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“Resources, not Courses” are Key to L&D Success

Bob Little 

February 3, 2017

Since today’s learners can access Google and other internet-based resources, they already – potentially, at least – know more than classroom instructors do. Moreover, an increasingly large amount of both relevant and irrelevant knowledge is now freely available.

This state of affairs is challenging and radically changing the L&D professional’s role. No longer can L&D professionals be “learning materials owners.” Instead, they must become curators – constantly asking, “Who’s going to want which materials and why?”

They need to address the questions, “What learning experience do we want to offer so that we create in learners a particular, desired insight? And how do we help to bring about that insight?”

So, rather than being concerned with developing and delivering learning resources, they must consider which platforms and infrastructures will deliver the most appropriate materials effectively and efficiently – especially, in this globalized business world, for learners whose first language isn’t English.

A further key activity for L&D professionals is deciding how best to create “experts” and then how best to scale those experts’ knowledge.

This is the view of James Mitchell, Senior Director of Global Talent Development at Rackspace Cloud University – part of Rackspace, the Texasbased managed cloud company. He outlined his views at the Charity Learning Consortium’s recent annual conference, held in the City of London.

Quoting the Irish playwright and critic George Bernard Shaw – who once said, “Progress is impossible without change, and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.” – Mitchell argued that today’s L&D professionals must engage in a great deal of mind-changing if they want to be successful in L&D’s rapidly developing brave new world.

“Currently, as L&D professionals, we’re doing things that don’t help us. The key thing is for us not to focus on what we can deliver but, rather, to focus on what we should change – and how we should do it.

By nature, L&D professionals tend to be drawn to “words,” whereas those who run the world’s businesses prefer “numbers.” So, said Mitchell, L&D professionals should get to like numbers too. Moreover, they should work as closely as possible with those who control the budgets in their organizations, to understand and then influence how those budgets are allocated.

“Within organizations, the only L&D metric that tends to ‘work’ is the number of hours that learners spend learning,” he observed. “In order to increase this figure, you have to connect with the learners.

“It’s not about delivering learning. Rather, it’s about curating learning and allowing learners to access the materials they need. When we began to do this in Rackspace, the relevant number rose from six to 54 in just one year – and that raised the profile of learning within the organization.”

Mitchell believes that the most effective way to achieve this is to make learning “rumor-led” within an organization.

He has instigated a policy of “doing learning by stealth” – where people can’t enroll on a program unless and until they have support from a sponsor in the organization. This approach – thinking about things differently – is now prompting the sponsors to want to attend the programs too.

He also encourages L&D professionals to engage in “moon shot thinking.” He explained this as, “Go for ‘ten times bigger,’ not a tenfold improvement – because that forces you to approach the problem in a radically different way. Moreover, you should attack a problem as if it’s already solved.”

He believes that moon shot thinking is “100 times more worth it but it’s never 100 times harder.”

Turning to the experience that today’s “learning customer” expects, Mitchell said it’s controlled by the quality of communication (but not where the L&D professional is the learning deliverer) and customer service.

“Curation’s the key,” he said. “It’s all about letting go. The problem is that we get attached to stuff we’ve developed. Everything’s valuable at a point in time – but we all need to move on.

“I believe that the age of the learning management system is dead. There are so many more things that you need to think about rather than just an LMS. By its very name, an LMS is about management – and there’s more to meeting learning needs than that!

“The key to success for L&D professionals is resources, not courses.”

Offering an alternative perspective, Tim Drewitt, a digital learning strategist who’s Product Innovator at Kallidus, says, “The entity that’s currently known as the LMS isn’t dead but it needs to evolve to reflect the modern learning agenda. It has a role to play in managing the small overall proportion of learning thats formal, but it has to adapt to sustain informal and social learning too.

Content curation and user-generated content all require support and faciliation – even moderation – and so the LMS needs to offer learners the L&D tools to enable them to fully capitalize on all their learning activities. It also needs to provide them with a platform to learn and share knowledge collaboratively.

I recently worked with 21 organizations which, between them, deliver learning to 330,000 employees. They unanimously described the LMS of the future as a ‘one stop shop for learning’ and shared their aspirations to develop what they termed ‘the Google for learning’.”

Richard Lowe, Director of Training and Digital Learning Solutions at Hewlett Rand, believes, “The role of L&D in business is still about ‘strategic enablement’. Whatever an organization’s strategy, L&D exists to develop people to deliver its goals.

“So, as L&D professionals, we need to know our business, stakeholders and learners. If we do, L&D should be able to demonstrate a business case to justify an L&D budget for the solutions it proposes.

L&D’s role continues to be about prioritizing and directing content where it’s needed – and LMSs have made identifying these needs easier. However, there are times when learners want to direct their own ‘informal learning’ – and, then, L&D should provide learning resources and signpost content that may be valuable to learners.

There’s always been a role for L&D in curating content but, since the evolution of the internet, the content of our ‘learning resources library’ has grown exponentially. So we must help our learners find and source content more effectively.”

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