L&D: Creator, Curator or Architect?

Things are changing in L&D, so how do you know what role you need to play, when?

With technology evolving rapidly, the Learning and Development environment is changing fast. Most L&D professionals recognise that their role is evolving, but it can be hard to know where to focus limited time and budgets.

Should L&D be creating learning material or curating external resources? Obviously, there’s a need for both, but your best approach will vary depending on the situation.

Here are three questions to include in your decision making framework:

Question 1: Competitive Advantage

Is this an area where we have (or seek to have) a competitive advantage?

What is this organisation’s competitive strategy? What does it have to do better than its competitors in order to stay ahead of the pack?

From a strategic perspective, there are usually no more than two or three things that really give an organisation its edge, and whatever these are, they need to be done exceptionally well.

So, if the strategy is to compete by offering superior customer service, then this must be a key area of focus for L&D. If customer service truly needs to be superior, then it’s likely that an off-the-shelf training package won’t be enough to maintain that competitive advantage in the longer term – after all, what’s to stop the competition from buying the same? Instead, to keep the customer service teams performing better than the competition, L&D will probably need to put resources into creating and optimising bespoke programmes that will help the organisation build and maintain an advantage over its rivals.

Question 2: Transferable vs Specific

How transferable or specific is this learning topic or development area?

How often have we heard the phrase when we meet with new clients: “We are different to other industries, to other companies” closely followed by “What experience have you had working with xx type of company?”  Yes, companies, industries, sectors are different… but a significant amount of learning and development is transferable from one company or organisation to another.

Soft or behavioural skills such as self-awareness, emotional intelligence and leadership skills are almost wholly transferable.  A person moving from one employer to another will be able to apply all or nearly all of his or her learning in the new environment.

Clearly, where the development need is truly specific to a particular organisation, the L&D team has to play the role of creator – creating or commissioning bespoke content. However, when the learning and development is generic and transferable, L&D can instead seek a curating role, sourcing the best of what’s out there. Where skills are highly transferable, the likelihood is that there are experts who will be much further down the learning curve when it comes to working out how best to train and develop people – so there is little sense in investing precious resources reinventing the wheel.

And of course, with xAPI (Tin Can) accelerating the growth of Content-as-a-Service (CaaS), organisations can be increasingly flexible about where they source their content.

Question 3: Knowledge vs Behaviour

Is this learning and development need about filling a knowledge gap or is it about changing people’s behaviour?

Knowledge is now highly accessible and often freely available. If the problem is a simple one, like “How do I do this?” a few seconds on a smartphone will often provide the answer and L&D may not need to get involved at all.

However, with more complex subject areas, people need not only to acquire new understanding but also to practise and embed new skills. The 70:20:10 model (based on the idea that only 10% of workplace learning is formal while 20% is social and 70% takes place on the job) points to a changing role for L&D. The clear implication is that L&D can become the architect of a wider learning experience, working with line managers to ensure that formal, social and on-the-job learning elements are in place to complement each other.

Indeed, when behaviour is the focus there is significant scope – and need – for L&D to put in place a variety of different elements to support behaviour change. For instance, to develop interpersonal or leadership skills, people need to explore, question, reflect, share and seek feedback about the impact of their current behaviours before they can move on to practising and ultimately embracing new behaviours. There are a range of interventions that can help deepen this kind of learning, such as facilitated discussions, coaching conversations and peer mentoring.

When it comes to behavioural learning, the L&D practitioners of the future will be comfortable in the role of architect, drawing all these elements – and more – into the learning mix.

Aptimore is a personalised online learning platform focused on the transferable skills that people need for management, leadership and working with others.

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