Best Practices

The Learning Function Has Become Invisible

Invisible learning leaders focus more on curation and context, building an always-on learning environment, and becoming experts at embedding learning into work.

co_1107_bestpractices_302Over the past few decades the world of corporate training has radically changed. In the 1920s and 1930s, we put training in the managers’ hands. This meant managers had to roll up their sleeves, show people how to do their jobs, and give them ongoing support.

During World War II, the need to recruit millions of people into the U.S. Army led to the growth of skills testing, competency evaluation, and later formal instructional design. In 1954 B.F. Skinner wrote some of the first books on training, promoting the idea of small learning steps, questions and answers, and the ADDIE model to build high-fidelity training programs.

During the 1980s and 1990s, as conglomerates grew, corporate universities became popular, driven by the desire to industrialize and standardize skills. When I went to work at IBM in 1982, I had the opportunity to go through an entire year of training on all areas of technology, software, business and sales. Companies built industrial-strength learning departments, staffed by professional designers and instructors around the world. We took learning “out of work” and put it into a professional function in business.

In the early 2000s this was suddenly disrupted. E-learning began, and the L&D profession spent a decade trying to replace instructor-led training with a variety of online programs. This shift created the emergence of a $4 billion-plus LMS market, development of tens of thousands of online courses, content development tool growth, and the emergence of blended learning models, social learning models, and tools for simulations, virtual classrooms and learning analytics. The L&D profession became even more professionalized, and we all became web-based instructional designers and experts in learning solution design.

Over the past decade another disruption has occurred. As search engines and the internet grew in power, people realized they could search on the internet for the help they needed, and we suddenly realized that high fidelity instruction was not always what people wanted. Online video growth exploded, and we found that employees could bypass the L&D team and find some amazingly useful videos authored by global experts. L&D became nervous, but we pushed ahead and tried to build better content to keep people interested in our programs.

Today the shift toward employee-centric learning is exploding. MOOCs, video learning platforms, online university degrees, and thousands of consumer learning offerings give people the ability to find high-fidelity learning all over the internet, raising employee expectations for the learning experience.

While this evolution has occurred, companies have grown more concerned about the rapid skills obsolescence in their workforce. We all know the shelf-life for skills is shortening and increasingly large companies are helping employees invest in a continuous learning environment. Employees now demand skills development at work because they know that the learning curve is the earning curve. Responding to this need, companies are trying to give employees curated content libraries, buying new tools for curation and content recommendation, and using design thinking to embed learning into the work flow.

This has been hard on the L&D profession. Our research shows that traditional L&D organizations are 400 percent “less capable” of meeting their companies needs than they were in 2014, leading us to seriously ask: What in the world is happening to L&D?

After decades building L&D into a professional function to develop learning, L&D is becoming invisible. By invisible we don’t mean it’s going away, in fact quite the opposite. L&D is becoming ever more important, not as a place to go but as a service behind the scenes.

As Dani Johnson describes in her blog, invisible L&D focuses more on curation and context, building an always-on learning environment in the organization, and becoming experts at embedding learning into work.

Specifically, it means moving from creating to enabling learning, from programmatic to systemic learning, and from event-based to in-the-flow-of-work learning. Instructional design has not gone away, but the way we deliver our solutions has changed.

The world of corporate learning is a dynamic, technology-driven place. In the new world of “always learning,” video and instant access to content, we should think about ourselves as invisible but always present, helping everyone learn every day.

Josh Bersin is founder of Bersin, now known as Bersin by Deloitte, and a principal with Deloitte Consulting LLP. He can be reached at editor@CLOmedia.com.

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