Although learning leaders will continue to grapple with some evergreen challenges in 2018—balancing global and local control, for example—changes in technology and talent will require learning leaders to reinvent themselves and their functions. Here are three questions to ask–and some fresh thinking to consider—in charting a course for the coming year.

Learning Governance

How do we execute on enterprise learning so that we seamlessly align with our businesses AND realize efficiencies at a global level?

We’ve heard and heeded the call to revolutionize learning for some time now. We risk irrelevance unless we’re positively influencing performance in a way that benefits the bottom line. This often means that we’re putting more energy into cultivating learning programs driven by the business side of the house, a task made easier given the ubiquity of free learning content.

Taking this to heart without executing on a purposeful strategy, however, can lead a thousand flowers to bloom across an organization without much of a discernable vision or a cost-effective way of governing them. Holding the reins too loosely undermines our efforts to impact the bottom line and often creates confusion and frustration for learners who are looking for a frictionless learning experience like the learning they do in “real life.”

As organizations assess these challenges, some are bringing learning more directly into the global fold. Others are experimenting with the development of next-generation federated models to define and leverage the benefits of global and local ownership of key learning drivers. As 2018 plays out, we’ll continue to see new ways of navigating this balancing act.

The Evolution of Learning

How do we leverage the profound changes driving career learning in the talent marketplace?

In the last month, we’ve heard about free career training, tools, and scholarships from Grow with Google. We also learned that the newly launched Woz University is providing skills training to get people into tech positions quickly and affordably. Meanwhile, the momentum continues to build behind white-collar apprenticeships and their role in filling skills gaps. Work changes fast, but we can now inexpensively train, upskill, and reskill with agility.

These career learning solutions inspire a host of questions. How can we leverage apprenticeships to source new talent that’s tailor-made for us? How can we grow our candidate pool by engaging with candidates in these learning pools, much as we would recruit at college campuses? How can we improve retention by reskilling, upskilling, and facilitating in-house career changes using these resources? What are the impacts of training and tuition reimbursement policies? What’s the potential impact of this learning on our leadership pipeline? The career learning marketplace has significant implications for learning and development and cements its role as a key enabler of talent strategy. It’s critical to stay ahead of this game.

Staffing the Next Generation Learning Practice

Is it time to consider a new role for learning practitioners?

Curation is currently a hot topic. It helps employees manage the avalanche of content that rains down upon them. It’s also now considered a core competency in the learning practitioner’s toolset, alongside instructional design, coaching, instruction, and other skills.

Until very recently, that vision worked fairly well. Today, however, the digital learning content realm is enormous and constantly changing. In addition, the burgeoning career learning marketplace is beginning to demand more attention than an ad-hoc internet search.

Perhaps it’s time to consider hiring for the role of Learning Broker: a “guidance counselor” or “concierge” for employees who is intimately familiar with the external learning marketplace. The person in this new role would stay abreast of developments in digital learning content and learner experience platforms. He or she would also establish relationships with providers of local and regional career learning opportunities. Internally, he or she would provide a single point of contact to employees in crafting learning pathways and plans, defining cost-sharing arrangements, and providing referrals to external resources. As organizations look more frequently to outsourcing learning solutions, the market will demand more devoted attention than we’ve given it, and a dedicated resource may be in order.

Although we’ll be looking at these three areas in the year to come, the old saw still applies: the more things change, the more they stay the same. Skills, technology, and markets may change, but the key challenge for learning leaders remains: anticipate where the market is headed, and plan accordingly.

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Kristen Sterbenz, CPLP, PMP

Kristen Sterbenz is a seasoned learning pro with a keen interest in making learning work. She's the founder of Voolama LLC, (www.voolamallc.com) a provider of learning strategy, design, and implementation services. You can find her on LinkedIn.
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