Learning and Development: Skills for the Future

Learning and development (L&D) is a pivotal department for organisations in order to constantly future-proof themselves and their employees. L&D teams are responsible for the performance of workers and general workforce readiness to meet business needs. L&D is now increasingly responsible for enabling the workforce to be agile, innovative, healthy, and inclusive.

L&D is a strategic function that enables a company’s near-term results as well as their long-term direction. The focus of L&D is on shaping the desired company culture, fostering new ways of thinking, developing new behaviours, and driving strategic opportunities. The critical importance of L&D cannot be understated as they have a massive responsibility and role to play when it comes to filling skills gaps within an organisation and preparing workers for the future.

But what about training within L&D? Equally vital to future proofing workplace learning is upskilling within the L&D function itself. Learning professionals need to be guided in understanding digital learning technologies and principles of instructional design as well as how to use authoring tools, etc. The shift to digital has caught many in the L&D profession off guard and unprepared and they are starting to realise the need for new skills and capabilities.

According to Skillsoft’s Mind the Gap report, 48% of L&D employees believe their team is under skilled to deliver what is needed for their business. Similarly, Emerald Works’ 2020 Back to the Future report finds that 39% of L&D respondents believe that L&D is “overwhelmed and under-equipped”.

The new skills needed by L&D can be divided across six different areas:

Product management: With the move to learning tech ecosystems, L&D needs the skills to oversee the ecosystem, understand the integrations, negotiate contracts, and ensure deduplication across L&D organisations.

Data analysis: This includes statistics, data cleaning, data visualisation and storytelling, and is often closely tied to people analytics and business intelligence functions. Data is also an important tool to track learning analytics, which helps L&D evaluate where possible knowledge gaps lie.

Learning science: Learning science combines research and data to help educators teach better and learners learn more. It draws from various disciplines such as cognitive neuroscience, learning analytics, data science, behavioural economics, and educational psychology.

Marketing and communications: With so much learning content available and so many other things vying for employees’ attention, it can be helpful for L&D to have in-house marketing skills to help employees find learning opportunities and motivate them to engage in learning.

Learner path creation: As learning becomes more and more personalised, L&D needs the skills to help people navigate their unique learning journeys.

Learner-centred design thinking: This focuses on the end-users and not the process by making the learning developer an “experience architect”.

To keep up with the changing times, there’s a call for L&D teams to regroup and evolve as the workplace changes. Here are four skills needed to develop for L&D teams over the next few years:

Data-driven analysis: Measuring the impact of training in hard data is one of the biggest challenges faced by L&D professionals. There’s a struggle when it comes to showing business leaders their return on investment (ROI) in training.  L&D are being asked to show actual impact of what they’re doing on organisation goals. Therefore, it is important to invest in data-analysis training for L&D teams. Business leaders are becoming ever more reliant on data-driven analytics because this is how they measure performance and ROI. L&D analysts need to build their skills in data science to map data against organisational performance in order to measure impact. This data will inform their decision-making with regards to training in the future.

Learning about learning: L&D professionals need to re-examine their approach to “learner-centric” learning solutions. L&D teams can get better at training by getting better at learning. This entails being able to reframe content in a way that empathises with learners’ needs and motivations. Learning about neuroscience in learning is also a big step toward supporting this. It has shown the importance of developing skills in other learning techniques such as visual learning, micro-learning, blended learning, among others. It’s time to stop re-using old learning methods and start putting the focus on methods that drive engagement.

Technology mastery: It is the job of L&D professionals to stay ahead of the curve when it comes to staying up to date with emerging technologies. Technology is what makes just-in time, in-context learning possible. There are a bunch of emerging technologies taking part in the digital transformation of the workplace. Tools such as artificial intelligence (AI) and augmented reality (AR) are coming to the fore. These technology advancements utilise readily available data to create training programmes that are adaptive, customised, and realistic experiences.

Consultancy: Being a business partner in L&D means knowing how to be a consultant – talking, listening, understanding, thinking, and responding. L&D professionals need excellent communication and engagement skills to perform their jobs at maximum efficacy. This means using critical thinking to make the right decisions. For L&D to align itself with a business it must understand the market that it operates in. L&D professionals need a clear plan of action to tackle each performance need as it arises. This means understanding the goals of employees and the wider organisation and being creative in addressing the learning and performance needs of the organisation.

Organisations are investing more in L&D as it becomes evident that one of its functions is to attract and retain the best talent and helping get the workforce future-fit and ready for the many possible variables that will come it’s way. Accordingly, L&D teams need to develop their own talent to remain relevant in the workplace and keep ahead of the curve. Training and development will always be one of the core pillars supporting the success of an organisation!


Written by Rob Ewart











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