Learning Live 2018: Six snippets of advice for L&D professionals

Delegates get interactive during a session on women in leadership at last week's Learning Live

The Learning and Performance Institute’s Learning Live 2018 conference provided great insights into some of the biggest challenges facing the profession. Martin Couzins highlights six key takeaways for learning professionals. 

Become enablers of learning

The big challenge for Ian Fordham, chief learning and skills officer at Microsoft UK, is embedding learning into everyday behaviours. “Unless you have a learning culture you won’t turn change into everyday practice,” he told delegates.

The L&D team at Scotia Bank does this by operating in a similar way to a news agency – with an impressive three hour turnaround on learning content, according to Lori Niles-Hofman, its former director of digital learning. Niles-Hofman, who now works at Fuse Universal, set up a triage service at Scotia to attend to employees’ most pressing learning needs. “If it was bleeding, we fixed it,” she said. This approach helped reduce requests for e-learning by 70%.

Learning Live soundbites

“Digital transformation means different things to different people. In L&D it is a programme of changes that will have a profound change on the way we learn,” Jackie Barefield, head of L&D, media systems, GroupM

“Position yourself as an enabler learning versus the holder of expertise,” Rob Alcock, head of training, BBC Academy

“You should be smothering yourselves in data at every available opportunity . . . it will change your world,” Dave Coplin, CEO, The Envisioners

“How could you Uberize your learning experience?” David Perring, director of research, Fosway Group

“The pace of change in what customers want is phenomenal. To thrive in a highly competitive market we need to get smarter,” Lorenzo Gilomee, head of L&D, O2

Peer-to-peer learning is the key to staying relevant and immediate, according to Catalina Schveninger, global head of learning at Vodafone. “The more we do that, the more we will facilitate learning,” she told attendees.

Understand what digital learning means to your employees

For digital learning to work, L&D has to understand what learning means to employees. Joseph Richardson, senior manager for global training at LEGO Group, has amassed a long shopping list of learning requirements from looking into what his audience need.

From this, he and his team looked for what he calls “the practical glue”, the elements that are common to everyone. His employee mapping showed that the common elements were the product, store and customers.

These elements provided the basis for a new learning app that includes a virtual shop environment in which staff can access new product information, try out shop displays and talk to customers and colleagues.

Using the app, employees can learn to merchandise a virtual shop with a new product in two hours. That same experience can be rolled out to 15,000 users across its store network.

Richardson advised L&D teams to use reference materials as a way of helping employees to access learning.

“Become the go-to reference solution where there wasn’t one previously. Add learning around reference content by asking questions about it. In this way you are using reference materials as your access to learning.”

Shift to a consultancy approach

Organisations are now asking for more and newer things from their L&D team, according to Phil Reddall, proposition lead, learning, development and progression at the John Lewis Partnership.

He believes employers are looking for consultancy skills – people who can solve and have been involved in business problems. The only issue for L&D professionals is that they might not have the requisite skills. “Traditional L&D career paths do not give you commerciality and strategic thinking,” he said.

This point was echoed by Martin Bullard, northern European capability lead at accountancy firm Sage. Bullard said most of the conversations he has are now around bigger picture business issues and performance consulting. His advice? “Steer conversations away from training and towards consulting.”

This shift is also occurring in the recruitment market. Nick Bate, director of recruitment agency Blue Eskimo, explained how the L&D business partner role has become more common as the L&D function has become more complex.

Break through the digital barrier

Learning Live’s keynote speaker, author Dave Coplin, urged his audience to “work smarter, not harder”.

“We have been weaned on productivity, which means we focus on the processes of work, not the outcomes. We work like Victorians but with technology. We need to break through the digital barrier,” he said.

The question is: how can L&D build a good relationship with technology? This will become increasingly important when artificial intelligence gives businesses 30% more capacity as automation cuts jobs, said Coplin.

His advice was to use data to identify how L&D will meet the skills and workforce planning requirements of the organisation going forward. “Data will be the hallmark of your success. Start using it as a strategic asset to show what the future looks like in your organisation,” he added.

To do this, L&D must gather the right kind of data. Start by asking the questions you need answers to as an L&D team, and then work out what data you would need to collect in order to help answer those questions, Coplin advised.

Organisations could then use machine learning technology to highlight patterns and insights to help them plan for the future.

“You should be smothering yourselves in data at every available opportunity… it will change your world,” he concluded.

Help employees to adapt

As well as harnessing technology, Coplin urged L&D teams to help employees adapt to the changing world of work.

He said: “Continual adaptation is fundamental for our success and that means lifelong learning is fundamental to our success. Lifelong learning is the best way we can thrive through all these changes.

“Help employees focus more on gaining wisdom, rather than gaining knowledge. That means developing skills in creativity and critical thinking and learning how to use technology to your advantage.”

And don’t be seduced by tools, because they will go out of date, said Coplin. “Learn to teach skills not tools as the tools for today will not prepare the workforce for the future.”

Design learning with employees, not for employees

The Humanitarian Leadership Academy designs and delivers learning for first-responders to humanitarian crises all around the world – typically aid agencies, local communities and government agencies.

The challenge for the organisation is to create learning that is relevant both locally and globally.

Global innovation director Atish Gonsalves, puts the learner at the heart of the design process. He uses design thinking methodology to identify the problem to be solved and then involves local communities to help co-create the learning solution.

He told Learning Live: “If you combine really cool education technology and learning technology together with co-creation, where you bring the user along in their journey, your learning products, services and solutions are going to be much better because you brought the learner along for that journey, and what’s created is what they need.”

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