Jeepers. L&D Had It Right for the Market

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A revolution isn’t coming to L&D. It’s already here. If you’re reading this, you’re probably already looking to overhaul antiquated processes and systems to deal with new learning paradigms. But you don’t have to toss out everything you know about L&D just yet. For all the talk about what needs to change, I’d like to focus a moment on what L&D has been doing right for years: concentrating on the details of learning design.


Restrictions breed creativity

For L&D the restriction is often the budget. When funding is tight, L&D has always prioritized delving into specific skills or piece of knowledge. Rather than trying to be everything to everyone, learning leaders focused on the finer details of targeted training. For instance, rather than building a comprehensive sales training program including everything from prospecting to closing, L&D might concentrate training just on overcoming common customer objections. Similarly, when it comes to information dissemination, L&D might not have resources to research and develop new content for a monthly bulletin to its customers, but may be able to curate and push out breaking news relevant to a specific product or industry condition.

It’s a way of thinking that serves fledgling startup companies well, the Blue Ocean Strategy. Rather than running headlong into competitive markets led by well-funded, established businesses, a startup should focus on less contested waters where they can make the biggest impact given their current resources.

Now, this isn’t necessarily the case with all L&D: Corporate universities like McDonald’s Hamburger U strive to be comprehensive centers of knowledge and skills development, and that gets expensive fast. But not every business needs a Hamburger U, nor should they build one even if they could. The current learning ecosystem calls for agile L&D that can respond to new challenges quickly and with few resources. See Making Fast

Markets change and tactics follow

It’s a tactic that has paid off, to a point. But the learning market is changing and L&D needs to catch up. As we’ve discussed, customers expect information on-demand and in the workflow. And as for immersive skills development, L&D is competing with consumer-grade entertainment and technology. Unless you can match the graphics, design, and scope of games and apps, the learning experiences you are trying to provide simply won’t make an impact on your customer. Rather than trying to compete on the delivery, you need to provide an experience that allows your customer to practice behaviors as close to real-world workflow as possible.

I had a “eureka” moment recently when I was introduced to a new piece of medical training technology, a device placed at hand-washing stations for nurses and hospital staff going into surgery. It tracked their motions, giving real-time feedback and ensuring that they went through the proven hand-washing steps, in order, and for the proper amount of time. This wasn’t just tech to teach them how to wash their hands, it also made sure that they followed through with the desired behavior.

Measure performance not training

And this is what a lot of corporate training has lacked to this point. L&D units have been training the skill, but haven’t been able to determine that the skill is actually performed. Until relatively recently, measuring and aggregating the performance of skills simply wasn’t feasible. But the Experience API (xAPI) has finally given learning leaders the tools needed to do just that. Combined with employee workflow systems , xAPI reveals the connection between training skills and changing workplace behaviors.

We have been producing training content instead of performers. This is one of the changes in mindset that needs to come about in the learning revolution: Learning & Development really needs to be Performance & Development. It’s a subtle distinction, but is already being made by learning leaders like Gary Wise and Clark Quinn. To get the conversation started, drop me a line at Saltbox, or jot down your thoughts in the comments below.