Learning “Stints” vs. Careers?

As I travel around the United States, I see a shift in the learning field that is easy to notice.  There are significantly fewer full time Learning and Development employees in organizations delivering programs to their own staff.

In some organizations, the number of L&D professionals has dropped by as much as 80%. Yet, there is actually MORE learning happening than ever before. So, what is happening to our field and what lies ahead for Learning as an organizational function?

Here are several elements that have collectively led to a smaller number of full-time L&D employees:

  • Reduction in Face-to-Face Classes: A large number of learning folks used to be called “Trainers” in our Training Departments. They were subject matter experts (SME’s) who had a passion for classroom delivery. We brought them into the learning function for either a few years or for long careers as teachers. The total number of internally-led classes has dropped, replaced by asynchronous eLearning or by webinars that are delivered virtually. In those cases, SME’s are still being used, but they are “borrowed” for that function while keeping their line jobs.
  • Learning Roles in the Business Units vs. L&D Groups: In areas that have high levels of turnover - e.g. retail, sales, and front line roles - we are finding larger numbers of Learning colleagues with jobs that are located in a line of business or function, often with a modifier to describe their learning responsibility: “Sales Readiness Manager”, “Field Leader for Induction”, etc. They may have a “dotted line” to the L&D department but often see their careers aligning with another business function, so they are less likely to identify themselves primarily as learning professionals.
  • External Sourcing of Learning Development: The number of internal instructional designers has also dropped significantly. A large percentage of asynchronous content is being designed and developed under contract by external providers. Or, the content is licensed from a content supplier or industry association. In some companies, the on-site instructional designers may be brought in for a specific project rather than added to the learning team.
  • Learning That Does Not Sound Like Learning: One large manufacturing company has a team that creates short video clips focused on recent safety problems or challenges. The team is called “Maximize” and does not contain ANY learning professionals; yet, it is deeply involved in content and activity development. I met with one of this team’s leaders who said that they do not use words like “objective” or “outcome” since they are in the “Social Knowledge Space”. The future of learning will include more embedded content and context than traditional courses.
  • Skill Gaps in Learning: A big challenge is the need for a new set of skills for learning professionals. We are tracking an enormous need for our colleagues to have expertise in:
    • Data Analytics: The ability to work with large amounts of Big Learning Data and support an evidence-based approach to assessment and evaluation.
    • Curation of Learning Content: The ability to create and organize curation of diverse internal, external, and open content to optimize employees’ awareness and use of targeted content.
    • Performance and Workflow Support: The ability to create digital and non-digital resources that support learning at the time of need, change, or shifts.
    • User Experience Design: The ability to leverage a User Experience model of content development, testing, and alignment with specific employee requirements.
  • Glass Ceilings Career Challenges: Let me be quite blunt. There are significant “Glass Ceilings” that limit or constrain the long-term career opportunities for current and future learning professionals. Some of these are titles (e.g. “Instructional Designer”) that describe competencies but do not suggest the ability to perform other functions in the organization. I like to use the phrase “Learning Producer”, which has a wider set of future options. And, many of our learning colleagues are perceived as lacking hard business skills. This can be corrected with stretch assignments in business roles and shifting our college programs to include more content on business performance than ADDIE (a strategy rather than a career enabler).

It is time for the Learning field to have a deep and open conversation about how we re-engineer our craft, our skills, and our careers to support engagement in learning – whether these are roles for a few years or life-long professions. The workforce and our world need agile, innovative, and business-aligned learning colleagues to face the changing workplace of the future. Let’s step up to the challenge!

Published in CLO Magazine, September 2017

Learning Leaders in Mid-Career: What’s Next?

Congrats! You hold a senior learning leader position in the middle of your career. Now, you are managing a major function in the learning department, driving learning strategy, or maybe have been promoted to a Chief Learning Officer role (with or without the official CLO title). Well done!

So, what does the next half of your career look like? And, what are the natural development steps for learning leaders in the middle of their careers? 

Normally, we are the ones giving coaching and career advice to colleagues in the workplace.  Let me turn the tables and give you a summary of the advice and career options that I share with your equivalent mid-career learning leaders in conversations throughout the year:

  • Go Wider and Larger: The natural route for the second half of a learning career to is go wider and larger. Become the CLO or Chief Talent Officer of your company. The average duration at the top in learning is less than 4 years, so there will always be opportunities to go wider – switching to a different team.
  • Take a Stretch Assignment Outside of Learning: As a C-Level officer in your company, take a “stretch assignment” lasting several months to a year – outside of Learning or HR! A rising learning leader from a large automobile company asked for and received a one- year role as Assistant Plant Manager in Brazil. She blossomed and expanded her skill set, moving on to other very senior manufacturing roles at headquarters.
  • Add an Academic Credential: Being a CLO or VP for Learning is an amazing accomplishment “star” on your resumé. Now, consider adding an academic credential. Over 100 senior learning leaders have pursued Doctoral programs at UPenn, Columbia, and other institutions. Others have added non-learning degrees, like an MBA or Executive MBA. And, others have participated in an executive development program in Strategy or User Experience.
  • Join a Board of Directors: Join a corporate or non-profit organization’s Board of Directors. They will deeply value your talent and learning experience and it will give you a unique role in shaping an organization without being a manager. The networking is immense and future resources for corporate roles or connections for your next career moves are plentiful.
  • Map and Validate Your Skills: Build a visual map of your skills, defining the mixture of learning, management, industry, and interpersonal competencies. Go wide and share this with colleagues and friends inside and outside your organization. Ask them for feedback on your map, including gaps or even elements that you did not include.
  • Global Opportunities Await: If your lifestyle and family situation allows, consider a global opportunity. The future of business lies in the global marketplace. Reach for a learning role that either locates you internationally or has you deeply engaged in other countries and regions. Add or improve a second or third language.
  • Technology and Innovation Fluency: How deeply do you explore evolving technologies, methodologies, and innovations? The world of business and learning has already changed radically in the first part of your career. Strap on your seat belt for more change in the next few decades. Immerse yourself as a learner and experimenter. Learn some code, find a few tech mentors, coach a high school robotics team, study cognitive and brain science changes, and visit a tech startup venture.
  • Learning DNA vs. Learning Career? Face it: you will always have a Learning DNA make-up. Every role that you hold in the future will draw upon your experiences and competencies as a learning leader. Now, you must decide if you want the balance of your career to be in the learning field or if you are ready for a career change that will taste quite different, but that will use your people development skills every day.

Finally, we are waiting for the first Fortune 500 CLO to be promoted to CEO. There are several people in our industry that I am betting on to make this career change. It is just one of many career choices.

Again, congrats on your success. But, as my friend Marshall Goldsmith says, “What Got You Here, Won’t Get You There!” It is time for you to design and live the next chapters of your career as a learning leader!

Published in CLO Magazine, November 2017


Curation: A Multi-Cycle Support for Learning

“Curation” is one of the hot words in the talent field in 2017. As the quantity and diversity of content multiplies, learners and organizations are yearning for order, structure, efficiency, and targeting of knowledge and information options. Let’s explore the role of content and curation in a shifting landscape:

Content Explosion & Panorama: Start with a simple investigation about the growth of content at your organization. Ask 10 random employees what video clips, news reports, PDF’s, briefings, or other content they have viewed or read in the past 3 months in order to be better at their jobs. You will be amazed at the volume and diversity of sources that they will report.  Here are a few predictions of what you will hear:

  • TED Videos: For leadership, management, and organizational content, TED is often the prime source for our workforce. Even when the organization has spent $$$ on great content from a learning provider, TED Videos are more viral, short, and externally validated.
  • User Content & Knowledge: Workers want to watch or read what their peers have to say about almost every topic. They often would rather see/read that than use a well-designed learning packet from a validated Subject Matter Expert.
  • “The Amount of Content is Overwhelming!”: Prepare to listen to learners, their managers, and even designers say that they are overwhelmed by the number and range of content choices. And, there is rarely help in sorting, ranking, or choosing which content piece is most effective for “me” at any given moment.
  • Fake News: In the age of “Fake News” and “Alternative Content” conversations, learners are not fully confident in the truth of a white paper or article. I recently read a review of a new learning product and later found out that the author had received a fee to evaluate and promote the innovation. Yet, that wasn’t indicated for the reader.

Here is where Curation is playing and will continue to play a key role in the future of learning and development. And, let’s view Curation as a 360 Degree process that can play a powerful role before, during, and following a learning activity or experience:

  • Curation of Learning Choices: When I choose a restaurant, I have 100% reliance on user ratings. I open an app to see how other buyers have rated the offering and I want to be able to drill down to look at greater details, such as menus or dress code. Learners want to evaluate the range of content choices (from both internal and external sources) with curation assistance and context.
  • Recommendations from Curation: Soon, we will see the rise of a special form of Curation System that will provide Recommendations to the learner based on preferences and backgrounds, and maybe even assisted with a Machine Learning form of predictive analysis. Workers will want to have their choices optimized and sorted for them.
  • Curation Coming Attractions: It works at the movie theater, so why can’t we scroll over an eLearning module’s link and get a 30 second preview of its content, focus, and activity formats? Curation helps the learner prepare for their learning moments ahead.
  • Curation in the Learning Moment: My favorite textbook from college, over 40 years ago, was Economics 101 by Paul Samuelson. It was the only textbook that had the important sentences already highlighted in color. Curation can help the learner absorb, sort, and notate (or notate for them) the key takeaway elements.
  • Curation of Extending Content/Context: As I read or view content, I often want more as a learner. Learners should have the ability to touch or click to get personalized extensions of the core material. And, give them a choice to see these now or at their moment of choice later.
  • Curation “Jump Aheads”: Often, we already know 80% of the content in a new learning activity. Organize it with tabs, chapters, and even instant mini-assessments to help the learner “jump ahead” to their new and needed segments. And, use this Big Learning Data to better curate the content for the next set of learners.
  • Curate by Summarizing and Repackaging Content Later: Take the content from a real-time class, webinar, or even conference and re-package it into a high energy “Readers Digest” roll-up of the content. Here is an example from our recent event, which was consumed by tens of thousands of colleagues: http://www.learning2016.com/curated-content

Curate before, during and after an event, for learning is truly multi-cycle and lifelong.

Published in CLO Magazine, May 2017

Your Learners Got Attitude!

Your learners got more and more attitude!

Your learners’ choices are changing. Their attitudes as learners in the middle of learning experiences are shifting. And, their assumptions about the yield of learning time invested are evolving.

Your learners are not being rude or arrogant, but they do have a new attitude, which may be surprising, disappointing, or confusing to us Learning and Development veterans. Some of your learners, who are normally grateful recipients of all that you can give them for development, may be showing new behaviors that look a bit more like “online dating”. Your learners look at a learning offer and…

  • Quickly give it a swipe left or a swipe right – “keep it” or “let it go”.
  • Ask “Is this good? Will my time on this be worth it?”
  • Want to know “Did other employees like this or is it just not worth my time?”
  • Ask “Is there a quicker or better way to learn?”
  • Say “Hey, give me the good stuff and skip the fluff!”

Your learners are better guardians of your wage time than you! Set up a 75 minute webinar for every regional manager and their attitude kicks in:

  • “Is there really 75 minutes of new and valuable stuff?”
  • “Do I really need to participate live? Will my absence be noticed?”
  • “Could I watch the archived version and skip to the few minutes of important info?”
  • “Ah, let me order my lunch, check my emails, and have a side telephone call during this very long webinar.”

Your learners have attitude and it will grow as the panorama of learning options expand. They will make personal swaps:

  • Skip the leadership videos that your Learning and Development group purchased and watch a few 18 minute Ted Talks that seem more engaging!
  • Ask to take the assessment quiz before the class – in order to skip the teaching and jump to the certification!
  • Resist the sense of “newness” for each announced corporate strategy and find the old slides that look almost exactly the same (with a few text changes).
  • They might even partner with other colleagues to gain efficiency in their learning assignments. One person goes to the important meeting and sends real-time internal tweets with updates. Or, Joe does module 1 and Karen does module 2, and they collaborate to save time and energy. Both pass.

Your learners have attitude because the times are changing and the choices are getting more complex:

  • Memorization is becoming less important. The learner knows they can get content online, so why pretend to memorize it? Navigational readiness may be all they need or want.
  • The employment lifespan of a new employee is much lower. Some new hires want to jump in and start performing quicker since they may not be sticking around for long.
  • They may be way more interested in the CONTEXT rather than the CONTENT. They can’t look up the real backstory online, so context is their hunger in a classroom, much more than the PowerPoint slides.

Your learners have fewer boundaries or barriers to keep them from getting the best learning experiences. Beware!

  • Given an IT problem, they may call their friend who works in the IT department of another company for help! Why? They trust them and will get a more targeted answer.
  • They will likely validate or confirm knowledge from a trainer via a real-time search. I mentioned a statistic in a leadership program last year and five minutes later one of the participants kindly corrected me based on real-time research on my stated fact.
  • They are more drawn to a short video and FAQ instead of a well-formatted instructional layout.
  • And they want us, as teachers and facilitators, to more deeply honor what they know already and sort by what they really need to know now!

Your learners have attitude, and it is time for learning departments and professionals to adjust our own attitudes:

  • Encourage your learners to be “in charge” and own their learning process.
  • Toughen up and tighten our assessments to be of more value and guidance to learners.
  • Expand the curation skills, tools, and strategies of our organizations to harvest and target more personalized content for our learners.
  • Take the “school” branding out of our learning resources, treating learners more as colleagues, employees, and candidates - rather than students.
  • Allow our own attitudes to shift. My lectures can go on video. My ice breaker activities may be way too familiar. And, my learners want to connect with my knowledge more than my curriculum.

Learning deserves some new attitudes!

Published in CLO Magazine, March 2017

Transfer Happens When I Teach What I Just Learned!

Your learners have successfully finished a course or learning activity.  They have demonstrated their mastery of the content, skills or even behaviors in the educational environment (digital or face to face).  Now comes the important element – TRANSFER to the workplace.

The literature is filled with important processes that will help transfer, including managerial attention/engagement, practice opportunities and even remedial assets that will reinforce the learning objectives.

Let me add “Now, Teach it Someone Else” to the list of transfer tools. 

There is significant research, including 40 years of work by doctors David and Roger Johnson from the University of Minnesota, which highlights the importance of a learner taking their newly acquired knowledge and teaching it to someone else.

The learner may be confident or uncertain about their new content, but once they are asked to teach, an internal process of “cognitive rehearsal” and self-listening occurs.  The learner as teacher goes through these steps:

  • Restating the Knowledge in Their Words: Transfer requires the learner to make the new information their own.  When they have to explain a complicated theory to someone else, they will reduce, reframe and reword it to something that makes sense to themselves.
  • Listening to My Words Reinforces Understanding: The learner hears their own words as they explain things to others.  This listening is clarifying and will help them understand what they know clearly versus what gets “stuck” on the way out.
  • New Questions Surface as They Re-Teach: The learner understands or surfaces questions as they explain the content to another person.  Their own questions pop up as they explain it and they hear good questions from other people.
  • Steps are Reinforced: Learners often slice the complexity of the content into a simpler format.  But, in that process, key steps can be forgotten or ignored.  Re-teaching seems to increase a learner’s awareness of the complex aspects of the new information.
  • Emotional Framing: They may have learned a new process for safety procedures in a manufacturing environment. This process has both intellectual and emotional dimensions.  As the learner becomes the teacher, they may get in touch with a more personal dimension of the new behavior.
  • Sketching Counts: Often, a learner will draw or sketch a diagram as they re-teach.  These illustrations are quite powerful for helping the new learner integrate and transfer new content elements or processes.
  • Levels of Confidence Rise: The process of re-teaching can move a learner from “Unconsciously Competent” to “Consciously Competent”.

In elementary school classrooms, the concept of asking the students to learn and then re-teach is used very effectively.  The learners approach their learning differently when they know they will be asked to explain it to others.

This process is so important for TRANSFER as it creates an important post-learning experience that actually cements the new content into the learner as teacher in a key fashion.

The other aspect of re-teaching the content is that it can be leveraged into a new phase of course evaluation.  Asking a learner about the class is quite different once they have had to teach the content to another worker.  They can be asked questions such as the following:

  • Now that you have learned the content and taught it to someone else, what changes to the course structure would you suggest?
  • How do you rank the elements of the content according to your confidence in utilizing them and re-teaching them to others?
  • What language, vocabulary or concepts continue to be confusing or too complex for you?
  • What illustrations or job aids would have helped you implement the content or teach it to others in the workplace?
  • What Frequently Asked Questions would you suggest we add to the content, based on your questions and questions from others?

I truly and deeply believe in this process.  I design it into almost every LAB or Class that I facilitate. Try it and see how it works!  And, the learner can be asked to teach it to someone who already has the competency, as part of their process for gaining final readiness on the new content.  Learners as Teachers.  I like that!

Published in CLO Magazine, July-August 2017

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