How does the role of the L&D department need to change?

 [This article is adapted from two posts published on my own blog]

A year ago I tweeted this question:

Here are some of the responses I got back then

There were quite a few who thought that organisations couldn’t do without a Training/L&D department

“you definitely need a Dept or individual to drive a learning focus. Else getting things done always seems to take priority over spending time on learning and reflection … who else will design, create, sustain these systems and catalyze learning behaviour?” Vasanta Akondy

“Without the L&D department, a team is still needed to help make tacit knowledge explicit & available for the entire organization. Without L&D, a team is still needed to create/curate resources to interest & guide people to learn more, just in time & better. Without L&D, a systemic approach towards individual development & the transformation of the whole organization would be missing.” Monica Sulecio de A

But a number of people pointed out that most small companies don’t have a training/L&D department – so how do they survive?

“They either buy in expertise when needed or managers/staff identify & source” Simon Jones

“A small org I know have no L& D but all employees have a dev plan & 90min Mindgym sess’s organised ‘as required’.” Gina Chapman

So how would larger organisations survive without a L&D department? Many people thought that things would happen very differently ...

“what matters would get addressed. Anything else wouldn’t. learning design would disappear and performance design would replace it. Compliance would become a business practice rather than a training solution. I’ve seen/ COOs driving for efficiency identify knowledge gaps and close them on a large scale with no L&D involvement at all.” Peter Davis

“Some corporate history would be lost – which may be a good thing. Some compliance may be as well – which is not. The latter recovers.” John Bordeaux

“Removing the L&D function would liberate learning from the shackles of education. Bring on more informal and experiential learning!” Dave Haynes

“a return to on the job learning – apprentice and mentor relationships between colleagues” Gavin Hendrick

“Learning would continue, learners just adapt. Learning like OJT, knowledge sharing, coaching and mentoring would take center stage. Jecca

“People would find ways to learn. The formal capture of volumes of learning might fade, but often that’s patchy anyway.” Julie Dryboroguh

“We’d have to take responsibility ourselves. That would either make us (a direct improvement) or break us (indirect).” Hilary Gallo

“Every individual will be accountable for their personal development and performance improvement….” Sesan

“In some cases Lynda.com is the new L&D department” Natalie Lafferty

Learners will use the Internet for the teaching and learning resource it truly is and can be. #CriticalThinkingSkill required” Kecia J.Waddell, PhD

“recruiting for lifelong learning & with collective/ distributed responsibility for innovation and learning :-)” Rachel Hammel

“L&D dept motto – ‘striving for redundancy’ Help people develop the skills to be self directed learners” Helen van Ameyde

“People would interact, learn from one another & help each other as they have done since the beginning of time” Paul Duxbury

“If no T&D, managers, CEOs, execs, employees would have to take responsibility for continuous learning of organization.” Stephen Gill

  1. Organisations would get better at documenting or at the very least describing the standards and operational procedures that they required for their business
  2. Individuals would take personal accountability for their own success at work
  3. The workplace would be most favourable for the tasks that were performed there.
  4. Tasks would be simplified wherever possible, and supported by performance aids
  5. Managers would manage and provide workers with the skills, information, knowledge and environment they need in order to succeed
  6. It would be acknowledged that failure is an opportunity for the individual, the team and the organisation to learn and improve
  7. Team dynamics would strengthen and each person would be a stakeholder in, and contributor towards the success of one and all
  8. People would find a way to do things
  9. Lots of wasted time would be recovered!!
    Phil Green (by email)

“we could spend the money on architects (better collaborative spaces), chefs (team lunches) and fully-staffed IT concierge desks! Jonathan Marshall

Some believed a new type of L&D department would evolve ...

“Like natural evolution….. biz would “find a way”, “evolve” – also prob equally true that they may not even realise we’d gone!” Craig Taylor

“Perhaps nothing in the short term; may create space for something new to emerge.” Meg Peppin

“Learning would devolve to teams/individuals. They’d start to collaborate and a new L&D department would evolve made up of ppl from the ‘shopfloor’ with an interest/passion for helping others in the org learn and improve? Alistair Cockroft

“My thoughts are that if the Training/L&D department didn’t exist no organisation would create one in the image of most today. Alistair Cockcroft might be on the money – learning would devolve to teams/individuals, they’d start to collaborate and (possibly) some new form of (L&D)Compliance department would evolve (to deal with regulatory requirements). As it is LMSs have been developed in the image of L&D departments as Compliance Departments.” Charles Jennings

A couple of weeks ago I tweeted this question:

Commenting on the early results, Doug Shaw tweeted

Is the time up for the traditional L&D department? It is time for L&D to adopt a new role in the organisation? Here are some thoughts I’ve received already?

“Yes that’s the truth that L&D needs to accept and respect. And this means that L&D needs to have a deep understanding of business and an even deeper understanding of the art and science of learning, frameworks, tools & technology. Understand how can line managers learn efficiently and effectively and evolve as learning and performance consultants from being mere training providers.” Hemalakshmi

“Adopting a new role- or should I say take on a multitude of roles. At my company we have started- we are curators of information and resources, librarians, individual coaches, performance consultants, data analysts, onboarding ambassadors, with an occasional soft skill workshop and team building event thrown in and much much more. In fact our titles have changed from Sr Corporate Trainer to Talent Development Partner which we believe is more representative of the role we play.” JoanE Maddux

“To be clear, learners have become far more active in identifying what they need to do their jobs than they were 20 or 30 years ago. Effective L&D professionals actively work to understand those needs, and support their efforts. We always should have been focused on understanding their needs and lending aid to help them learn. Those who have done so can attest to the positive results as can the learners.” Don Angotti

What do you think? Is your own L&D department changing its role to reflect the reality of today’s employees addressing their own learning and performance needs?

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Jane Hart

Jane Hart helps organisations and learning professionals modernise their approaches to workplace learning - through public workshops and bespoke consultancy. She is the Editor of the Modern Workplace Learning Magazine, and is the author of a number of books including Learning in the Modern Workplace 2017 and How to become a Modern Professional Learner. You can contact Jane at Jane.Hart@C4LPT.co.uk.

5 Replies to “How does the role of the L&D department need to change?”

  1. I am in the process of mapping all the 20thC skills and their 21stC equivalents. This is skills not learning. The topic is vast and complex and requires learning curators and navigators to simplify the field. Internal L&D tends to get involved in Inductions & Technical skills for new recruits and frontline staff. They remain concerned with what to learn, not how to learn. Contrary to popular belief by people who are confident learning curators and navigators, what to learn remains important in teaching people how to become confident learning curators & navigators as it is key to start where people are at, not where we think they should be. Organisations however need to start to think about how to create a shift to 21stC skills, meaning inviting in people who understand the possibilities technology brings and who understand the future of work & learning.

    1. Thanks. As you say mobile learning is very common nowadays, but I don’t believe it is changing the L&D role – since this is just another way of enhancing training. L&D’s role is now moving from knowledge transfer (training) to supporting self-organised learning – which is a fundamentally different role.

  2. Hi Jane,
    Thank you for your inspiring disucussion. I’m in a L&D dealing with training teachers to go happily onboard a LMS. You mention L&D’s new role is to support self-organised learning. Is that about the employees individual need and skills? In stead of that any employees should attend the same course for upgrading their skills?

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