The Changing Role Of Learning And Development Leaders

Over the past several years, the notion of what L&D (Learning and Development) should be has changed dramatically.  We’ve seen a shift from looking at training as a single event, which then is followed by employee daily work (with the expectation that they’ll be able to perform up to expectation following that initial training event). Rather, training is now looked at increasingly as a long-term, continuous event, as I wrote about earlier this week.   

158909743Beyond the timing itself, there has been a dramatic change in methods and tactics, and most importantly the channels by which employees learn.  While traditional formal classroom training have not gone away entirely, and still play a key role in the learning process, a strong contemporary L&D relies heavily on internet-based learning options and technology, such as webinars, learning management systems, online presentations and courses, instructional videos, social media forums, performance support aids, and more.

Given this change in the timing, methodology and technology in L&D, it is perfectly normal for the role of training professionals to evolve as well, in order to meet the ever-changing needs of employees. Having said that, here is a closer look at the changing role of learning and development leaders:

How Has Technology Affected The L&D Process?

Tom Cruise’s character Maverick in the film Top Gun once famously said, “I feel the need, the need for speed!” We live in the 21st century, a time period characterized by the need for speed like no other in human history. Nowadays, we are able to send information from one side of the world to the other within seconds, thanks to the Internet. Boundaries of time and space have virtually disappeared, and knowledge is more portable and immediately accessible than ever before.Top-Gun image

The technology of speed of course has had a clear impact on the way L&D professionals – and managers in the bigger picture – have altered their expectations and strategies.  One might be tempted to ask, if learners can be given information immediately, and have access to that knowledge outside of the classroom, wherever they might be, and on any internet-connected device, then shouldn’t they be able to reach proficiency in no time?  And, to a certain extent, there is some truth to that.  Yet at the same time, even though information is more accessible quickly and at any location, the nature of how employees learn – at a human level – is still what it was.  People learn at different paces, in different styles.

While some might have strong memories and the ability to pick up things quickly, far more people learn by repetition and over a longer period of time.  So while speed does play a key factor in strategizing L&D plan and setting expectations, training professionals need to be still open-minded, flexible and able to present a diverse and long-term set of options in order to best help employees learn effectively, one that will provide long-term value and high performance.

Of course, the most fundamental and visible change that the internet has brought to employee training is online learning, or e-learning.  Whether in the form of formal online courses and exams, or if talking about “informal” learning, which might include encouragement to utilize online videos, social media, forums, webinars, and other channels, there is no doubt that employees are more “connected” during training.

Due to the internet-focused nature of training, Learning Management Systems (LMS) have evolved to play a key role in enabling L&D professionals to monitor learner progress, and to see which areas still need improvement.

Finally, mobile technology – in particular the ever-increasing adoption of smartphones and tablet computers – have empowered employees to access learning materials both inside and outside of the office.

From Transferring Knowledge to Facilitating Information

Yes, technology had empowered both trainers and employees to utilize more information than ever before, on any device, from any location, at any time.  So how does that change the role of L&D professionals?

Well, for one thing, L&D professionals cannot encompass their teaching in a single course anymore. What if an employee says, “well, I looked online and it says something different?” The knowledge transfer process is more transparent and to a degree, there is a less of a learning hierarchy that there used to be in the trainer-learner relationship.  Yet that does not weaken the trainer.

Furthermore, let’s not look at it as a knowledge “transfer” process at all, but rather, the key role of L&D managers these days is to FACILITATE access to information.  Equip employees with all the various channels they can leverage in order to increase their skillset and understanding.  Suggest specific webinars, provide for them an e-learning course, and empower them with performance support software.  Give them the tools they need to excel. 

In addition, two-way communication and feedback will always be important, both for the manager and for the employee.  Due to the fact that there is less of a hierarchy than there once was, it’s critical to engage the learner at every stage, to get his/her feedback, how they think it’s going, what they still need help with, what concepts they believe they already have grasped, etc.  Involve them.  That’s key.

Focus on Performance

Most of all is the need to remember that in the workplace context, the ultimate goal of training is improved productivity and increased performance. The learning facilitator must directly appeal to the needs and requirements of the employees, having the flexibility and ability to tailor and customize training plans to each employee’s needs.SAMSUNG DIGITAL CAMERA

One major change that can be noticed in the approach of leaders from the L&D field is that they focus on what is known as “performance consulting”, meaning that they assess the overall performance of an individual in order to identify the core problem and address it in a timely manner. The purpose of this approach is to boost the efficacy of the training using skilled and well-trained staff and performance practitioners that are focused on team working and want to see positive results.

So with a focus on performance, make sure employees have the tools to empower them to receive performance support long after the initial training sessions end.  WalkMe is a great example.  A performance support software that enables employees to receive immediate, directly relevant and specific instructions in order to help them perform any online task.

Whether you’re using a complex enterprise software, or an organization’s website, WalkMe provides an indispensable tool for managers to “be there” with their employees as they work, empowering them to succeed.

There is no question that the times, they-are-a-changing. L&D managers, in the role of facilitators of learning and information, can move forward and get the highest performance from their workers, with the right strategy, methods, and technology.

Jason Silberman
Jason is the former Lead Author & Editor of TrainingStation Blog
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