-short of achieving their aspirations. This is especially so in areas that matter most to business – productivity, agility and culture.
Alarmingly, the skillset in learning teams is contracting relative to requirements.(2) The profession is falling behind. The most significant gaps – actually, chasms – are in understanding business problems, improving impact and supporting performance. These skills are critical to remaining relevant in organisations. The story is the same with digital learning. Only 30% of learning teams have required digital skills.
Learning professionals are too slow to adapt to change, build capability, and adopt new approaches. I work with dedicated, hard-working learning teams, who are struggling to meet today’s demands, let alone prepare for tomorrow. Many are busy, overwhelmed and underprepared.
In 2018 I led the refresh of the Learning and Performance Institute’s Capability Map.(3) This map defines the skills required by a modern learning function. In the six years since initial publication the world of work changed significantly. Volatility and pace of change accelerated. Industry disruption and digital transformation became the norm. Workforces became more mobile, and work is done in more networked, agile ways. Data and Artificial Intelligence (AI) are used to personalise our everyday consumer experience.
The Capability Map was given a significant overhaul in response to these changes. Learning teams require a broader, more complex range of skills. The Capability Map contains 25 skills across five categories – strategy and operations, performance and impact, design and develop solutions, facilitate learning, and support learning. It’s clear that an individual or small learning team cannot be proficient in all 25 skills. Even larger teams may be daunted by the breadth of capability now required.
In theory a learning professional knows more about how to learn than anyone else in an organisation. However, barriers to entry to learning roles are low. Too few are abreast of contemporary research.(4) Debunked, out of date practices persist. The profession is divided. Some are highly capable and progressive. Many are unable to manage their own learning, let alone enable others to learn and perform better.
Fundamental knowledge is essential. Those unfamiliar with adult learning theory and lacking business acumen will fall by the wayside.
On top of this, specialisation is critical. Individuals require expertise in a small number of the skill categories in the Capability Map. They should choose wisely. Workplace learning is changing rapidly. While not disappearing, use of courses will shrink. They will be supplanted by performance support in the flow of work. This will be powered by personalised, adaptive technology enabled by Artificial Intelligence and predictive analytics.
Recognise also that the learning function does not own learning. Additional capability can be accessed by collaborating with others. Groups such as Organisational Development, Innovation, Business Intelligence, Information Technology and leaders are key players in building learning culture. This is the ultimate destination – an organisation where learning, working and performing are intertwined. Such an organisation is sensitive and responsive to change and will thrive in today’s business environment.
Learning teams require a well-balanced mix of skilled specialists. I work with progressive teams to build capability specific to their organisation’s needs. Closing the gap invariably requires skill development.
It’s time to challenge the mantra that no-one has time to learn. Learning professionals must be the adults in the room when it comes to development, starting with the own. Creating space to build learning team capability is deeply responsible. Leading by example signals to others that development is an important investment. An intensive, accelerated burst of development is now essential to leap the skills chasm.
The learning profession is at a critical juncture. Those who do not act now will become ineffective and irrelevant. Those who can leap the skills chasm will lead the profession to an extraordinary future. We will orchestrate success, being integral to how organisations adapt and thrive.
Do you or your team need to make the exponential leap required to bridge the skills gap?
Michelle Ockers works with learning leaders and business leaders who see the potential of learning to make a bigger impact in their organisations. She guides individuals and learning teams to build capability. She can also help to deliver real impact from learning through strategic insight, research and benchmarking. Michelle welcomes contact from senior learning and business leaders who wish to harness learning and make it a key lever to achieve business results.
(1) Towards Maturity conducts an international longitudinal benchmark study of learning innovation in the workplace. Their 2019 report is The Transformation Journey
(2) Refer to The Transformation Journey, pg 31 for a graphic that clearly shows the contraction.
(3) Access the Learning and Performance Institute’s L&D Capability Map
(4) 34% of L&D professionals remain abreast of research – The Transformation Journey pg. 33