The skills to pay the bills: Learning Technologies Digital Days (March 2022)

I blogged a few weeks back that the Learning Technologies (LT) conference and exhibition had been delayed. Since then, three days of online talks were announced and run to somewhat plug the LT gap, under the branding of “Digital Days” (DD) – #LTUK22.

I have tried to summarise how I was feeling during these DD sessions via the power of gif:

Say skills one more time.

“Skills” was the buzzword. No doubt about it.

Thoughts on the sessions (skills)

Now I perhaps have to jump straight to the final day and Don Taylor‘s session to say that he did set out clear warnings about the “skills” bandwagon. This was timely and I particularly liked a section where Don had gone through the archives to try and find the genesis of this current buzz/focus. Interestingly it seems the initial focus was on “knowledge and skills” (i.e. that knowledge workers need ongoing development) but “knowledge” has been dropped through the news, consultancy, white paper, WEF, etc. hype cycles (LinkedIn have been at it since the DD). As Don explained, what we are now seeing is, amongst other things, lots of tools promising AI-powered solutions to the supposed skill crises. However, his call was to remind us all that skills alone do not lead to performance. As always, L&D needs to push back on the latest trends and concentrate on what we know, for example that knowledge alone does not help either (see, for example, this recent argument about needing more than knowledge for real transformation). In a few of the sessions, including Don’s, there was mention of what we really mean by skills, how/if the word is being used to encompass knowledge, if it is just rebranding of competency/capability, etc. Personally I revert to KISME (knowledge, information, skills, motivation and environment) as pretty much encompassing what we need to consider (with a doff of my cap to performance consulting accreditation with Nigel Harrison way back when). If anything, KS and the M/behaviour combine as the competency. Ultimately every org talks about this stuff differently but as Don and others suggested in the DD we are really just talking about people’s ability to ‘do the work’.

RedThread Research’s excellent recent podcast series has shown how business leaders have identified changes and implications around the ‘skills agenda’ [if I can call it that] (for example Deloitte being clear on the importance of skills, not least in ensuring their agility to create project teams). However, you presume this goes beyond the tech skills (which are obviously the bit that does change quickly as argued on the pod) into other things like engagement/project management (activities which also require a lot of behavioural competency). Indeed Deloitte’s model of development paths (as explained on the pod) sounded less than revolutionary – basically a formalisation of 70/20/10 concepts for ongoing development of competency.

The Fosway Group’s DD session mentioned the growth in skills platforms but also (just has been in the case in the past) the issue of what needs to be in the learning platform versus a HRIS or other location. Personally it feels like you really need to take a big picture view of your ecosystem and link things together as appropriate. The session called this something like ‘out of the box ecosystem-ness’ which is probably more suggestive of aspiration than the market’s reality(?).

RedThread did have a slot in the Digital Days too, with a focus on learning content. This session had various messages but I did like the idea of moving “from control…to facilitate”, this has always been part of my mindset to some extent (probably due to my learning experience growing from libraries rather than teaching). The growth in content however, of course, means a greater need for personalisation and RedThread did argue that if you are embracing a skills focus then you also need to think about content from that perspective. They argued for a 4 category approach to learning content:

  • specific and durable
  • specific and perishable
  • generic and durable
  • generic and perishable

The suggestions on what to do with the above was fairly straight forward but I guess makes sense for those who feel overwhelmed with content. Ultimately the most useful bit, for me, was a quote that asked a key set of questions:

“What’s the strategic change that’s happening? Is your learning content relevant to get to those organizational outcomes?”

Roundtable participant quoted on RT’s slides

The event finished with Nigel Paine, I recently blogged agreeing with some of Nigel’s arguments in an article and I similarly found myself agreeing with much of his DD presentation. Learning was pitched as needing to help with transformation by moving from “safe spaces to brave spaces”. This is fair, enough and to some extent an acknowledgment of the need for ‘stretch‘. However, I would say the humane requirement for having safe spaces at work remains, it is not to say that a team building day can not have a safe (culture) but also be very challenging in terms of team aspirations, agility and development. There was mention of Communities of Practice (CoP) as argued for by Wenger, this always get my support as CoP theory was one of the areas that hooked me in learning design in my MA and got me into my career in learning. Nigel correctly tackled the focus on skills, arguing that deep understanding of problems will lead to learning offerings made up of multiple components (people, content, data, technology) under the auspice of appropriate governance. There was a call to reframe, rebuild and redefine learning to grab organisational development, make knowledge management organic and more. All-in-all, a wide ranging call to action that I have probably not done a great job of summarising. There was also a bit on indicators of success.

Indicators of success

Nigel correctly suggested the organisation’s strategic plan has to be the basis of learning’s work. Learning should make promises that developing self-learning groups and other solutions will positively impact on the plan’s goals. Ultimately I think this is the challenge – we might know that learning needs to be reframed when the “classroom assumption” and “training ghetto” are not good for our organisations but how to prove this works for an organisation with very fixed views on “training” and divisions of labour based on that.

As well as the Digital Days, I also recently watched an excellent session in the Content Wrangler series, entitled “Rewinding the Web: The Internet Archive and Its Wayback Machine“. This session reminded me to look again at archive.org and the excellent Wayback Machine. These are tools I have used a lot in the past but not so much in the last couple of years. Anyways… I thought I would have look to see which of my “to read” wish list of books are available to borrow via the archive.org loan system. One such book was an early edition of “Learning and Development” (by Rosemary Harrison). This book’s editions are nice snapshots of L&D status (the online edition being from 2003). According to the book (which reads like it is essentially exam prep for CIPD qualifications) there are a number of L&D “indicators”:

  1. Integration of L&D activity and organisational needs
  2. Provision of value-adding L&D function
  3. Contribution to the recruitment and performance management processes
  4. Contribution to the retention of employees
  5. Contribution to building organisational capacity and facilitating change
  6. Stimulation of strategic awareness and development of knowledge
  7. Design and delivery of learning processes and activity
  8. Evaluation and assessment of L&D outcomes and investment
  9. Role and tasks of the ethical practitioner
  10. Continuing professional self-development

Ultimately if we consider such a list as what an L&D professional can be assessed on (see also the English Apprenticeship standard) then clearly skills (be it upskilling, reskilling or right-skilling) are very much only part of the puzzle (I also quite like this list as too much focus historically has probably just been on point 7) both as a professional and in what we (can) help with (if empowered to do so by management). Therefore, as Don argued on day 3, lets remember skills but not forget everything else L&D teams can/should be doing.

Thoughts on sessions (Case studies)

There were a couple of good case studies showing how we do have to go beyond skills to really impact our organisations. The British Red Cross and Girlguiding both simplified and aggregated learning for their stakeholders on new platforms. Both took plenty of time to analyse issues, the stakeholder experience, etc. Both found their improved online learning platforms have led to retention, recognising stakeholder’s past experience and building on that (not mass sheep dipping). I liked the Red Cross simplification of message by their presenter, their Chief Learning Officer:

There were some other aspects that sounded similar to models I have used in the past, including Red Cross having a buddy relationship between central learning and those with those responsibilities at site level and the Girl Guides retraining their classroom trainers to run virtual classrooms/webinars. Overall, good examples of being strategic, holistic and delivering modernisation of stakeholder experiences.

[I probably attended a couple of other DD sessions but I’ll leave this post as it is already long enough !]

The awful staying power of Myers-Briggs

Spurred on by a recent LinkedIn poll on the usefulness of Myers-Briggs (results below) I felt the need to do a short post.

Do you believe that the MB personality test is accurate poll result from LinkedIn.

That this group of professionals (it was on the “eLearning Industry”* group) can be so split, almost into equal thirds, really does suggest some of the problems in the learning industry. MB is poor/non-science and is a ponzi scheme, end of. No learning professional should be saying this test is accurate.

I took a look at some of the comments posted to try and get my head around this continuing obsession with MB. The interesting commonality in comments was that lots of people suggested that, whilst some acknowledging faults in the accuracy of the model, there is value. This value coming, allegedly, in making people reflect about who they are, what differences they have, etc. Personally I would say there are more useful approaches to this. Indeed just some targeted reflection, away from daily work, would probably help for most people. If the focus is on teams you could use Belbin as a more practical route. Meanwhile if you are considering team/individual strengths then Strengthscope (and others) are more proven, better, options. Personally I wish Strengthscope went in harder on MB than trying to sit on the fence a bit.

* You would presume a more “classic HR” orientated group would have even higher %s in defence of the assessment.

The ultimate interview question: “If you were a G1 Transformer which would you be and why?” (aka – the impact of early experiences on workplace behaviour)

A few weeks back, I updated my LinkedIn profile with a video introduction to my page. Within the video I mentioned that my LinkedIn job history is not all of my work history. I felt this was important to mention given my first listed job, my first post-undergrad office job, was at a law firm and it could be presumed (incorrectly) that I must have got “an in” thanks to family, friends, etc.

As we all know nepotism is rife, especially in the UK. Therefore, I made the point on the video that I had plenty of experience earlier to try and hint at my background. There are of course more formal ways to classify your background that you could include, e.g. child of a parent who had grown up in social housing, first generation university goer, etc. I could have included earlier jobs such as fish factory operative, burger flipper, barman, etc. all of which would also suggest how I have worked a variety of jobs to pay for travel, study, rent, etc. before that first office job.

Part of the reason I do not include my full job listing is that the range of mostly minimum wage jobs I had in my teens and early 20s (if memory serves my first hourly wage was £1.14) probably don’t add much to my current knowledge and skills. Indeed most of us will not list all our “professional” roles on CVs once we are past a certain point (aka I’m too old to still do that) and you try to tailor to the advert.

However, perhaps we should all be transparent on LinkedIn as the formative experiences will impact our behaviours and expectations more than we might like to admit? For example, I would argue my experience gives me a perspective and influences my behaviour differently to someone who, say, grew up at the extremes of poverty or extreme wealth.

This also got me thinking:

What other early experiences have heavily influenced my personal outlook on mentality and behaviours?

me

Now having a bit of fun...

The obvious answer to this question was watching “The Transformers”, perhaps my favourite childhood cartoon, comic, game series, toy, etc. After a quick Google it does not look like anyone has ever tried to take Transformers and create a model for workplace behaviours, so here we go…”If you were a G1 Transformer which would you be and why?”

Why it is a great question

The question, or one like it, would help reveal someone’s cultural zietgeist, and therefore (arguably) if they will be a good “fit” in an organisation. The candidate’s actual choice of character/transformer would highlight quite a lot about their personality given the very broad brush approach to character stereotyping in the series.

Reflections on some of the possible answers

Warning *spoilers* for the Transformers series ahead, obvs, and apologies in advance for any misremembering of details on my part.

1. Optimus Prime

Who? Leader of “The heroic Autobots”.

A good answer? The obvious answer to the question, not least as this is the name most likely known by non-fans, losing the candidate points for originality at least. Suggests a desire to lead but also a risk of a holier-than-thou mentality which may damage team dynamics.

Candidate might say: “When push comes to shove I put the team before myself”.

2. Jazz

Famous for, amongst other things, using his car radio so loud it becomes a weapon.

Candidate is likely trying to suggest they have a fun side, they might actually be admitting to being the kind of person who tries to get you to meet their boy-racer mates in the Aldi/McDonalds car park after work.

“I am really fun around the office”.

3. Blurr

One of the G1 robots introduced in The Movie. Blurr operates at high speed.

This answer suggests a high capacity for work, without a drop in quality. However, the candidate might be at risk of underestimating the complexities of the role. In reality a person pertaining to be like Blurr is at risk of burnout, if acting like Blurr they are a drug addict.

“I can help. I wanna help…Nobody can get the job done faster than I can” (excerpt from Blurr’s actual opening lines).

4. Perceptor

Originally stuck in microscope(?) mode following the Transformers crash on Earth, Perceptor is an intelligent member of the Autobots.

If the candidate is after a science/lab job this is a fine answer. Perceptor even suggests he is willing to sacrifice himself for a colleague once he can walk/fight in The Movie so goes beyond ‘science nerd’ stereotypes.

“My major weakness? I am probably too analytical and data driven”.

5. Blaster

Introduced as the Autobot tape deck robot (the tapes transform to smaller robots) to counter one of the original Deceptions (Soundwave) who had similar capabilities.

If looking for someone who wants to work in music/media editing this is another decent answer. Might suggest they literally live through music – perhaps the kind of office worker who ends up having to have their own office as even with headphones on their music is too loud.

“I have developed leadership qualities as the lead singer of my 80s synth band”.

6. Soundwave

As I mentioned him in #5 let’s move to our first Deception (bad guy/heel) entry. Soundwave is effectively 2nd in command, at least when on Earth, to Deception leader Megatron.

Soundwave would be a curious choice. Criticised in The Movie as “an uncharismatic bore” the candidate is likely hoping to suggest they are a strong number 2, a Spock to your Kirk perhaps. Perhaps not a bad choice for a COO or regional manager.

“Really I have two strongest strengths; I am very efficient at delegation and all my former bosses would say I am very loyal”.

7. Megatron

We jump to the top bad guy. Perhaps the robot with the most name recognition after Optimus Prime?

Megatron might be the choice for someone who is keen to shake things up and cut the deadwood. Perhaps the ideal mentality for a cost-cutting consultant or if your culture is (curiously) based around power/fear.

“Death to all traitors (who are not living the corporate values)”.

8. Starscream

Starscream, right from the first episode of the cartoon, is after Megatron’s job. In The Movie he finally manages to reach the top, briefly. He even gets a nice crown (see video).

Not the choice to go for if you want to suggest you are loyal. However, you could perhaps make a good case for ‘being a Starscream’ if you are suggesting you are strong at managing up and keeping leaders from becoming complacent.

“In 20 years’ time you say? I see myself sat where you are in 2”.

C64 Hound - I loved this game!

9. Hound

Hound is a scout for the Autobots whose vehicle mode is a jeep and is 100% included in the list so I could use a gif from the C64 video game.

Hound is a fairly middle of the road choice but would allow someone to make the point they enjoy the countryside. Potentially a very good option for someone wanting to stress their love of nature. Hound can also project holograms, a skill reference that could be a deep cut for anyone working in that area (or just remote work more generally).

“I am bored of office life and have always wanted to work outside”.

10. Unicron

A “monster planet” that can destroy whole planetary systems at ease. Famously Orson Welles’ final role was voicing this main villain of The Movie.

As a destroyer of worlds, perhaps the option if you are interviewing at an organisation with a known really terrible culture.

“Greed is good”.

Finally, why the question in the post’s title is obviously not a great question

The question is highly reliant on (most likely non-work relevant) pre-existing knowledge. “G1” means “Generation 1”, i.e. the original iteration of the toys, comics and cartoons under the Transformers brand. By Transformer I mean “The Transformers”, not something to do with electricity or transforming in another context.

The ability to answer the question is also highly cultural and potentially age/sexist given you would likely need to be of a certain age in the 1980s to even know what it means never mind answer it in a meaningful way.

“Learning Transformation” : January ’22 edition

January and February have historically been important periods of reflection for the learning industry (at least in the UK) due to the Learning Technologies conference and exhibition (with its adult/workplace learning focus) and BETT (with its <21 education/school focus). This year the decision has been made to push the Learning Tech show back from February to May but I thought I would still take some time now to just reflect on where we are in terms of the evolution/transformation of learning in early 2022.

The language of learning transformation

Firstly it is difficult to ignore that “transformation” is a word being thrown around a lot online and in the media in relation to learning. What people are generally speaking about is the result of the Covid period and that, in terms of transformation, what people are really talking about is the response to the loss of the physical classroom as an option to facilitate/deliver education. Whilst the need to work without a classroom may be revolutionary for some, for example compulsory aged schooling teachers who had never facilitated much/any online learning before, for those of us who (at least in part) self-identify as learning technologists this has been a period that is actually largely evolutionary, not transformative nor revolutionary.

If we think less about schools and universities for the rest of the post and try to just focus on the transformation of workplace learning then too much of the conversation around “transformation” in the last couple of years is, obviously just in my opinion, about laggards catching up. Therefore, what we might be seeing in 2020-22 is those L&D departments who were stuck in the “Training Ghetto” either being transformed into virtual ghettos by Covid or finally waking up to doing things they probably should have always been doing. The “ghetto” idea is of course Don Taylor’s (the chair and organiser of the Learning Technologies show). Don has recently suggested there is a bigger change happening (“all change in L&D” blog post) that goes beyond the quite narrow lack-of-classroom focus of much of the discussion. I’ll come back to Don’s argument from that blog post later.

For those of us who have focused on eLearning (online learning, digital learning or whatever else we want to call it) the last couple of years is far less transformative, at least of the surface of things. That said, simply turning out SCORM modules or LMS courses is obviously not the way forward either – transformation will mean different things to different people. The Google Trends data (I had embedded it below but for some reason it keeps breaking in WordPress) would suggest a “start of the pandemic” spike in interest in what some of us have been doing for a long time. It would be wonderful if we could break this spike down between parents, school teachers, universities, L&D and other groups.

For workplace/organisational/membership/employee learning we could also see this as (instead of being specifically Covid initiated) being learning departments getting hit by the previous buzz around Digital Transformation of work and the preceding but related developments such as Big Data, Web 2.0, etc etc. Personally I would say continued evolution of practice was coming no matter what and Covid has accelerated some good and bad practice. One thing that I can agree with from a recent protocol Source Code podcast is that the panic and rush resulting from Covid led to a “disservice” for online learning.

A recent L&D Disrupt podcast (link to YouTube version) on launching an L&D department from scratch really reinforced for me that there is a pretty standard approach to what many of us do, have done or would do in that situation. However, the language on Disrupt was interesting. No two L&D departments are likely to be equal in terms of the quality of their needs analysis, their exact approach to design, etc. The Disrupt pod also made points about moving from a previous over-reliance on classroom training – is this still, really, what people are talking about by learning transformation, even in workplace environments?

Scope of learning departments

Arguably little has changed in regard to learning department scope. L(&D) departments are expected to maintain stakeholder relationships to develop and deliver appropriate learning strategies for their organisation(s). These learning strategies should reflect how performance improvement is being supported, to help colleagues deliver organisational strategies, behave appropriately and meet their goals. This needs to be aligned with (or part of) talent management – for example having apprenticeships or other ways to replace lost talent, deal with succession, develop managerial confidence/competency, etc.

I love Guy Wallace’s historical perspectives via Twitter and elsewhere. His recent WOINA Syndrome (What’s Old Is New Again.) blog post is great on how we rehash so much stuff. I seriously doubt WOINA is unique to learning within organisations (after all leadership theory, mindfulness and other areas go as far as to rehash ancient philosophy) but you do have to wonder if “transformation” as marketed by consultants, vendors, etc. is really transformational. New lipstick on a pig perhaps? The recent protocol Source Code uses the argument that more lifelong learning is needed due to the pace of change (a debatable argument) and that tech can enable this (less debatable). I tend to think this need and the demand from many employees has always been there – L&D can be the facilitator of upskilling in this model where previously the load was too often put on the individual.

Any organisational learning should be using personal, team and business targets to change knowledge, skills and/or behaviours. Simples. However, Don’s all change argument is that valid in that L&D is no longer “focusing on building and delivering content”. Indeed my first L&D role, rather than more learning/education focused, was initially about managing content. We have clearly moved on from that space with social learning. Where L&D teams continue to struggle is perhaps when the personal, team and business measures are still hidden from them? We hear a lot about data being abundant in organisations but I do wonder how many orgs really have clarity over performance and how many companies still promote based on simple measures (e.g. sales/revenue) or popularity (often risking negative DEI implications). Proper use of data could well be transformational for many on their practice within a scope that is less transformational.

Learning/instructional design

Call it what you will, the scope of L&D work is still likely to need something resembling analysis, design and delivery of learning and change solutions. Usually these will still come from something resembling an ADDIE project, even if the design/delivery is not about authoring content but instead curation or another solution.

I know there is justified hate out there for the use of “instruction” and ADDIE but, personally, these are semantic arguments we can live without as ultimately organisations divide labour between teams based on skill and experience. Therefore, learning and change projects should reach the L&D team as the experts in learning and change.

Ideally this should not be simply the “throw over the fence” approach to perceived requirements that jumps straight to DDIE. Proper task analysis should mean solutions tailored to stakeholder needs, ideally with those stakeholders and the target audience involved throughout. Of course, as always, what the audience’s needs are might have been misinterpreted, misunderstood, misrepresented, etc, etc. None of this is new or transformational.

Masters of our own destiny

Mastering the balance between latest market trends and WOINA has to be part of the solution of what the future of learning will look like.

I have written before about how some terminology has been usurped in work/corporate climates – for example information professionals/scientists losing the “information” moniker to the technologists. Similarly information work around curation often died out, for example information teams in law firms lost staff in the face of internet tools, yet curation has been a buzz word in L&D circles, in part thanks to further tech changes. What we perhaps need to finally acknowledge is that a training team can not “own” or “manage” organisational learning – we can lead, facilitate, curate, communicate, etc. We need to demonstrate the behaviours and show the value in personal development, knowledge sharing and related activities. Nigel Paine’s transformation plans for ’22 mentions L&D’s role should be in that it “encourages the whole organisation to take responsibility for working and learning together”. This is in part about the skills gap that Don focuses on as the change – i.e. organisations face skills shortages, not knowledge/content per se.

L&D’s focus can include offering strategic recommendations on the use of tools to enhance the employee (or other stakeholder/customer) experience. However, I would say we need to be careful on silos – simply having marketing select marketing tools, L&D select learning tools, etc. reinforces old paradigms. Purchasing projects need to recognise the power of digital tools to do things differently – not just replacing old ways of doing things. Don’s impression of Cornerstone Xplor seem to suggest they are taking something of a leap from old paradigms but much of it sounds familiar in ways too. Meanwhile the Source Code pod suggests AR/VR and some other metaverse like applications are the real change. However, the tech will enable new ways of doing things but many of the solutions will still, in my mind, be based on traditional ID/L&D logic – as Guy suggests with his WOINA. For example, the Novartis VR example at Unleash’18 showed how there can be value in moving scenario/location based learning into VR. As Guys says in his post: “technology advances have enabled us to do better” and I would say the iterative improvement (rather than transformation) for many in L&D will be to continue to identify when the time is right for investment in new tech for their use cases. No doubt we will see lots of bad metaverse usage as it becomes more mainstream – just as we saw bad use of other things such as Second Life – but there will be opportunities too.

Skills for success

Anyone who is unfortunate enough to come across me in person will have probably heard me referring back to my MA and MSc in how I go about my work. This might be surprising considering I recently “liked” a tweet supporting experience over qualifications:

My issue with the above tweet is really the “10+ years…experience” part, not the qualification or need for a combination of qualification and experience. Skills, knowledge and behaviours are important – mandatory recruitment requirements, like in the above tweet, ignores this. Is this because recruiting/HR are too often separate from L&D/talent management (theory at least if not practice in a particular org)?

Years of experience, for many roles, is total BS as a measure. Instead, ask someone about their evidence based practice, the theory behind their practice, their achievements, etc. No year, in no other role, is made equal to what you think a year’s experience is – even in theoretically comparable roles like, say, nursing across different hospitals. This is one area where hopefully Covid will make people realise how things have changed, e.g. a year of work experience in a 2021 Covid-impacted hospital would be very different to, say, working there in 2001. This applies in knowledge work too – consulting or sales are very different now too when you can’t travel to conferences, meet clients for coffee, etc.

In many ways the need for a combination of theory and experience is particularly important in L&D given many L&D pros do not come through an L&D education. The problem to tackle, as is hinted at in that L&D Disrupt podcast, is that people come into the learning profession through classroom experiences and we have a rinse and repeat cycle (albeit that there are good things about face-to-face learning too). Actually having some learning theory, learning tech or other related academic/professional qualifications should mean you have at least been exposed to other ways of doing things. Personally doing my MSc fully online has always been a big help in reflecting on my own practice of building such experiences, both in education and workplace learning. Do not get me wrong – 10 years of classroom teaching has value on a CV, however, rather than length of time we are really talking about a skillset as described in the LPI Capability Map or other model. It sounds like Xplor’s value is in automating skill mapping, learning resource mapping, etc – for those of us who have managed competency frameworks and related tools this sounds great but I would also hold quite a lot of scepticism over how well this will work.

Work is learning/learning is work

Difficult to disagree with the Nigel Paine in his wish for 22: “I want 2022 to be the year when learning becomes integrated with work…I want 2022 to be the time when the notion of a learning organisation, with a powerful learning culture, is not deemed an irrelevancy but is an essential part of the modern work environment.” However, this is obviously not a new concept – perhaps what we can hope for is a kinder workplace, one with an acknowledgment of long-term health issues as with live not just with Covid but long Covid and all the other health and personal issues that are too often ‘hidden’ in the workplace. Learning to encourage improvement, career development and more can be part of this more humane workplace.

However, when it comes to the wider move of learning in the flow of work I do fear this part of an automation of more and more roles, as mentioned in a tweet spurred by the Learning Technologies digital event that happened in place of the usual smaller version of the event that takes place as the “Summer Forum“:

End

This post has gone on long enough but, in summary, I think it is fair to say that whilst innovation for one organisation/professional will mean something different to another org/pro I can see transformation as being about a potential further split in the learning tech market between:

(1) LMS platforms that will continue to exist for organisations focused on “products” – this still makes sense for training providers, organisations offering CPD to members, content vendors, universities and more even if their marketplace continues to face real pressure.

(2) Xplor and other tools expand into career guidance (Don mentions acting as a career service an increasingly important role for L&D as I mentioned here) for the organisation, tying up/reskilling to roles/vacancies and acting as a reimagination of L&D into proper talent transformation.

How much other functionality makes sense in the above situations (such as social learning, collaboration, etc) will depend on the ecosystem beyond these tools. In other words an organisation may be happy with an LMS, HRIS and Microsoft Teams. Others may try and do all of this via a new talent platform. Ultimately it reminds me of a quote from 5 (!?!) years ago about whatever L&D’s focus and scope is it should behave in a way to act as “oil in the engine, not a spanner in the works”.

atd’s “The Value of L&D Professionals Is Soaring”

I recently downloaded a copy of this new atd publication, you can get your own here.

Seeing the title I presumed this was going to be very much a puff piece with atd (The Association for Talent Development, formerly ASTD) jumping on the bandwagon for how there is some kind of new and exciting ‘future of work’ where L&D functions will be all conquering in up and re-skilling colleagues for bright (digital) futures. Below are some thoughts section by section as I read through the document…

False pretences

Remote work forced L&D professionals to pivot quickly from in-person training to virtual, online development while still maintaining a strong company culture, assessing and facing organizational skills gaps, and tackling other compliance, organization development, and individual development needs

Page 3 “Introduction”

I would argue that the above statement, from the paper’s introduction, is simply not true for many and in some ways is a false hypothesis for the entire paper. Many had little/no “pivot” needed due to existing models of digital learning and communications. I am also often a critic of the “company culture” idea, from what I have seen and read over the years I would say the presence of team cultures both promote and undercut any centralised idea of vision and working practices/culture. The “this is the way things are done around here” idea of a company culture rarely crosses organisational silos IMO.

L&D professionals became important stakeholders in diversity, equity, belonging, and inclusion initiatives. In some organizations, L&D leaders own DEI. In other workplaces, they are consultants or critical players in DEI strategy

Page 3 “Introduction”

For the North American audience of atd, DEI has, of course, been a massive issue in the last few years. However, it should have always been central to talent-related initiatives and I have been on a few good webinars this year with long standing DEI advocates criticising much of what has emerged within the corporate world as a response to BLM and other initiatives. Of course people need to be aware of expectations (or you risk bad behaviour being normalised) but L&D approaches to DEI have been shown to be poor solutions to the issue(s).

Skills questions

Two in five HR leaders acknowledge they don’t know what skills they have in their workforce.

Page 5 “L&D Pros Play a Major Role in Upskilling and Reskilling”

I’ve argued before that competency models are useful in the above situation – at least for some level of developing an understanding of what to do next. A previous employer made much of their “bring your whole self to work” initiative so that no one felt uncomfortable, be it for a DEI or other reason. This was a great initiative in many ways but also raised questions, for me, about how far that can realistically go given that work has always sought the common elements between us (shared skills, knowledge and common behaviours) and avoided ‘trickier’ elements that make us all different. Ultimately recruitment really needs to be better if this a challenge – we are encouraged to apply to roles very specifically, there is little chance to really explain who we are and leverage the random non-role-specific skills and knowledge.

There is much in the report on the “skills gap” and solutions include “hiring more gig or freelance workers” – it really feels a shame to me that, on both sides of the Atlantic, we have ended up in a position where companies have failed to develop staff and the expense of up/reskilling has too often been pushed onto the worker. This is identified, to an extent, via data from Gartner:

Employers fail to future-proof skills. Labor market analysts Gartner TalentNeuron predicts that 30 percent of the skills workers needed three years ago are nearing irrelevance. The World Economic Forum places the figure at 42 percent. Skills programs are not keeping pace with shifting requirements.

Page 6 “L&D Pros Play a Major Role in Upskilling and Reskilling”

This supposed pace of change is used as an argument against competency/capability models as requirements change too quickly. However, I remain dubious that such skills are disappearing/changing. Even “digital skills”, mentioned on the same page as the above quote, often build upon existing skills. We are rarely talking about ripping up the rulebook and starting again from nothing.

L&D operations

TD functions overlook the value of internal partnerships, “Only 40 percent of TD professionals collaborate extensively—most often working with HR, business or strategic planning teams, or business function leaders. Although reskilling and upskilling has strong benefits for the organizations, the report showed that only 38 percent of TD professionals partner with senior executives to assess skills gap needs.”

Page 7 “L&D Pros Play a Major Role in Upskilling and Reskilling”

Whenever I see numbers/arguments like the above I do wonder how talent development and L&D departments get into such positions. Obviously silos exist, and L&D can be side-lined into marginal roles but you always have a route to the top via reporting structures so, at some point, you should be getting (some of) the correct information to partner with people to improve the organisations performance.

The following section on “Invest in Your L&D Professionals” is fair enough. The data from the industry, that has come through in various reports over the years, that suggests L&D staff are undervalued and not invested in is always a worry. Ideally L&D pros should be leading the way, clearly showing others how they are engaging with learning, bringing benefits back to practice, etc. There is some irony, however, in a paper talking about the rapid speed of tech/digital skill changes to then be selling their own capability model and certificates. The assumption, presumably, is that you need to be doing these atd programmes on a regular basis.

“Modern Learners Expect Employers to Invest in Career Development”

This section is fine, although I would argue this is nothing new and “learners” should really be ‘workers’ or just ‘people’. It might be the more socialist elements of my mentality but the logic that employers do not have a part to play for everyone (including L&D themselves) to develop is just alien to me. That said, if someone is happy ticking along in a role that is fine – however, they would need to be demonstrating high performance and be aware that a lack of engagement with opportunities might, one day, put their position at risk.

The report finds that 73 percent of high-performing companies have internal mobility strategies.

Page 19 “Modern Learners Expect Employers to Invest in Career Development”

The above is one of the more interesting stats – taken from HCI’s Talent Pulse 7.4 Recruiting from Within and Developing Internal Mobility Strategies – and is probably one of the things that could be taken away for (at least bigger) organisations to use internally in justifying talent management initiatives.

I did a bit of work a while ago around L&D for workforce planning consultancy so I tend to to advocate for such talent initiatives, having seen it done well, and therefore it is good to see the report encourage “a strategic workforce plan” to be in place. Career paths are also something that is encouraged, whilst my experience would suggest the ease that these can be created varies a lot between industry it is nonetheless good to seem them called for.

False conclusions

This data supports the need for TD pros to increase learning events and provide them in different formats (mobile learning, microlearning, gamification)

Page 21 “Modern Learners Expect Employers to Invest in Career Development”

Wow, “events” is not what we should be talking about. Proper re and upskilling are hard to support and hard for the individual to go through. What should be on offer is appropriate experiences for the roles you need with as much personalisation as possible for the different knowledge and skill starting points of your people (be they new hire or not).

Unfortunately the report is also somewhat ‘industry report eats itself’ at this point, justifying arguments based on reports from LinkedIn, Deloitte and others including atd’s own blogs.

The following “Recommendations” section starts with:

The reality of digital transformation and developing a future-ready workforce make the strategic need for robust L&D functions in organizations apparent.

Page 22 “The reality of digital transformation and developing a future-ready workforce make the strategic need for robust L&D functions in organizations apparent.”

This is pretty much what I was expecting from the paper (see my intro above) but the argument is confusing (or I’m being stupid). “The Value of L&D Professionals Is Soaring” yet “only 16 percent of organizations invest in the professional development of their L&D teams to a high extent”. Therefore, the paper is trying to justifying talent management and new L&D approaches but organisations do not seem to be on board. Thus it is indeed a puff piece to make L&D folks feel important whilst it would seem many remain not important in their organisations?