Can L&D Become Relevant Again?

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Fair warning: I think the learning and development industry needs to go in another direction to make itself relevant to the organizations of the future.

Imagine the following learning scenarios:

  1. Someone in a position of authority tells you to learn a new technology they think you should know and informs you how you need to learn it.
  2. You realize you need to know something about how to use a new technology for an upcoming project, find the information on your own, and learn it yourself.

One of these two scenarios should be familiar. It starts when you’re born, continues through your college-level schooling and on into the workplace where you attend training programs. It’s often called “push” training because what you need to learn is pushed at you. It’s the default for how we learn almost everything.

In the second scenario, “pull” learning, you find the information—in any form and from any person—whenever you can locate, access and use it. You “pull” the specific knowledge and then move on to the next thing you need to do.

L&D Lives in Push Mode, The Rest of Us Are In Pull Mode

Someone else decides what they think employees should know, then designs, develops, and manages a classroom or online course or program delivery. It’s usually a scheduled event with a sage-on-the-stage. The model is traditional one-size-fits-all training, and sometimes, some effort is made to see if training improved performance.

This is Standard Operating Procedure for L&D. What I call the D4M2 model—Define, Design, Develop, Deliver, Manage and Measure—was developed around 100 years ago to help workers and companies meet Industrial Era employees’ needs. The old approach was often “you should pay attention because you may need to know this someday.” Unfortunately, if “someday” arrived more than 2 or 3 days after the training, everyone’s brains had already forgotten the new information.

When D4M2 was developed, the world wasn’t computerized or mobile. Things didn’t change at today’s frenzied pace. No one even imagined your job description. There was time to learn. That’s no longer true. So, we need to retire the model and metaphorically blow out 100 candles on the birthday cake.

In the pull model, you’re in charge of figuring out what you need to know and how to learn it. You’re a “self-learner.” The pull model relies on your personal motivation to learn—and it allows you to quickly respond to Knowledge Era needs. These needs make a critical difference in knowing how to do what needs to be done and doing it before your competitor does. When it comes to learning with the intent to apply on the job, motivation is not a problem for developers and other technical talent who often view learning as a key piece of their role; the pull model works just fine.

The question is: why continue to use the old push model?

It’s Time for a Change

A critical discussion is going on now about the future of learning professionals and providers, especially those course developers and instructional designers who work with SME’s and instructors who are the actual or virtual “sages on the stages.” These professionals are all wondering about their role in this changing dynamic.

The answer is simple. L&D, learning and development, needs to become C&P, curating and providing. Here’s how it works. Instead of all the D4M2 that goes into a training program, C&P understands the following six facts about self-learning:

  1. Too much information is floating around at any given time.
  2. There are multiple sources and ways to get information.
  3. There is a difference between facts/data/information and knowledge.
  4. Knowledge needs to be curated and focused on maximum accessibility and usability. Training programs should keep that in mind. Custom would be best.
  5. Knowledge needs to be made readily and easily available in multiple ways that suit talent needs. For instance, technical talent prefer classroom instruction with a strong lab component.
  6. Knowledge and performance must be connected and measured.

In the next article in this two-part series, I dig into each of the aforementioned barriers much deeper to illustrate what learning leaders must do to transform training.

David Grebow is an author, speaker and workshop leader who, with his co-author Stephen J. Gill, wrote the bestselling “Minds at Work: Managing for Success in the Knowledge Economy.”