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Key Skills and Tips for L&D Professionals

Bob Little 

January 13, 2017

For many centuries, our society has devoted a great many resources to teaching knowledge, while placing less emphasis on teaching and developing skills. Moreover, we know that having skills allows us to make things happen but it takes time to develop them.

Like everyone who wants to make anything happen, L&D professionals need to develop skills – and to develop them in tune with the changing times. There are four key changes in particular that are currently affecting the L&D profession:

  • Traditional “learning events” have become learning processes.
  • Face-to-face learning is giving way to remote learning.
  • Learners dependency (on the knowledge of their teachers/instructors) is morphing into learning empowerment – brought about, among other things, by their access to informal, social learning, often via mobile devices. This means that they don’t have to wait for classes to be scheduled. They can learn for themselves – and they can teach others. This can be a threat to trainers remaining as the “founts of all knowledge.”
  • Learning can happen at any time. It doesn’t have to happen at a specific (course-determined) time any more.

Key Skills

At the 2016 Online Educa Berlin (OEB) conference, held in November and December, internationally-known speaker Clive Shepherd, of the U.K.-based More Than Blended Learning Company, argued that today’s L&D professional needs skills in three broad areas: interacting with stakeholders, learners and media.

“Learning professionals should be learning architects – creating the ‘space’ for people to learn,” he said. “They also need to be analysts scoping learning needs and they need to be managers – making learning happen by managing relationships with stakeholders, learners, line managers, and others. They also need evaluation skills, so that they can assess and prove the value of the learning.”

He added that, when it comes to interacting with learners, L&D professionals need instructor, facilitator and coaching skills. They also need to be “experts” in finding and enabling key subject matter experts to disseminate their knowledge and skills memorably and engagingly.

“Then, today’s L&D professionals need to have the skills of a journalist – to meet others, interview them, and share insights with others in their organization,” said Shepherd. “They also need to have design skills and production skills – especially if they don’t have the luxury of being able to commission all their learning materials from others.

“Finally, they also need curation skills – providing value to a learning audience by pointing them to relevant things that will be of interest to them.”

Shepherd also believes that, in addition to these skills, L&D professionals need to have and adhere to professional standards that enable them to behave ethically. They also need evidence-based principles. In other words, they must know the current thinking on how learning happens.

L&D professionals also need to know current best practice. Theory is always useful but you need to know what really works for others.”

According to Google Digital Academy’s Patrick Singer, there are five things that L&D professionals need to do if they’re to achieve “praise and glory.”

Understand the Business of the Organization That They Work For

Singer said, “This means talking to people and asking them such things as, ‘What’s your particular problem?’, ‘What will allow you to get promoted?’, and ‘What numbers do you have to achieve?’ It’s only once you know the answers to these questions that you can think of ways to help them.

“It might help if you attend their team meetings and ask to look at their dashboards. This should enable you to see their key ‘numbers’ and give you an understanding of the business in which you operate. These are the business metrics that must be achieved in order for the organization to survive.”


Identify Passionate People – and Develop Them

Singer said, “You only need to identify a few people who know about things and are passionate about such things as talking to customers and moving the organization forwards.

“Also, remember that anyone can teach anyone anything. That’s the principle behind peer-to-peer learning. Find these passionate people and give them a framework to use to help them develop others. Then learning will happen in your organization – even if you only curate and facilitate it, rather than deliver it.”

Build and Sell Your Plan

This means that you need to learn how to sell, said Singer. “The best way to begin is to start small. Tell people that, ‘We’re going to do a pilot program that will make us more agile as an organization’. The ‘business professionals’ in the organization will be interested when they hear this. Use the word ‘opportunity’ quite a lot – and be open to failure from time to time.”

Incentivize People in Your Organization to Help You

Said Singer, “These people aren’t necessarily professional teachers or trainers. Rather, they’re the people in your organization whom you know are the best at what they do.”

Prove That You Can Create Value for the Organization

This means you’ll need to use the business metrics that you’ll have gained at stage one of this process.

“Think of the L&D department as a profit and loss unit,” Singer argued. “The people who work in the L&D department create value – but you have to find a way to measure that, even if that measurement is going to be imprecise.

“So, L&D professionals need to understand their organization’s business metrics. They need to show colleagues in their business how they are helping them to achieve their goals. They have to know how ‘learning’ works – and they need the analytical skills to be able to prove that learning works.

“Things are moving so fast in today’s world of work that no one has a chance of keeping up with any and every development. So, the key to success is to create space in your organization for subject matter experts – especially those who’re in-house – to supply the learning content that your learners need.

“You need to build the framework that allows them to supply to the key learning content.”

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4 comments on “Key Skills and Tips for L&D Professionals”:

  1. Theodor Kaijanante wrote:


  2. Antonio Sandoval wrote:


  3. Seipati Ditsoane wrote:

    Thank you so much for the informative article. I have learned and enjoyed it.

  4. Bheki Nxumalo wrote:

    Your Articles are quite informative. Please add some content regarding key skills and tips for HR Beginners in the Profession.