L&D must adopt more agile approach

L&D must adopt more agile approach

Workplace learning continues to adapt to changing technologies and ways of working, but should L&D professionals be providing courses or resources for their employees? Martin Couzins visits the CIPD’s Learning and Development Show in London.

Organisations must adopt more agile approaches to learning in order to improve performance, according to Peter Cheese, CEO of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development.

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XpertHR learning budgets survey 2015

Speaking at the institute’s L&D Show, Cheese told delegates that agile learning is now a core strategic requirement of business.

“This is a profoundly important time for L&D. Our fast-moving context means we have to be agile in our learning. It is a core strategic capability. We’ve got to go where the learners are learning.”

According to research launched at the show, 91% of employees say that on-the-job learning is a useful way to learn at work. However, the CIPD/Halogen Employee Outlook Survey of 2,000 employees found that organisations have been slow to respond with only 28% receiving on-the-job training, 26% receiving online learning and 20% learning from peers.

Organisations are moving in the right direction, adopting more agile learning methods, according to Andy Lancaster, head of L&D Content at the institute. “Year on year, we’re seeing a definite change in terms of the percentages of folks who use agile learning, such as embedding learning in the flow of work. I think many organisations are just grasping what agile means in terms of performance support.”

Lancaster said that agile learning is about driving organisational performance, something the L&D Show aimed to reflect through its numerous workshops and masterclasses. “Agility in learning is really key now. I think part of what the CIPD has been doing over the last couple of years is to use our own events to model where we believe modern learning is going.”

What does agile learning look like for organisations?

Andrew Jacobs, organisational learning and talent manager at the ‎London Borough of Lewisham, said that agile learning is about performance improvement. It’s about working with managers to identify performance gaps.

Quotes from the L&D Show 2016

“Learning design combined with learning analytics make a virtuous circle,” Lisette Toetenel, Institute of Educational Technology, OU.

“We use the word agile because it is a cool word,” Andrew Jacobs, ‎London Borough of Lewisham.

“The problem with a training needs analysis is that the solution is always training,” Nick Shackleton-Jones, PA Consulting.

“The amount of knowledge in our head is reducing. We need to get the learning at the point of need,” Peter Kay, Tarmac.

“Learning needs to be owned by the organisation, by managers and by individuals,” Anne Parker, Booking.com.

“Our stakeholders cannot separate schooling from learning,” Charles Jennings, Duntroon Associates.

“Our only sustainable competitive advantage is to learn faster and better than other people doing learning in other organisations,” Jamil Qureshi, performance coach.

“Stop creating content and start talking to customers about their problems,” Paul Morgan, O2.

“L&D has a tendency to believe that as long as it is producing stuff everything is fine,” Peter Cheese, CIPD.

Once you understand a performance gap, an agile approach to bridging it won’t necessarily be a training course. “Instead of sending someone on a course, an agile approach would involve finding some content, be it curated from the web, going to a forum and asking some questions or talking to peers.

“This is about finding the content people need and then working out what they would need to do next, so it puts the emphasis on the individual and the manager rather than L&D having to deliver it.”

Nick Shackleton-Jones, director of learning and performance innovation at PA Consulting agreed that courses are not the answer for most performance issues. His rallying cry to the profession in recent years has been to focus on resources not courses.

Resources, he says, give employees what they need to help them to do their job. For example, the London tube map is a good example of a resource. It helps you get from A to B in your moment of need. It is not “micro-learning” or “bite-size” learning , he said, but simply the resource you need to help to get you to your destination. This resource approach is far more agile and aligned with how employees figure things out at work.  “Employees see online learning as boring content but they use Google to get things done,” Shackleton-Jones said.

In his previous role at BP, Shackleton-Jones built a leadership development programme which was made up of 80% resources. It included checklists and guides and a glossary of leadership terms as well as videos aimed at connecting emotionally with first-time leaders.

To ensure he created relevant resources he ran research groups with employees to find out their concerns and mapped these to their regular job tasks. By doing this he created a picture of which resources were needed for which tasks.

“We start with the audience and find out what they care about and what they don’t care about. We build resources for what they care about and experiences to make them care,” he said.

Most speakers at the conference urged L&D professionals to focus on performance first, not learning outcomes. Former chief learning officer at Reuters, Charles Jennings, said that traditional approaches to learning are too simplistic and not agile. This refers to approaches such as blended learning, featuring pre-course reading, a classroom session and post event reading.

Jennings is a champion of the 70:20:10 approach to learning in which 70% is made up of on-the-job experience, 20% is exposure to others (social learning) and 10% is more structured, formal learning.

Most L&D focuses on structured learning when it should be focused on more agile delivery – the 70% and 20%, he said. “We must help people when they are working by embedding learning in work. The focus has to be on helping employees do their job.”

This approach requires a new mindset, one in which learning impact becomes a part of design and which see L&D designing for performance first, rather than knowledge and skills.

Developing this new mindset will require L&D to invest in its own skills, according to Paul Morgan, head of L&D at Telefónica (O2). He had two pieces of advice for L&D professionals.

First, invest in your own skills. He encourages his team to spend 20 minutes a day reading or sharing useful content. Second, build a network and have an opinion.

He encouraged delegates to start small and do one thing really well to demonstrate the type of impact L&D can have. By building strong foundations, L&D can develop incrementally. “Success will breed success. Be so good the business can’t ignore you,” he said.

That success will be based on solving business problems. This is what L&D is in business to do, he said. “Focus on business need and stop producing stuff that doesn’t make a difference.”


About Martin Couzins

Martin is an experienced business-to-business journalist who has spent many years covering the HR and L&D sectors. As well as writing and curating content on these topics, he runs Massive Open Online Courses through MOOC Pro as well as a digital content and communications agency Itsdevelopmental.
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