The Learning Meme of 2021 – A Real Lesson for Learning

Just hours after the first coronavirus lockdown, the memes started rolling in, their punchlines becoming ever more incredulous as the weeks wore on. By autumn, the new WFH masses, now literally left to their own devices, were ordering Zoom shirts from Instagram, sipping quarantinis at 10am, and juggling home-schooling with furlough finances. But remarkably, from the chaos, came progress. LVMH refitted perfume production lines to make hand-sanitiser. Brick-and-mortar restaurants signed up to Deliveroo; yoga classes went virtual; classrooms went online. In what for many was an exponential learning curve, businesses adapted and survived the most devastating year of the 21st century.

Those that prevailed had one vital advantage: not their office spaces or their balance sheets but the creativity of their people. Programmers, marketers, salespeople, accountants, administrators – no matter what ‘box’ they had been previously placed in, all had to mine deep reserves of innovation, agility, and collaboration to save their companies from collapse.

For those who work in corporate learning – the lessons are unforgettable. Firstly, miracles can (and do) happen in companies that value human potential as deeply as raw profit. Secondly, people will adapt – learning new skills when and where they need to, not when and where they are told. Thirdly, agile and flexible networked teams will naturally outperform isolated people in fixed roles.

Technology, too, played its part as an enabler of change. 2020 was a year in which ‘going online’ meant survival, yet pre-COVID it was considered an optional extra. Consequently, some L&D professionals found themselves ill-prepared and lacking the necessary digital skills to drive the machinery. That it needed a global pandemic to drag classroom training online, while employees had been plugged into YouTube and WhatsApp for years, was proof of how arrhythmic the L&D profession had become to the beat of its learners. Coronavirus was the catalyst that L&D needed to lurch forward. Now it must ride that momentum and propel itself into a fearless digital future, building next-level skills such as data analysis, AI personalisation, and performance consulting; never again to be caught off-guard.

I am confident we will succeed. Last year, over 100 prominent CEOs signed a Statement on the Purpose of a Corporation pledging to “…support employees through training and education that help develop new skills for a rapidly changing world.” The SEC also recently mandated that training and development metrics be included alongside financial statements for certain US companies. These bold actions will undoubtedly have a far-reaching impact on workplace L&D.

So what does this mean for learning and performance? Firstly, we must cultivate the human skills that will help us tackle future challenges; secondly, we must build digital skills to support a rapidly evolving technical landscape. Indeed, continuous skills mapping will become critical for workforce planning, as will the need for Communities of Practice that keep ad-hoc skills current. For more in-depth learning, Capability Academies will become the backbone for specific business strategies and function areas.

As we pull away from the tailspin of 2020 and reflect on what we see, it is clear that learning is not merely about courses, tutors or LXP’s. It is about attitude and action. It is the armour with which we fortify ourselves against challenge and adversity, with confidence and alacrity.

Why I am running 320km to The Learning Awards 2021

Well, Happy New Year Everyone! I am sure, like me, you are hoping this year is better for us all than last year. I sincerely hope that this year brings you all renewed hope, improved mental health, and happiness.

For me, and for many of the team here at LPI, this time of year is all about preparing for The Learning Awards, which traditionally takes place in London, in February. This has been the case for the last 24 years. But this year will be different, as we look to provide an online awards event like no other, and I can promise you that we are working hard to do just that.

Those who have attended The Learning Awards previously will be aware that one of the highlights of the night is the charity auction in aid of Dreamflight which each year raises thousands for this amazing organisation. The charity genuinely changes lives; through taking children with a serious illness or disability without their parents on a holiday of a lifetime in Orlando, Florida.

Over the years I have been privileged to hear some of the stories of children who have been on the trip, and even those who have gone on to become Paralympic champions like Liz Johnson. These stories have deeply affected me, and been a constant reminder that adversities can be overcome, and that we are capable of so much when we put our minds to it.

Despite not being able to host the charity auction in person, together at The Hilton, Park Lane, London, it is possible to raise money and support the incredible work Dreamflight do. So on New Year’s Day I decided to start my journey to The Learning Awards 2021, by running from my home to The Hilton, Park Lane. Due to Covid restrictions, I cannot leave the Tier 4 area I am in, but will be running the equivalent distance.

You can track my progress on Strava if you wish, by searching for my name and following. Or you can join the Strava Club I have created on there for people to share and support one another.

In total I will need to run 320 km, which equates to a marathon every week between now and the event on 18th February. So, for an inexperienced runner like myself it is a big ask.

If you can help me, please do. You can either share this blog, or this link to the JustGiving page – or even better, do both and donate if you can. Your donation will absolutely change the life of a young person.

Thank you, and have a great 2021. I look forward to welcoming you online to The Learning Awards 2021 if I can still stand up!

What makes a Great Learning Organisation?

In 1990, Peter Senge published “The Fifth Discipline”,
in which he suggested theories and methods to convert
companies into ‘learning organisations’.
Senge proposed five disciplines: Shared Vision, Mental Models,
Team Learning, Personal Mastery and a fifth discpline, System
Thinking, to bind all others together.
Much of Senge’s book is still relevant but it describes a time
before the World Wide Web (the Mosaic web browser was
released three years after the book), and the author could not
have forseen the explosive growth of technology, information
and knowledge sharing that would totally reconfigure the
learning landscape.
So has Senge’s definition of a ‘learning organisation’ changed
as a result? Has technology’s influence made the learning
organisation of 2020 different to that of 1990?

We, at The LPI , asked people to complete an online survey with just one question:
“What traits, technologies, capabilities and cultures make a company a great place to learn?”
There was no limitation on the length of the answer. As an open-ended
question, we expected the responses to be varied so each response was
reviewed and categorized by theme/topic. Where individuals covered
more than one topic in their answer, these were separated out into their
respective categories. Synonyms of words were treated as belonging to the
same category i.e. leaders and managers. We also used text analyzers to
scan for the most commonly used words and phrases to help identify broad
categories of responses.
In total, we collected 481 individual responses ranging from single
sentences to several paragraphs – giving a dataset of over 16,000 words.
Opinions were provided by people working at all levels in L&D – students,
trainers, consultants, managers, global heads, and commercial directors all
contributed.

What we found was that, despite the incredible technological advances
since 1990 (many of which have been utilised in workplace L&D) almost
all respondees talked about the learning organisation in human terms. Less
than 1% of responses mentioned a particular technology or thought of it
as an important contributor.
Instead, the respondees mentioned space to reflect, freedom to fail,
leaders as role-models, and shared goals as just some of the characteristics
that defined a great learning organisation.

Let’s look at the most common characteristics…

Collective Responsibility

28% of respondees suggested that a Great Learning
Organisation (GLO) shifts the responsibility of learning away
from a central team to the company as a whole.
While this may sound like the death-knell for L&D, it is actually the
opposite. Firstly, not every employee will have the maturity and
independence to be responsible for their own learning. There will
always be those who prefer the pedagogical safety of an instructor-led course. Secondly, self-directed learning approaches rely on a
supporting infrastructure of people, process and environment, and
easily available technology and information.
L&D is therefore uniquely positioned to help – by providing the
scaffolding, guidance and incentives that make employees feel
valued (and recognised) from the investments they make in their
own learning. By creating an environment where people are
encouraged to explore and push their own limits of performance,
L&D can move from a training ‘cost-centre’ to a collaborative agent
of true behavioural change.

Practical suggestion: Investigate ways to encourage self-directed
learning and user-generated content.

Freedom to Fail

34% of those surveyed believed that a Great Learning
Organisation tolerates failure and allows people to learn from
their mistakes.
The most common phrase in this category was ‘learning from
mistakes’ and the word ‘blame’ appeared in nearly half of the
responses, suggesting that some of the respondees had personally
experienced this in the workplace.
The extent to which this behaviour can be encouraged depends on
the organisation. Some industries tolerate the risk of failure better
than others. People working in banking, insurance, pharmaceuticals
or defence, for example, will generally encounter a more risk-averse
culture than those working in advertising, creative, education or IT.
Nevertheless, any organisation that fosters a culture where failure
is accepted (and expected), where people can openly share their
mistakes or misjudgements for the wider benefit of others, and where
blame is discouraged, will be well on the way to becoming a GLO.

Practical suggestion: Instigate regular team meetings where people
talk about their failures and mistakes – and how they overcame or
corrected them. Focus on the circumstances that led to the mistake
and the decisions that were made at the time. Explore alternative
approaches.

Leaders as Role Models

Almost a third of responses (29%) suggested that a GLO has
leaders who are role-models; ambassadors of learning.
Such leaders set examples by sharing stories (including their own)
and by supporting, championing and defending learning in all its
forms. This characteristic would start with the CEO and percolate
down through layers of senior management, with each demonstrating
a commitment to learning and performance, implementing it as
a collaborative partnership between themselves and their teams,
improving the whole culture of the organisation along the way.
One surprising dimension emerged from the responses: not everyone
defined their leaders in a hierarchical sense. In fact, 22% of responses
suggested a leader could be anyone in the organisation – an
accountant in Finance, a receptionist at the front desk, a recently hired digital marketer, or a consultant out on the road.
So, in a GLO, anyone with expertise in their field is allowed to take
the lead and share knowledge, when practical and relevant, regardless
of where they are in the hierarchy.

Practical suggestion: Identify and encourage leaders to contribute
their knowledge via video or self-produced content – widening their
field of influence and sharing their wealth of wisdom throughout the
organisation.

Shared Vision and Goals

22% of respondees said that, when they understand their
purpose, the organisation’s purpose, and how the two support
each other, there is an increased desire to contribute more
through personal development and innovative thinking.
The GLO, then, is explicitly clear about its mission, vision and goals,
and consistently aligns its learning strategy to support them. By
putting employees at the heart of its business strategy, and creating
a clear career path for everyone, the GLO builds a culture of
transparency and trust that is universally beneficial.
Another viewpoint was that ‘a desire to learn’ should itself be
included as an organisational value, written into the company’s
mission statement and actively recruited for.
This makes sense: technical skills and knowledge come and go,
but employees with an aptitude to learn new skills will always be
valuable.


Practical suggestion: Set an expectation for employees to develop
themselves, share that knowledge and have a culture and processes
which drive and reward that behaviour. Recruit for those attributes.

Space

In today’s “always-on” world, almost a quarter of respondees (23%)
mentioned various types of space as a desirable characteristics in
the great learning organisation. Here are the most common ‘spaces’
referred to in the responses.


Permission Space


Psychological safety was a common phrase. A GLO has a culture that
allows people to freely express their views and make suggestions for
improvement without fear of reprisal. Psychological safety is a grouplevel construct and, although it is by no means a new phenomenon,
the advent of social media communities, remote working and
distributed teams means it may be harder to achieve than before.
Employees who thrive in face-to-face meetings may find less
permission space in a team WhatsApp group, for example.


Leadership Space


It was suggested that leaders within a GLO create enough space
for teams to carry out their tasks unimpeded by technological
restrictions, micromanagement, or overly strict processes. Whilst
some level of control is necessary, especially if projects are complex,
leaders who step back and encourage independent work and
decision-making in their teams may find benefits to both themselves
and their people.

Exploration Space


Curiosity, exploration, and experimentation are attributes that have
been responsible for nearly all discoveries and progression in human
history.
The GLO encourages people to explore and bring in new ideas,
new concepts and varied points of view. When employees are free
to learn as they do in the outside world, removed from workplace
training schedules, mandatory compliance and rigid programmes, they
rediscover their curiosity and find things that spark their interest. The
GLO knows this and makes every effort to encourage and leverage
these behaviours in corporate learning.


Physical Space


The GLO has real, physical 3D space and time for employees to think,
reflect, and develop themselves. Quiet rooms, relaxing spaces and
time away from the workplace for self-development – and a culture
that rewards the utilisation of such space – can have dramatic effects
on the mental health of employees.


Practical Suggestion: Consider changing the way you validate how
people are developing by moving them from an instructor/course-led
model (how many courses they’ve done) to a self-creative model (how
many ideas they’ve contributed).
Create inviting physical spaces for people to decompress and explore
ideas.
Look for ways to improve psychological safety in teams and social
communities where face-to-face meetings are impractical.

Collaboration and Sharing

40% of respondees (the highest percentage overall) mentioned
collaboration and sharing in their response.
Collaboration across all functions and levels was suggested – interns
working with CEO’s; contractors working with marketing; first-line
support staff working with product designers – cultivating a respect
and an understanding of how each person contributes to the success
of the organisation.
Rather than passively expecting collaboration to happen organically,
the GLO actively develops communication and teamwork skills in
its people through targeted learning. Beginning with communities
of practice and regular knowledge sharing sessions/forums where
individuals connect with peers and experts to learn and share, the GLO
eventually builds a culture of collaboration that is simply the way the
company does business, written into its DNA.


Practical suggestion: Encourage and reward the sharing of stories,
lessons learned, knowledge, skills and content – not just across teams
and departments but further afield to customers and partners.

In summary, since Senge’s 1990 publication, it is irrefutable that the
technological landscape has changed beyond recognition.
Yet, despite a plethora of online platforms, virtual communities,
devices and algorithms that enable us to find and share
information faster than ever before, the human challenges of
workplace learning remain steadfastly unaffected.
Technology may be an enabler of performance but it is not
the entire answer. People and the environments in which they
work are equally important.
As technological innovations continue to delight and astound
us, we must pay equal attention to the development of our
human attributes, for it is only in the balance of the two sides
that true performance can be achieved.

Zoomed Out? How to Avoid Online Meeting Overload

Bored-Online-what-to-do

For many of us, our working days have changed significantly, and in one particular way that may not be very good for us. People are now meeting online for everything from work to working out, but a large number of these meetings could have an effect on how we feel. I know that many people I am talking to are starting to feel drained, and some even suggesting a phone call rather than online meeting, to differentiate the experience. A big issue here is how we recover from meetings.

One of the main obstacles to recovering from meetings for me is the time it takes to switch from one point of focus (the meeting) to another (deeper, non-meeting work). After a stressful meeting, my productivity can be impacted as I try to deal with the resulting mental effect. Traditionally, I would have down time after meetings when I would be able to consolidate and arrange my thoughts on the tube, the train, or driving.

The consequence of this is that it can take longer to really focus on the next piece of work. If you then add in multiple meetings per week (I have 5 today), it’s possible that hours of productivity could be lost in a week. The real kick in the teeth is that that then forces you into working evenings and weekends just to get your actual work (emails..etc) done.

So, here are some ways I am going to try to beat this, and recover quickly when online meetings affect my mental and physical energy levels. Perhaps they could work for you.

1. Schedule strict meeting-free time periods in your day.

Reserve certain time periods (ideally your most productive ones) for deep work, and stick to scheduling no meetings during these time periods.

The simple act of scheduling meeting-free times in your calendar that are dedicated solely to this type of work activity can help you to get a better perspective. For me, it guarantees that I won’t be diverted into other activities that cause distractions and impact focus.

2. Reduce the time you spend in meetings.

You can reduce the time you and your team spend in pointless meetings by following a few simple rules:

  • Format your meetings to be short and succinct, with an agenda consisting of only two or three salient action items.
  • Only hold essential meetings. If the issue can be handled by chat or email, do it that way and then distribute the results to the wider team.
  • Include only the people necessary to the planned discussion. Again, use email to distribute short conclusions and summarise decisions made to others.
  • Provide a way to record the minutes for the meeting, either through technology or a separate individual.
  • Finally, set hard-and-fast rules about meeting length. If a meeting is to last 30 minutes, it is over by 30 minutes and one second. No exceptions.

3. Self-debrief after a meeting.

Be sure to schedule a little debrief after meetings to help pinpoint both what’s going right and what can be improved. After each meeting, ask some probing questions, such as:

  • Did I achieve what I wanted?
  • Who participated? Who was relatively silent?
  • Was there a significant degree of distraction, perhaps accompanied by side discussions?
  • Did the main discussion get sidetracked significantly?

Also consider what went well. At what point were participants most engaged? What were you discussing and what exactly was going on then? Through these questions, figure out what worked and what didn’t, then use that information to tweak how you run future meetings to be shorter and more efficient.

4. Exercise regularly.

Research proves that regularly scheduled workouts help build mental strength and focus throughout the day.

Regular exercise and movement helps improve cognitive skills and focus in a number of both direct and indirect ways, including reducing inflammation, improving sleep and increasing the supply of oxygen to your brain by forming new blood vessels.

I like to run as often as possible, but for many people I know walking or cycling, as well as mind-body movement disciplines such as yoga and Pilates are really helpful.

5. Take regular breaks throughout the day. 

I read recently that making a habit of taking a few minutes each hour to stand up, walk away from your computer, stretch and get water helps you maintain a stronger level of focus throughout the day. Disengaging for brief periods helps you maintain focus throughout your workday.

6. Don’t let meetings ruin your day.

Meetings can be essential for the success of your company, but right now, I think many of us are attending too many for a number of reasons. It is important to not be a slave to the software, and to see it as just one form of work.

7. If all else fails…

When the meetings are just dragging, and nothing is getting resolved, play this sound effect from your phone and you can give yourself a minute to reset, while you go and get that Amazon order…

The Role of L&D – Business Objectives AND Learner Needs

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It’s not unfair to say that L&D professionals often find themselves pulled in two directions at once. On the one hand, there is the obligation to provide learning resources that specifically align with business objectives.

On the other, there’s an increasing need to satisfy employee appetites for skills development that helps them perform better.

With these two forces regularly in opposition, it’s easy for L&D to fall into a form of existential crisis. What is its role? Who is its master?

If business objectives are the rocks, then learning is the river that flows over and around them. The trouble starts when learning objectives are built too tightly with business objectives. Then they become a dam, restricting progress.

Let’s first consider the business objectives. Typical business goals such as ‘increase profit’, ‘improve the customer experience’, ‘tighten operational efficiency’, are handed down to the L&D team with the expectation that people will be trained in the necessary job-specific, compliance, and management roles to achieve these goals in line with targets.

Now, there is nothing inherently wrong with wanting to link business objectives with learning objectives. Indeed, recent research by Brandon Hall (Learning Strategy 2018 report) found that three out of four organisations believed that aligning their learning strategy with business goals was a top priority.

That same report found that only 5% believed they had already achieved this effectively, however. Why such a disparity between desire and success?

To answer this, we must look at the trends emerging for individuals in workplace learning – trends that have already been well documented by Bersin, Glassdoor, and others.

A learner-centric approach

Employees are looking to be developed for the roles they are doing now, but they are also expecting development for wider responsibility, transferrable skills, and the freedom to self-learn, reflect, and innovate.

The era of a ‘job for life’ now seems a distant memory. People who have undergone formative and vocational learning over many years to become subject-matter experts have been challenged on several fronts, both geo-political and technological. One example – the rise of AI and automation in the legal profession – has resulted in many skilled roles being made redundant. Affected individuals without a sufficiently well developed alternative skillset to draw upon have found themselves side-stepped.

If all learning is purely business-aligned, then the business might be happy but, eventually, talent will migrate from the organisation, leaving behind a wasteland of abandoned ideas, disconnected technologies, and unrealised potential.

Consequently, many people are now choosing employers that value soft skills and offer ‘future-fit’ learning and development far beyond the original job specification. Recent research by PwC found that 74% surveyed were willing to learn new skills or be re-trained to remain employable in the future. Employers who recognise this can attract and retain people who are hungry to learn new things and not afraid to move outside their comfort zone – essential attributes in a fast-moving, competitive world.

When the people inside an organisation are more versatile, more dextrous and more insightful, then the potential for increased performance through learning is vastly increased.

L&D, therefore, must also become more versatile. If business objectives are the rocks, then learning is the river that flows over and around them. The trouble starts when learning objectives are built too tightly with business objectives. Then they become a dam, restricting progress and stemming the flow of creativity. It is impossible for any business to truly know the minds of its employees – to know the limits of their talents and their ability to innovate and contribute.

Learning objectives that are exclusively mapped to business objectives will always be two-dimensional. The third, vital, component is the learner – and for true performance to happen, there must be a symbiotic relationship between the three. Organisations that have recognised this, and in response fostered a culture of self-development and exploration, have excelled.

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Finding the balance between learner and business objectives

What behaviour, then, does L&D need to encourage? How can it successfully serve these two masters?

Firstly, it needs to nail engagement. Not just in terms of the learning resources it provides, but also in helping the learner to understand what the business mission is, their place within it, and their potential for contribution.

Secondly, it needs to form strong leadership alliances with business influencers, advocates and supporters.

Thirdly, it needs to foster a culture of self-discovery, new experiences and curiosity. It needs to provide space for people to reflect and explore, to share ideas and build communities, to lead by example and learn from mistakes, and to expand into new roles and develop mentoring capability. These behaviours drive the business objectives, not by being perfectly aligned, but by creating a workforce that is empowered and eager to tackle challenges.

People want to do things they couldn’t do before. If all learning is purely business-aligned, then the business might be happy but, eventually, talent will migrate from the organisation, leaving behind a wasteland of abandoned ideas, disconnected technologies, and unrealised potential.

Organisations that help people to learn to do things better – even things that are not necessarily their job in that company – have the foundation in place to achieve sustained business performance.

It’s important to stress that this is a Utopian viewpoint. There is no one-size-fits-all solution for L&D because every organisation has a different culture. So there will always be a need to create learning resources for specific business objectives. There will always be requirements for L&D to develop resources for compliance against industry standards; for safety training and mandated processes. L&D has the potential, however, to influence organisations to adopt a more entrepreneurial learning culture that benefits everyone. It will take courage and there will always be risks – but the rewards are indisputable.

When the fluctuating forces of business, L&D, and learner are aligned, a dynamic performance culture can emerge that not only achieves business objectives, but also transcends them.

Move from Learning and Development Department to Performance Department

Move from Learning and Development Department to Performance Department

What is the key to driving performance through learning in 2020?

As we head into the new year, what resolution should learning professionals arguably add to the top of their list? To transform L&D into a performance-driven function that is tuned-in to the business and offers learning at the point of need.

Learning is, without question, undergoing a renaissance. It wasn’t so long ago that many L&D professionals were bemoaning the relentless onslaught of AI, automation and other emerging technologies as threats to their very existence. Skilled jobs in finance, HR and legal were surrendered to the machines, and L&D looked to be next in line.

But these proclamations were premature. L&D reconnected with its human soul and realised that irreplaceable qualities such as critical thinking, teamwork and creativity could join forces with technology to forge new advances in the field.

L&D isn’t immune to automation but its willingness to innovate and drive positive change is what makes it such a dynamic and vibrant industry in which to work. And the market is listening. Linkedin’s 2019 Workplace Learning report found that talent development teams were enjoying higher levels of investment from the business, compared to only two years ago when limited budgets were their biggest concern.

The global corporate training market is well over $200 billion and this growth is set to continue. Learning, and its intrinsic link to performance, is firmly on the management agenda, and, with increased buy-in from leaders, L&D can only benefit.

L&D must be the conductor, orchestrating a unified vision of learning to the entire company.

Continuous learning

It’s now accepted that learning as a one-off event, delivered as an interruption to the workflow, is not enough. Learning and work are now so intertwined that it’s difficult to say where one ends and the other begins. Continuous learning, in social, informal, and experiential contexts, mirrors the ‘real-world’ more closely and means working and learning can happen concurrently.

As Janina Kugel, CHRO at Siemens AG, said in her opening remarks at the Unleash World annual summit: “I personally believe that no organization in this world will ever reach whatever they have on their business agenda if they do not invest in continuous learning and continuous personal growth.” Linkedin’s survey agreed – 94% indicated they would stay longer in a company that invested in their development.

Continuous learning is also a sound strategy to survive in a skills-turbulent job market. In her article, Learning is the New Pension, Heather McGowan suggests that remaining employed or employable depends not on one’s formative education but on one’s willingness to learn new skills or re-train – a view met by 74% of the 10,000 people surveyed in PwC’s recent report.

This is the perfect scenario for those of us passionate about learning and performance. People want to learn in order to stay relevant, and businesses want to invest in order to stay competitive. Music to the learning professional’s ears, right?

An L&D function that is tuned-in to the business, digitally-fluent, and change-agile, can bring those who need closer to those who know.

The five challenges for learning leaders

However, this music isn’t yet harmonious; the players still need to fine-tune their instruments. For the past three years, the LPI has surveyed learning leaders who register for LEARNING LIVE about their toughest workplace challenges. From over 1,200 responses, five common issues arise:

  1. Creating a learning culture
  2. Developing the workforce of the future
  3. Digital transformation and digital learning
  4. Leadership and management development
  5. Self-directed learning

The location of learning

Each of these topics could be a separate article, yet a single concept unites them: location. For L&D to effectively tackle these issues, it must be where the learning is happening and not be an isolated function delivering a cost service back to the business.

The L&D function has an obligation to the individual and to the organisation, so it needs to listen critically, set the tempo, and interpret the score. L&D must be the conductor, orchestrating a unified vision of learning to the entire company.

With learning now the collective responsibility of the enterprise, modern L&D teams are thinking less like ‘command-and-control centres’ and more like performance advocates; the torchbearers of all that is good in learning.

They don’t mandate courses or schedule training – they recognise that a learning organisation requires interventions at the point of need, in the flow of work. And so they ‘notice and nurture’, continuously scanning for knowledge gaps and providing guidance when and where it is needed.

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Their number one challenge – creating a learning culture – may appear utopian but it can be tackled by nudging behaviour. L&D itself cannot create a ‘learning culture’ but it can create supportive infrastructures that encourage people to build, discover, and share information as part of their work. An L&D function that is tuned-in to the business, digitally-fluent, and change-agile, can bring those who need closer to those who know.

Technology to drive performance

The use of technology to enhance our work, our learning, and our lives is a key factor in how we improve organisational performance. But technology improves rapidly and with each iteration comes new questions of privacy and morality.

Do we really need that software to aggregate millions of data points on the workforce to build learner profiles? Will it help us drive organisational performance or will it drive an ethical and moral wedge between L&D and the business?

And what about the challenge of self-directed learning through interfaces such as YouTube, Siri and Alexa? That’s invaluable search data that goes directly to Google, Apple and Amazon, and not to the L&D function where, clearly, it would be equally valuable.

In fact, in 2017, the Economist wrote that data is a more valuable resource than oil and there is no doubt of its essentiality to understanding and improving organisational and individual performance.

We can now confidently move away from traditional, siloed training delivery models and become involved with everything. Technology is here to support us.

When we have data, we can interpret it to gain information. The processing of information leads to knowledge, and the application of knowledge leads to wisdom. It might also be said that wisdom can lead to performance improvement because we know what to do, when to do it, and why.

Unfortunately, these are areas in which L&D struggles. The LPI’s Capability Map, which helps learning professionals discover their skills gaps, reports a significant shortcoming in L&D’s ability to evaluate impact, assess performance and analyse data. This should be a concern to L&D leaders for, without data analytics, there can be no real knowledge or wisdom.

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Artificial intelligence is proving to be a useful tool in gathering and interpreting data – one need look no further than Google or Facebook to appreciate the power that data+information can wield in a connected society (and the morality issues that arise from it). The gaining of knowledge remains a uniquely human skill and, although AI is evolving quickly, it still needs human help to learn and adapt itself to business challenges. Wisdom, however, remains firmly out of reach of the machines.

Become a performance advocate in 2020

In this age of rapid technological change, the sharing of knowledge and wisdom will be led by people, context and culture. And the drive towards performance will be led by learning.

L&D has the opportunity to capitalise. We can now confidently move away from traditional, siloed training delivery models and become involved with everything. Technology is here to support us.

All we need to do is focus, listen to the business, capture only enough data to understand what decisions are right for our people, nudge people towards continuous learning, nurture, support and champion. Only then can we increase our knowledge and wisdom to drive individual and organisational performance through learning.

What do you think makes a great learning organisation?

What traits, cultures and capabilities make somewhere a great place to learn? Take part in our one question survey. https://www.thelpi.org/survey