“L&D isn’t doing near what it could and should, and what it is doing, it is doing badly. Other than that, it’s fine.”
That’s a harsh statement, yet the evidence suggests it’s all too apt. And that’s a real shame for several reasons. For one, it means that currently, Learning & Development (L&D) is really wasting money. Maybe not tomorrow, but sometime coming, the organization is going to ask what the outcomes are for the L&D expenditures. Second, it’s missing a significant way in which L&D could be contributing in a fundamental manner to the success of the organization. And that’s a real opportunity!
If we look at the current role of L&D, it’s about optimizing execution. That is, courses are designed to ensure people can do the things we need them to do. If we use serious instructional design where we have meaningful objectives, contextualized and sufficient practice, model-based examples, elaborated examples, and extended support, we can truly develop new skills.
Moreover, if we add performance support into the mixture, we can increase our service to the organization. Here we’re recognizing that: some things are a function of knowledge, not skill; it’s hard and frequently foolish to try to learn large amounts of arbitrary knowledge when it can be looked up at the time of need; and, in other situations, things are changing too fast to try to get into a person’s head.
If we do it well, L&D can fundamentally contribute to an organization’s ability to do those things that need to be done. But that’s increasingly only half the story. The ability to perform optimally is only the cost of entry in today’s increasing information and change environment. What’s needed is continual innovation, the ability to be agile in the face of more rapidly changing circumstances. And this comes from a different suite of actions entirely.
Innovation comes from tapping into the power of people, communicating, and collaborating. This can be left to chance, but I want to suggest that this is a role L&D could, and should, be playing! Who else should know more about how people think, work, and learn? To put it another way, when you’re problem-solving, researching, designing, you don’t know the answer when you begin, so these activities too are learning. It’s a huge need and opportunity to facilitate the actions that will lead to organizational success.
The key is to get on top of the broader picture, creating an environment where individuals have the support—the courses, resources, and social tools—to get the job done, both on the known things and the situations that are novel, ambiguous, and uncertain. The goal is a performance ecosystem, where the tools and support are at hand to not just survive, but thrive.
This requires a strategic approach. An organization has to understand the full suite of tools and activities, assess its current status, and prioritize the steps to the future. It requires addressing infrastructure and organizational culture in systematic ways. The good news is that there are systematic frameworks and pathways to get there. The first step is to understand the situation and make a commitment to change. The opportunity is real, the steps are known, and the upside is substantial. It’s time for L&D to step up and seize the moment. Are you ready?
Take a deeper dive with Clark on this topic at his pre-conference workshop, eLearning as Strategy: Planning the Performance Ecosystem, at DevLearn 2016 Conference & Expo on Monday, November 14, in Las Vegas. Click here to learn more!