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!