The new learning organisation – the challenges and survival tips for L&D in the 21st Century (LSG webinar)

The second LSG webinar this week was unfortunately cut short by technical problems.  At the time I was trying to play devil’s advocate in arguing against some of the ideas being put forward.  This is unusual for me as I watch lots of webinars but tend to do just that, watch, on Thursday though I felt the need to rock the boat a bit.  Why?

Well, I worry sometimes when attending webinars that it all feels a bit like politics.  Everyone seems to want to grab an imaginary middle ground.  This ‘middle ground’ in the organizational environment being control/involvement in ‘the way forward’ – the current focus of which being around establishing more collaborative, communicative, organizations with silos broken down.  My problem is that multiple departments all seem to want to do this in ways based on their traditional areas of responsibility, including:

  • Learning and development,
  • Learning technology,
  • Library/information services,
  • Knowledge management,
  • Organizational development,
  • Corporate strategy,
  • Information technology,
  • Internal communications.

How broken down or isolated such departments are, of course, varies enormously by organization.  It is perhaps useful to remember that whilst many of these have emerged as specialisms we perhaps could move back toward a shared ideology, using the catch-all of ‘knowledge work’.

I totally agreed with the point made in the LSGwebinar presentation that learning needs to be embedded and recognized throughout an organization.  What I disagree with is the idea of Learning and Development professionals having to constantly change.  If the organization is well structured and recognizes learning across the 70/20/10 divide then there is, potentially depending on the organization’s needs, a use for traditional ‘courses’.  Indeed, combine in-house and external courses and you can lay the groundwork for a workforce’s knowledge and skills.  After all, there remain a lot of jobs where you would not want someone to simply go out and work in risky/dangerous environments without foundational courses, even if they need to incorporate, say, 3d simulations.  I’ve written before that if L&D are too quick to abandon the ‘training ghetto’ it might do an organization more harm than good whilst the use of ‘Corporate University’ models have given L&D a brand, albeit one based around courses.

One point someone raised with me on the call was that L&D should not just take ‘orders’ of courses but instead challenge the business on what is the appropriate learning solution, not being afraid to say a course is not what is needed.  I replied that I would not disagree, but, its also correct to say that a course might be the correct solution.  This said, I probably have quite a different take on what a course is compared to some people in L&D roles; I would never advocate, for example, a standalone SCORM course with no resources, reinforcement, reflection or JIT support.  Course-centrality can be a working model provided the organization is doing effective communication, knowledge sharing, etc.  If that is not happening then, obviously, L&D professionals can help resolve that problem.  However, yet if you have a good information service I would not expect the L&D department to go it alone doing lots of curation for learning, if you have good knowledge management systems you would not expect a social Learning Management System to replace it, etc.

Ultimately what I am trying to say is that if you work for a well organized institution you might find that L&D’s role is to manage a curriculum of appropriate interventions, i.e. courses.  The trick will be to ensure they are so good that they remain relevant, otherwise L&D may go the role of information services and other departments that have seen outsourcing and redundancies.  Yet is wrong to presume ‘the business’ does not do coaching, communication or other elements of the ‘way forward’ well without L&D involvement just because we ‘want in’.

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