Today’s learning and development professional bears little resemblance to the trainer from even 10 years ago. For in-house L&D pros, the days of spending hours researching, creating booklets, handouts and end-of-the course tests are over. Waiting for training sessions to come to town, hoping to get managers enrolled before the course was filled, then dutifully placing each “Certificate of Completion” in personnel files (hoping that would prevent liability) are things of the past.
L&D now sources content that is already prepared (typically by subject matter experts), curates materials and tracks completion and future plans. They work with management to address needs, focusing on materials to bridge skill gaps, with a critical eye on what will be needed in the short and long term.
The future appears bright for the profession; a majority of L&D specialists report they’re optimistic for the future of their work. Mimeo’s State of Learning and Development report for 2018 reveals 73% of L&D professionals believe that no training roles will disappear in the next five years — and technology may be fueling that optimism. While more than one-third of pros are on a team with fewer than three people, more than half use an LMS to manage learning.
In the fourth industrial revolution, almost every business is becoming an environment of continuous learning and growth. Mandatory compliance training (yesterday’s must-have) is just the tip of the iceberg; upskilling employees is just as mission-critical. Soft skill training is coming of age, where leadership, communication, innovation and more are emphasized.
“Corporate Learning & Development is experiencing a watershed moment.” Preston Clark, president of conduct and culture at EVERFI, told HR Dive in an email. “What we’re seeing is the rise of the Citizen CEO — and the executive sponsorship of major educational initiatives from unconscious bias programs to company-wide harassment prevention training.”
All-day training drudgery is giving way to short bursts of on-demand learning. When learning is both needed and accessible, retention rises. An unexpected bonus, when employees are successful with training that meets their immediate needs, they may be more likely to seek out training for future growth.
“As organizations look for more opportunities to help uplevel and prepare their employees,” Summer Salomonsen, chief learning officer at Grovo, told HR Dive in an email, “learning as a function is becoming more proactive and strategic, rather than reactive and check-the-box.” This is creating an increasingly complex but important role for L&D professionals, who are now becoming strategic partners in the growth of their organizations, she added.
The new paradigm for L&D concentrates on immersive, experiential learning; learning that’s spaced to speed growth and retention; blended learning; and content delivered in a variety of means to meet the personalized needs of the learner. We see L&D overseeing self-directed learning, mentoring managers to become partners in employee growth. All with results in mind, which can include satisfied and knowledgeable staff, as well as measurable outcomes and a good return on investment.
Lifelong learners: Looking proactively
When training is relevant and impactful, learners become "citizen CEOs" — leaders in their own development. Demand for knowledge appears at a peak. Employees know they have to adapt to a changing environment and they’re proactively seeking out training to keep them ahead of the curve.
L&D must be closely aligned with the organization, looking forward to where the organization is headed and what that means for employees, Salomonsen said: “Ultimately, this means the practitioner must work proactively to supply the necessary learning path for the organization’s people.”
In addition to content, they’re demanding delivery in ways never before considered. Virtual and augmented reality platforms are becoming widespread, providing information in real time in a way that, sometimes, can literally save lives. Mobile learning gives access to those who were, in the past, out of reach.
An almost endless variety of learning platforms and MOOCs, with thousands of prepared courses, brought corporate learning spend to $350 billion in 2017. It’s anticipated to grow almost 10% in just the next four years, with much speculation about who will enter the growing space next. And beyond what can be prepackaged, L&D is creating its own content, including applications that allow managers to create expert videos to share at will.
“L&D professionals are learners too and the future requires that we continue to learn — that’s exciting.” Elaine Biech, president and managing principal of ebb associates inc, told HR Dive in an email.
Put yourself in the shoes of learners, Salomonsen advised, “remembering the fundamentals of our craft and experiencing new content as they do.”
“To be the best strategic partners we can be, L&D professionals must learn to practice what we preach,” she said. Learn alongside others in the profession, sharing and asking for help. “This is how we will become a trusted advisor and strategic partner.”
Tomorrow and beyond
As more companies recognize that change may be the only constant for business to succeed, the L&D profession will continue to grow. The future may require specialization in the field, with some focused on compliance, others on job-critical tasks and yet others on soft skills.
The future is already here, Biech said: “We need to be open to new job titles such as an 'experience designer,' new roles such as a corporate curator, and new delivery methods that are available on demand.”
Where trends and technology will take the industry is hard to predict. Will AI and chatbots take a leading role in delivery? Will big data drive content development and distribution?
“More than just professional development, the role of Learning & Development is quickly expanding to corporate conduct and culture,” Clark said.
Will L&D’s foray into corporate culture training earn it a seat at the boardroom table? In a recent study by ATD, almost 90% organizations report that the talent development leader’s role is expanding beyond the role of learning and development. “It’s exciting and challenging,” Biech said, “for talent development professionals to see their role expand to become a trusted advisor to the C-suite.”