The role of L&D in 2018

I am frequently asked for my thoughts on the role of L&D in the future. Here is my take on the important work required for the short-term future.


The work of the Learning & Development Department (aka Training Department) has been evolving over the last 20 years, and has moved through a number of identifiable stages.

The original approach to workplace learning was to take people away from their day job and train them in a separate classroom – just like at school (Stage 1).  However,  with the birth of the Web in the early 1990’s we saw the emergence of web-based learning, and at the time of the dot com boom in 2000, the first use of the term e-learning appeared (Stage 2).  For many organisations this meant packaging up their classroom PowerPoint training materials into online courses, and managing it all in an LMS.  However, as it became apparent that individuals were unhappy about sitting at their desks ploughing their way through screen after screen of e-learning, many opted for a mix of training formats and media, resulting in a  blended learning approach (Stage 3). With the rise of social networks and the evolution of the Web into the Social Web, many have now introduced social media into their online courses, and adopted a formal social learning approach to their training (Stage 4).

However, others have recognised  that the real social learning in the workplace takes place as employees share their knowledge and experiences with one another as part of daily work, and this marks a significant tipping point in the understanding of workplace learning, that takes us into Stage 5 (modern workplace learning). This stage is identified not by a new set of tools to design, deliver and manage training,  but a change in the mindset about how learning happens at work and the new role of L&D in it.  This change has been influenced by a number of factors including changing learning habits and the changing world of work.

Changing learning habits

It is very clear from my own research around the Top Tools for Learning survey that many individuals have now become Modern Professional Learners.  They are not just using a much wider range of tools to learn, but they also learn in many different places: on the job, outside work, as well as in formal education and training, and in many different ways: through different types of content, events, people and experiences, as the chart below shows.What is more, it is also clear that many individuals find more value in their own continuous, self-organised learning activities (like daily work experiences, knowledge sharing with teams as well as through web resources) rather than in intermittent, organised training or e-learning initiatives.

The response to this fact is often that training and e-learning need to be improved. Of course, companies do have a responsibility to provide training and opportunities for organisational learning, and there is a lot that can be done to modernise learning initiatives, in order to offer relevant, flexible and appropriate learning experiences for today’s workforce – through the creation or curation of modern learning experiences (as highlighted on the image below).Changing world of work

It is for this reason that I offer the 7-week online workshop: Designing, Delivering and Managing Modern Learning Experiences for the Workplace which considers the following:

  1. Modern design (and assessment) processes
  2. Modern classroom experiences
  3. Modern content design
  4. Modern experiential learning
  5. Modern social learning
  6. Modern learning campaigns
  7. Modern learning management and learner support

You can sign up HERE.

However, focusing on the design and delivery of new learning experiences is no longer enough in the modern workplace. The world of work is changing fast.

  • The fast pace of change means that jobs are changing rapidly and new skills are required to execute them.
  • Information is exploding at a phenomenal rate, and knowledge now has a very short shelf-life.
  • Individuals are also living longer, so the traditional “job for life“ model has disappeared; people now have “a life of jobs”.

All this means L&D is no longer in a position to provide everything everyone needs to do their jobs and keep up with the changing workplace; they actually need individuals to take on (more) responsibility of learning for themselves.

But it’s not about directing people to be self-directed! It’s not about curating lots of resources and saying: “Here you are, get on with it!”

It’s about building a new organisational learning mindset that empowers, enables and supports modern professional learners. One where managers are responsible for the growth of their team members, and individuals are responsible for their own self-improvement and self-development.

To do this, L&D departments will need to offer a broader service that includes encouraging, enabling, guiding, facilitating and supporting all the ways people learn at, for and through work. Although some might question why companies should help individuals to prepare for their own futures, doing so actually not only means they are more likely to stay in the organisation, but is also a win-win since both organisation and individual benefit from the new knowledge, skills and experience gained.

In fact, some organisation now value “learning agility” or “learnability” – which is defined as the capacity to keep learning and developing new skills and expertise, even if they are not obviously linked to one’s current job – rather than just competency.

In a Harvard Business review article, It’s the company’s job to help people learn, Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic and Mara Swan make the following three recommendations for managers to foster learnability in the workplace:

  • Recruit for it: Focus on recruiting employees who are curious and inquisitive and who are genuinely interested in acquiring new knowledge.
  • Nurture it:  Encourage the behavior by doing it yourselves.
  • Reward it. It is not enough to hire curious people and hope they display  learnability. You need to reward them for doing so.

Although for many people, being “curious and inquisitive and genuinely interested in acquiring new knowledge” is a natural part of who they are, there are others who think that workplace learning is all about being trained. So, the first step will involve L&D preparing the ground and helping both managers and employees acquire this new learning mindset. It will then mean enabling and supporting independent, continuous modern professional learning in a number of new ways:

This new approach is very different work from the traditional design/deliver/manage L&D roles, and necessitates a new role that I call a Modern Learning Advisor, whose work is to build and support self-reliant and self-sufficient modern professionals to make the most of, and learn from all kinds of experiences and opportunities to self-improve and self-develop.

For this reason, I offer the 7-week online workshop: Supporting Continuous Independent Learning in the Workplace which considers the following:

  1. Changing mindsets: Preparing individuals and managers for continuous independent learning
  2. Helping managers enable and support continuous independent learning
  3. Helping individuals learn from their daily work
  4. Helping individuals acquire (or hone) the skills of learning on the Web
  5. Helping individuals provide structure to their planned learning by managing their own professional development
  6. Helping individuals to share what they learn in their teams and across the organisation
  7. Putting in place a Learning Concierge/Help Desk service for ongoing support.

You can sign up HERE.

[Note; Individuals who take on the role of a Modern Learning Advisor will also need to be efficient modern professional learners themselves so they can role model the new behaviours and approaches. Hence the How to Become a Modern Professional Learner e-book is suitable for everyone.]

Those organizations already operating in Stage 5 (modern workplace learning) understand that although formal training will continue to be a necessary part of workplace learning, it is more important in today’s fast-moving workplace to support the continuous learning and performance improvement of teams and individuals. This is what will really make the difference to how the organisation as a whole learns, grows and thrives.

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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.