The case for the new role of a Modern Learning Advisor

“The biggest innovation in workplace learning will not come from new technology but from supporting people to learn continuously
and to manage their own learning.”
Jane Hart, 2017

In a number of previous articles in the MWL Magazine, I have explained how modern professionals now recognise that they learn in many different ways at, through and for work.

The standard approach of a L&D department is to design and deliver learning interventions to and manage employee learning CENTRALLY in some sort of learning platform,  e.g. a LMS to manage courses, or more recently in a Learning Experience platform to manage use of other types of content and interactions.

Standard roles for this L&D work include course designers, developers, trainers, and LMS administrators. However, whilst the work of these standard roles is currently being modernised: e.g. Instructional Designers have become i LX designers, and trainers have become facilitators, fundamentally their work is the same as it has always been – designing, delivering and managing learning.

But this standard approach  is no longer enough in the modern workplace, there is now need for a more modern approach of enabling and supporting learning, where individuals manage their own self-improvement and self-development.  This new approach requires a new role: a Modern Learning Advisor.

What is the rationale for this modern approach and new role? Here are 6 good reasons:

  1. L&D can’t create everything everyone needs to do their jobs. As it is, individuals are already doing things for themselves and by-passing L&D, so it is time to make a virtue of this fact, and encourage individuals to take responsibility for their own continuous self-improvement and self-development.
  2. It is no longer appropriate for L&D’s focus to be just about developing content, making sure that employees learn from it and tracking their every move, but rather it needs to be about helping them develop modern learning skills so that every employee can become self-reliant and self-sufficient, and make the most of, and learn from all kinds of experiences and opportunities.
  3. One size doesn’t fit all, even if it using the latest technology trend (whether it be video or VR)!  It’s more about helping individuals identify what they need to self-improve and/or self-development and how they might do this in the most appropriate format or way for them.
  4. L&D can’t possibly manage everything everyone learns centrally. As it is,  a lot of what people learn (naturally) happens without them even realising it, and in most cases, they don’t want to record things on an enterprise platform.  So what they need is to  to reflect on, record and manage their own learning and achievements themselves – using their (self-selected) tools so that they own their own learning – and in such a way that they can demonstrate their achievements to current or future employers.
  5. But in fact, taking a greater interest in employees as individuals – with individual needs and preferences – and helping them to prepare for their own futures, they are more likely to stay in the organisation than seek employment elsewhere.
  6. Furthermore, by taking on this new role, a L&D department moves from being a “course order-taking” unit, to providing a more relevant service for the modern workplace.

But it is not  either/or approach.  It’s NOT either the traditional approach or the modern approach. There is room for both approaches, particularly there will still be a need for the design and management of essential (e.g. compliance, and regulatory) training. However,  introducing the new work of a Modern Learning Advisor, will mean that there are many more opportunities to help individuals learn in the modern workplace.

Are you interested on taking on the role of a Modern Learning Advisor? If so, it requires a new mindset, new skills and new work from the standard L&D roles.

New mindset

The role of the Modern Learning Advisor is about building and supporting self-reliant and self-sufficient modern professionals who make the most of, and learn from all kinds of experiences and opportunities to self-improve and self-develop. It’s not about designing, delivering or managing learning for them.

New skills

The Modern Learning Advisor will need to be someone who can “walk the talk” and demonstrate what it means to be a modern professional learner (MPL).  He/she will

  • have established a habit of continuous learning,  and learn something new every day
  • make the most of (and learn from) everyday work experiences – through problem-solving, interactions with their own manager, and their own team
  • manage their own self-development
  • have grown their own professional network
  • continuously keep up to date with their industry or profession in many different ways

Want some help? Our 30 Day Learning Challenges are a good way to hone your skills in these areas.

New  work

The work of the Modern Learning Advisor will be to:

  • change mindsets, and prepare both individuals and managers for modern professional learning
  • help managers enable and support modern professional learning
  • help individuals acquire (or hone) modern skills for learning on the Web
  • help individuals make the most of, and learn from their daily work
  • help individuals manage their own professional development

Want some help with this? Our upcoming workshop, Supporting Continuous Independent Learning Workshop looks at these aspects of the work of the MLA. Furthermore,  participants on the Workshop will also become a member of our new Modern Learning Advisor Network where they will be able to support one another as they take on their roles in their organisations.

Who supports non-designed learning experiences?

In past articles I have showed that modern professionals learn from a multitude of sources.

and in a multitude ways

They learn

  • for today – to improve in their current jobs
  • for tomorrow – to prepare for future jobs

But the KEY point is that they learn from both

  • designed learning experiences (aka training and education) and
  • non-designed learning experiences – in fact 80%+ of how people learn happens in non-designed ways.

Most L&D efforts are focused on designed learning experiences. Instructional designers and content developers design and develop these experiences, trainers/facilitators help to deliver them, and others (try to) manage them in their learning platforms or LMS.

But who supports  the non-designed learning experiences? They clearly don’t need to be designed or developed. Nor do they need to be managed in a learning platform or LMS.  They simply need to be encouraged and enabled.

It seems that many (in L&D and elsewhere) are not interested in non-designed learning experiences – often believing  they are of little value compared to those that have been designed for people. Or if they are, they want employees to record their experiences  in their enterprise learning platform/LMS so they can manage them centrally –  an impossible task, as it happens, and also one that is not appropriate or relevant in today’s world.

Rather individuals (and their managers) need to be encouraged to value these experiences, and be enabled and supported to take responsibility and ownership for learning in these ways.  It therefore requires a completely new role to help do this. Enter the Modern Learning Advisor  – someone whose role and skills are very different from traditional L&D roles. So what does this role entail? I’ll be exploring this topic in future articles over the summer.

But in the meantime, if you haven’t  got anyone to take on this new role, and want to encourage, enable and support your people to get the most out of their non-designed learning experiences, then our 30 Day Learning Challenges might help.

Designing, delivering and managing modern learning experiences

In previous articles I have talked about how my ongoing Top 100 Tools for Learning survey shows how individuals are learning in new ways – particularly on the Web – using a wide range of tools, for example

  • by using Google and YouTube to solve their own learning and performance problems
  • by using social networks like Twitter and LinkedIn to build their own professional network (aka personal learning network)
  • by using messaging apps on their smartphones like WhatsApp to connect with colleagues and groups
  • by using Twitter to participate in conference backchannels and live chats
  • by using Feedly to aggregate the blog posts and news feeds they subscribe to which provides them with a daily flow of information
  • by subscribing to services like Highbrow to provide them with a short daily lesson.
  • by participating in online courses (or MOOCs) on platforms like Coursera, edX and FutureLearn

What is clear about the way people learn on the Web is that is very different to the way they learn in traditional training, ie it

  • is on demand and continuous – rather than intermittent events
  • takes place in short bursts (minutes) – rather than long periods (hours, days, etc)
  • it mostly happens nowadays on mobile devices (smart phones and tablets) rather than on desktop machines
  • it is highly social  (interacting with people) – rather than just consuming content
  • it is a personal experience, selected by the individual concerned – rather than being a one-size-fits-all experience, designed by someone else (eg L&D)
  • it is autonomous (self-directed, self-organised and self-managed), in that the individual choses what, how and when he or she accesses, interacts and/ learns –  rather than one that has been directed by someone else (eg L&D), who (tries to) manage the individual’s learning for them.

In other articles here I have written about the new work of L&D that is about supporting modern professional learning, as I call it. But here I want to consider what it means for the design, delivery and management of organised and managed learning experiences –  because this will of course still be required.  In other words, what it means to modernise training. I believe there are 5 aspects to this and, in brief, it means

  1. Modernising classroom training experiences – so they become interactive and collaborative, technology-friendly events.
  2. Modernising online learning experiences – so that content is no longer about pressing the Next button to move to the next slide, but about creating content in more modern and appealing formats, and (where appropriate) guiding social learning experiences.
  3. Modernising assessment and learning management – so it is no longer about attendance, participation or completion – but about achieving performance outcomes using real-world methods and activities.
  4. Modernising learning support – so that participants are offered are range of different mechanisms that they can tap into to help them before, during and after the training.
  5. Modernising a blended programme – so that it provides a more flexible programme that allows the individual to be guided but not constrained to the resources and activities on offer.

This is just an overview of what it means to modernise training, if you would like to take part in a 6-week online workshop to find out more, to try out new tools and discuss the practicalities with others, click here to sign up to our SUMMER WORKSHOP: MODERNISING TRAINING running Monday 10 July – 18 August.  There are no synchronous activities, so the online workshop is suitable for any time-zone, and means if you have some holiday booked in that time you can easily catch up.

Jane’s Personal Top 10 Tools for Learning in 2017

My 2017 (11th annual) survey of Top tools for Learning is open for voting here, and there have already been a few hundred entries, so I thought I’d share  my personal top 10 tools for this year. If you’d like to share your own 10 favourite learning tools here, then please send them to me at and I’ll collate them into some follow-up articles.

TWITTER is still the place where I can quickly and easily keep up with what’s happening in the world – and in particular what others are up to with their ideas and activities   around workplace learning. But I do prefer to use TWEETDECK rather than the web interface – since it’s so easy to set up different columns for my news feed, mentions, hashtags I follow, etc. This makes it much easier for me to get the overall picture of what’s happening in the moment. It’s still  the first place I turn to in the morning.

I also couldn’t do without FEEDLY – my RSS reader – where I aggregate well over 300 blog and website feeds. So this as another way important way for me to keep up to date with new ideas and thinking in workplace technology, the future of work, and other related topics.

WORDPRESS is the platform I use for all my websites – Centre for Learning & Performance Technologies, my blog, Centre for Modern Workplace Learning, the MWL Magazine and 30 Day Learning Challenges. WordPress is a very powerful web publishing too and I have my own WordPress installations which I enhance with the use of a large number of 3rd party plugins . I also make good use of PIXABAY’s image library.

I use YAMMER to host the online workshops I run, since, for me, it is all about facilitating and guiding a social learning experience.  And I also want to show the workshop participants how valuable a platform it can be to underpin both informal social learning as well as formal (guided) social learning in their own organisations.

I am now making increasing use of ZOOM for video meetings, as it is really good to be able to see so many people’s live videos in one place – rather than just a list of names in a webinar tool. Whilst WHATSAPP has become my key communication tool with individuals and groups.

Recently I have become attached to a new web browser, VIVALDI as I like a number of the features that make it stand out from other browsers. If you don’t know Vivaldi, take a look at 9 reasons to switch to Vivaldi browser today.

Finally, I’m still in love with my APPLE WATCH!  People often ask me what it is about it that I like so much, and I say it is not just one thing – it is all the little things that make it a very useful productivity tool for me – reminders, alerts, notifications and so on.


Building Modern Professional Learning skills through 30 Day Learning Challenges

In the modern workplace every employee needs to take responsibility for their own self-improvement; there is no longer such as a job for life so everyone will constantly need to think about not just improving in their current job but preparing for a future job too.

So how can we help individuals become self-reliant, self-organised and self-managed? In other words, how can we help them build the new skills they will need to survive and thrive in the modern workplace?  Furthermore, how can you hone your own skills too – in order to be best placed to help your people?

One way  is through 30 Day Learning Challenges.

It is said that it takes 30 days to establish a new habit, so our 30 Day Learning Challenges are intended to help  kick-start modern learning habits that will last a lifetime. In other words, every day for 30 days there is a short task  to help participants build the new habit.

Our first five Learning Challenges have now been announced, and they are as follows. Click through the links below to find out more.

  1. Learn something new every day – This Challenge will help you build a habit of learning something new every day.  Your goal is to find a number of useful sources that will inspire you to continue to learn something new after the Challenge ends.
  2. Get the most out of your day job – This Challenge will help you get the most out of your day job so that you can benefit from your everyday work activities. Your goal is to develop a number of new approaches to learn from your daily work experiences that you will be able to continue after the Challenge ends.
  3. Manage your own self-development – This Challenge will help you develop the habit of organising and managing your own self-development. Your goal is to get started on a process for continuing professional self development that you will continue after the Challenge ends.
  4. Enhance your professional network – This Challenge will help you build from scratch and/or enhance your existing professional network. Your goal is to build a process for enhancing your own professional network that will continue after the Challenge ends.
  5. Keep up to date with your industry or profession – This Challenge will focus on a variety of other ways to help you keep yourself up to date in your industry or profession. Your goal is to identify a number of approaches and tools that will allow you to continuously keep up to date with your industry or profession after the Challenge ends.

Who’s responsible for Modern Workplace Learning? We all are!

Workplace Learning has traditionally been seen as the sole responsibility of Training/L&D departments, but in the modern workplace we are all responsible. Here I look at the roles of the individual/employee, the manager and the L&D department.


In the modern workplace every employee needs to take responsibility for their own self-improvement; there is no longer such as a job for life so everyone will constantly need to think about not just improving in their current job, but preparing for a future job.  This means

  • Getting the most out of (and learning from) their daily work experiences
  • Organising and managing their own self-development
  • Learning something new every day
  • Keeping up to date with their industry or profession
  • Building a professional network
  • Choosing and using a mentor


Every manager need to take responsibility for nurturing their team members, so that they can learn for themselves and with one another. This means

  • Encouraging and supporting a continuous learning mindset in their people so they don’t rely on being spoonfed training
  • Being a coach more than a boss in order to develop people
  • Building a social team and leading informal social learning and social collaboration
  • Facilitating collaborative problem solving

L&D Teams

L&D’s role in the modern workplace now becomes one of supporting managers and individuals in the modern workplace, rather than focusing on design and delivery of training. This means

  • Supporting managers
    • as they promote a continuous learning mindset in their people and encourage learnability and self-reliance
    • as they develop their people
    • as they build and lead social teams so that effective sharing of knowledge and experiences takes place
    • as they help their teams to find their own solutions to their performance problems – and supporting the development of any learning solutions or performance support resources (producing only what is required and needed in the format that is desired)
  • Supporting employees
    • to acquire a modern professional learning mindset and the necessary skills in order to become self-reliant, self-directed and self-managed continuous learners in the workplace
    • to connect with one another across the organisation in order to share and learn from one another, and find their own mentors

New role and skills for L&D

So how can L&D teams prepare themselves for modern workplace learning?

Currently most of the products and services directed at L&D are focused on helping them organise and manage training/e-learning initiatives – through technology, content development and outsourced training. That is, after all, what the whole L&D industry has been set up to do.

But to survive and thrive in the modern workplace, L&D teams will need to re-skill themselves to take on the new work of supporting managers and modern employees. So for every learning professional and team this involves 3 key steps.

  1. Building your own modern professional skills.  You can’t help others until you have the skills yourself.  To help you we have designed a series of 30 day learning challenges to help you kick-start modern learning habits that will last a lifetime. These challenges can be offered directly to your people too.
  2. Becoming a social team. This means sharing experiences with one another in your L&D team so that you work closely together, grow together and solve your problems together – and in doing so become role models for the new social behaviours in your organisation. You might start this process by working together on the 30 day learning challenges, and this might be a way for you to encourage other teams to start working (and learning) together too.
  3. Designing the new services that your team will offer to the business – This means considering a range of new services so that you can support all the ways people are learning at, through and for work – not just by designing and delivering training. Our online workshop, Supporting Learning in the Modern Workplace can help you think this through.

In the modern workplace, everyone is responsible for learning and development, but this doesn’t mean the role of L&D will diminish but rather it will become even more important than before, and has the potential to become a driving force for change. But it does mean leaving behind old mindsets, old tools and old behaviours. That is the biggest challenge.

I am Bailey. I am a Modern Professional Learner.

Meet Bailey, a Modern Professional Learner.
This slideset looks at how she wants to learn at work.

How can you support her in the modern workplace?You’ll find some suggestions in the slideset below. too.

Building digital confidence at Cancer Research UK

(This article first appeared on the CR Digital Team blog)

Back in wintry January we wrote about how we’re building the digital skills and knowledge of people at CRUK through our hub and spoke model. We’re doing this to become a more digital organisation and to keep moving towards 3 in 4 people surviving cancer by 2034.

When our digital team works with another team at CRUK in a ‘spoke’, we help them deliver a digital outcome. Like increase their digital presence or the performance of their pages.  And just as importantly we help them learn new digital skills and ways of working. This way we’re developing our staff and becoming a more digital organisation at the same time.

But we haven’t stopped there. We’ve provided lots of other ways for people to build their digital skills and confidence.

Digital Talent Development

Through our Digital Champions scheme, we’re giving more digital responsibility to teams across the charity. Following some introductory awareness building workshops with each of our digital Practice Leads (UX, Agile, content, SEO, analytics, production and proposition management), we’ve matched each of our 16 champions with a digital mentor. The mentors help the champions work out an individual digital personal development plan. And offer face to face training to build their confidence.

Senior marketers can attend our Modern Marketing Academy. Over 8 weekly sessions we’ve challenged our marketers to diversify their channels and test more ideas. We’ve used internal and external inspiration. Including a trip to our UX lab to observe some live usability testing, a speed meeting session with a range of media owners and an analytics and measurement workshop with the help of our in house analytics team. And we saw a big increase in participants’ confidence levels. The group reported a commitment to making a change in their area of responsibility of 4.7/5. And they’ve made some important changes. Like setting digital development objectives, building test and learn strategies and introducing UX tools for marketing.

We also run a regular programme of training on everything from agile to UX. We support this with twice weekly ‘Digital Hour’ drop-in sessions. Anyone can come and chat to a generalist producer or a specialist in content, SEO, agile, UX or analytics. It’s working well as a training refresher, a way to get advice on a new idea or a way to get a quick digital task done to a high standard.

Some success stories

Many of the talented people whose digital skills we’ve helped build are creating real change. Several teams have reviewed their structures to make digital more prominent. And to encourage more innovative, ‘test and learn’ ways of working. A member of our internal communications team, Joe, learnt lots about digital while on a spoke. His team have now reshaped his role to make the most of his new skills. He’ll now be leading a review of all of our internal digital platforms and developing a strategy to ensure we’re gaining maximum value from them.

Freya, in our research innovation team, has also been on a spoke. Her team recognised the need to retain and challenge her, to harness her new digital skill and awareness. She’s recently gained a Head role, from which she can encourage digital ideas and ways of working.

Our goal? 3 in 4…

Our digital talent development strategy allows people to get things done quicker and with less support from digital. We’re building the digital capability of our great people so that we can move at pace and make sure that we reach 3 in 4 people surviving cancer by 2034.

A Blueprint for Supporting Modern Professional Learning: Part 3 (A 5-Step Plan to Move Forward)

This is the third of a 3-part series looking at how to support Modern Professional Learners. In Part I looked at why the current L&D (training/knowledge transfer) model is no longer appropriate and why a new model (or blueprint)  is necessary. In Part 2 I provided an overview of the model. In this part I want to look at how you (in L&D) can help to move your organisation forward.

The MPL Support Model is not an add-on to the Knowledge Transfer model; it is a new way of thinking about L&D’s role in the organisation. Let me remind you about the key differences in the comparison table below.

Traditional Training/Knowledge Transfer Model Modern Professional Learning Support Model
  1. L&D is responsible for all training
  2. Focus on developing capabilities to meet organisational needs
  3. L&D knows best what is to be learned – and how to learn it
  4. Standardised – one-size-fits-all – approach
  5. Very little flexibility
  6. Training centrally managed (in a LMS)
  1. Everyone responsible for workplace learning
  2. Personalisation and autonomy are key.
  3. Individual organises/manages own learning  (in an e-portfolio) – the individual knows best
  4. L&D focuses on supporting employees, managers and teams
  5. L&D designs/delivers/manages modern learning interventions where required

This new model therefore requires a completely new organisational mindset about what workplace learning is all about and the role of L&D (and others within it).  In other words workplace learning …

  • is NOT all  about L&D designing/delivering/managing learning interventions FOR employees to learn from
  • it IS more about enabling and supporting  employees  to learn continuously for and by themselves  – for, at and through work  –  and to take responsibility for their own self-improvement both to do their jobs (better) as well as to prepare themselves for the future.

Here is the 5 Step Plan for L&D to move forward.

For L&D professionals this model no longer means TELLING others what do and how to do it but rather they need to live and breathe this new mindset and way of working  by adopting a modern professional learning approach themselves. This is imperative as they will need  to role model the approach; it won’t be a matter of do as I say, but do as do. There are a number of elements of modern professional learning:

  • understanding the rationale for modern professional learning (and the WIIFM)
  • building a personal learning toolkit, setting up a personal learning space and a personally owned digital portfolio
  • learning from, and making the most of daily work experiences
  • addressing performance problems at work
  • keeping up to date with one’s industry or profession
  • setting and managing  one’s own professional goals, documenting progress and evidencing performance

[ONE:  Sign up for our 30 Day Learning Challenges to kick-start modern learning habits that will last a lifetime]

The L&D team needs to become a social team, sharing their knowledge and experiences effectively (using appropriate social tools). This  will be key as the team will need to be able to build and support other teams in their organisation, once again by role-modelling the way their own team members support (and learn from) one another.

The L&D team needs to work together to decide how they want to help both managers and employees with this new approach to workplace learning. This will then help to identify what new services you will offer, what new roles are required in the team as well as what new skills are required. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to this; each L&D team will operate differently within their organisation.

[THREE: If you would like some help thinking through the implications of this new approach for your L&D team, we offer an online workshop to help you consider the different types of services and activities you might offer and help you put together a plan to move forward in your organisation. This workshop is available as a scheduled public workshop or privately on demand for your own team ]

The L&D team might well start  of with an Awareness Campaign helping senior managers,  line managers, and employees understand why this model is more appropriate for the organisation and for employees, as well as the new role L&D will play in it.  An Awareness Campaign will likely comprise of a number of forms and format – from one-to-one and group sessions to new pieces of explanatory content in different formats – each designed to reinforce the message by tapping into individual motivations.

[FOUR: As part of a private workshop (described in THREE above), we can also help you design an Awareness Campaign that will provide the appropriate messaging for your organisation. Otherwise, our public Modern Training workshop provides some ideas and guidance for doing this.]

Rather than implementing this new model using a top-down approach , it will be better to work bottom-up with (a) interested managers and their teams, as well as (b) interested individuals who want to take advantage of new ways of self-improvement for both their current jobs as well as their future career, but who don’t yet have a manager committed to this new approach.

[FIVE: We can provide ongoing support/mentorship as you help your organisation adopt this new approach to learning in the workplace. Find out more here.]

Final Note: the adoption and implementation of the MPL Support Model will probably take place over  a period of time (dependent on your organisation) so you will be likely to also need to continue in parallel with a Design & Delivery (knowledge transfer) model for some parts of your organisation that are not yet ready to change their mindset about how workplace learning takes place.