Death to Learning & Development! Fact or Fiction?

revolutionIs workplace learning and development (L&D) dying? Does it deserve to continue to exist? What should L&D become to survive? These are some of the questions people have recently been asking. My friend and colleague, Tom Spiglanin, just blogged about a significant change in the workplace learning space. Tom knows his stuff and I encourage you to read his post, “It’s Happening” first before reading this. But also, Tom (and me too) is open to discussion so please share your opinions.

What I appreciate about Tom’s post is that it brings to light the need for L&D to keep up with the times. Regretfully, I meet too many L&D practitioners who have an ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ attitude or are seeking a ‘quick fix’. If you fall into this category then soon say ‘bye-bye’ to your job and L&D role.

Colleagues from the Internet Time Alliance asked, “What would happen if there were no L&D department?” or as I want you to ask yourself, “What if my role becomes irrelevant?” Don’t scoff at these questions, it’s very much a reality, not a possibility. Our position is that L&D won’t die but will evolve significantly. Essentially, death to L&D, as we currently know it and in my professional experience, is as close to being ‘irrelevant’ as you can get.

At no other time in modern human history has there been so many generations in the workplace at one time.

There are a variety of reasons why I firmly commit to theTBSCnew L&D (r)evolution hypothesis. Those who know me, read my books (recently, The Trainer’s Balanced Scorecard: A Complete Resource for Linking Learning to Organizational Strategy), or participate in my workshops (Learning DevCamp, ‘Gaining Buy-in for Your E and M-Learning Projects‘), know that I’m an L&D hard ass…I like to refer to it as L&D ‘tough love’ and always look at L&D from a business perspective, not from one of learning. This means that I interact with many business leaders, and trust me, they’re desperately seeking more from their L&D people. But not in the traditional context. They need L&D to be innovative and become a leading performance indicator partner.

Another reason that I believe an L&D (r)evolution is afoot has to do with generational progression. What’s that you say? At no other time in modern human history has there been so many generations in the workplace at one time. Think about it, there are the traditionalists (the 75+ crowd), the boomers (the 55+ crowd), the Xer’s (the 40+ crowd) and the boomers’ children, commonly referred to as millennials, (the 25+ crowd). Count’em. That’s four generations. Typically, there are only three. But wait…there’s more! Gen X generation’s children, gen Z or the Facebook gen, are popping-in. Both the millennials and gen Z employee population will soon exceed the combined employee population of older generations.

What does this generational progression mean for L&D? Well, you may notice that millennials and generation Z are mobile ones. They were raised with, and using, the Web. Gen Z is even more mobile than millennials as they typically rely on using tablets and smartphones. Worse, they have the shortest attention span compared to any other previous generation. Recently an interesting Forbes article, Generation Z: 10 Stats From SXSW You Need To Knowhighlights many pertinent Gen Z facts but more importantly for L&D are bullets 2, 3, and 4.

Think that YouTube is not a learning mechanism? Then ask yourself about the last time you watched an online video to help you fix something in your house.

There must be some type of (r)evolution considering the options available to deploying L&D solutions. More than just the growing younger generations entering the workforce, technology is another significant reason to rethink learning delivery. No longer is technology techsomething you have to learn. Technology is now ubiquitous and integrates seamlessly into everyday life. While many L&D believe e-learning and even m-learning as forward thinking, think again. Think about technology such as gamification, virtual reality (VR), and YouTube to name a few. Think YouTube is not a learning mechanism? Then ask yourself about the last time you watched an online video to help you fix something in your house? And then how desperately did you search for the shortest video? I made my point. This technology (r)evolution is accelerating forcing L&D to rethink its place and how it moves forward.

Finally, ‘the learning curve is the earning curve’ resonates with millennials and older generations alike. In the Bersin by Deloitte report, “The Future of Corporate Learning – Ten Disruptive Trends“, people are increasingly seeking additional knowledge or education. In the last four years, 35 Million people enrolled in massive open online courses (MOOCs), with 2015 enrollments doubling 2014 (Bersin et al.).

It’s safe to assume that L&D’s is an endangered species and we say, so be it! If L&D can’t evolve with the new needs then let it die.

It’s safe to assume that L&D’s is an endangered species and I say, so be it! If L&D can’t evolve with the new needs then let it die. But from its ashes expect a stronger, more innovative, more adaptable, and a more relevant L&D to rise. Be part of the solution and not part of the legacy by aligning with your business leader’s needs, adapting your learning solutions to meet generational expectations, and seamlessly integrating technology to facilitate the learning process. Simply doing just one of these things will make you an indispensable part of the L&D revolution and for your organization as well.

What do you think? Do you agree? Did I miss something that will revive or possibly kill L&D? Please share your thoughts, experiences and opinions below. And, please take the pole.

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  1. #1 by @tomspiglanin on April 18, 2016 - 2:35 pm

    Interesting angle, there are three options discussed here: death, revolution, or evolution.

    “Keeping up with the times,” I see as the evolutionary option, which is a nebulous approach at best. Most people I know think they are keeping up with the times because they think about mobile solutions or learned how to use the new social collaboration tools. I see this as a flawed approach because it encourages the same thinking – not something different. Same thinking will yield same results.

    Death is a bit extreme, although that would be the natural result of doing nothing, and I would include “natural evolution” as doing nothing. I guess that was the point of my article, not that the L&D role should die, but that it will die (or devolve, which is perhaps the equivalent of death in an organization) if those who practice L&D ignore the clear signs of their own obsolescence around them.

    Finally there is revolution. This needn’t be a violent revolution – it just needs to be profound in the way we look at our role. If we look at ourselves as providers of knowledge, we will fail. We need to be partners to the business, step in to facilitate what needs facilitating. Sponsor collaboration across the organization. Bring value at all steps. It may be something small, such as writing a draft of what you need from another rather than asking them to write it for you. It might be sharing your expertise to empower others to participate in content creation, or connecting different parts of the org because you see the connections between them that others don’t. Or it might be responding to the new strategic direction with innovative ideas.

    Between the three options, death, evolution, and revolution, only revolutionary thinking will being the changes needed.

    • #2 by Ajay M. Pangarkar CTDP, CPA, CMA on April 18, 2016 - 2:48 pm

      Thank you for the comment, Tom. Glad you found some ‘food for thought’.

      I agree, I believe that revolutionary thinking is the way to go. The issue is that too many in our ‘biz’ are married to what works and fear to venture outside of their box. I also believe that LD must seamlessly integrate into other operational business aspects. The tools and tech are allowing us the opportunity to do so but it will be incumbent upon the willingness of L&D people to move it forward…if not, L&D will fall further behind the biz leader credibility and perceived value curve.

      Thanks for the comment, Tom 🙂

  2. #3 by Lisa Minogue-White (@lisaMinogueW) on April 27, 2016 - 6:22 pm

    Hi Ajay, following on from Tom’s comment it put me in mind of a large financial institution I met just today. In contrast to the situation where l&d are driving the ain’t broke don’t fix it culture, it’s the expectations of various areas of the business that are fighting against transformation. IT allow no access to social media whatsoever, cloud is a complete no no then right down to disabling usbs on all machines, it’s a command and control culture. Forget that everyone has probably bought their own fully connected devices, but hey!

    Managers expect compliance rather than collaboration, which reflects in the way the business engages with learning, expecting it to be done to them, rather than shape, define or contribute in any way.

    A new and brave l&d team are in place to challenge this but they will need to take a more stealthy approach. Complete revolution at an org wide scale would be so disruptive, it will,simply be fought against and ultimately ignored. But with support of a new ceo and a viral adoption model, working intensively with specific areas to spark small revolutions (and most importantly, measuring the impact on business metrics), they have a great chance of transforming not only l&d but the business as a whole. In a sector that itself is facing huge change, it’s actually essential to survival.

    Now I’m not suggesting all sectors are like this, but a business aligned l&d approach uses judgment and context to shape the transformation. They certainly shouldn’t be afraid to make their voices heard but challenging the status quo means you need to understand your starting point and then recruit some voices from the business to join in the chorus.

  3. #4 by Lisa Minogue-White (@lisaMinogueW) on April 27, 2016 - 6:23 pm

    Hi Ajay, following on from Tom’s comment it put me in mind of a large financial institution I met just today. In contrast to the situation where l&d are driving the ain’t broke don’t fix it culture, it’s the expectations of various areas of the business that are fighting against transformation. IT allow no access to social media whatsoever, cloud is a complete no no then right down to disabling usbs on all machines, it’s a command and control culture. Forget that everyone has probably bought their own fully connected devices, but hey!

    Managers expect compliance rather than collaboration, which reflects in the way the business engages with learning, expecting it to be done to them, rather than shape, define or contribute in any way.

    A new and brave l&d team are in place to challenge this but they will need to take a more stealthy approach. Complete revolution to an org wide scale would be so disruptive, it will,simply be fought against and ultimately ignored. But with support of a new ceo and a viral adoption model, working intensively with specific areas to spark small revolutions (and most importantly, measuring the impact on business metrics), they have a great chance of transforming not only l&d but the business as a whole. In a sector that itself is facing huge change, it’s actually essential to survival.

    Now I’m not suggesting all sectors are like this, but a business aligned l&d approach uses judgment and context to shape the transformation. They certainly shouldn’t be afraid to make their voices heard but challenging the status quo means you need to understand your starting point and then recruit some voices from the business to join in the chorus.

    • #5 by Ajay M. Pangarkar CTDP, CPA, CMA on April 27, 2016 - 6:47 pm

      Thank you Lisa for the insightful comment and real life example.
      I agree with you. It’s not solely incumbent upon L&D to evolve, albeit they are a resistant bunch, business leaders need to embrace what ‘knowledge’ can do for the business in a largely knowledge-driven world. That said and to your first point, those leaders not embracing it or using ‘compliance’ as the stick rather than the carrot will eventually meet their demise in the long-run…survival of the fittest and all.

      But also, there are organizations, such as the financial industry (the Canadian banking sector comes to mind), feeling invincible as an industry and rather ‘mint’ money without any additional effort or expending additional resources. What can be counted upon is ‘complacency’, the subtle business vixen that produces a false sens of security. Once it sets in an opportunity opens up for innovators to challenge the status quo…and we know what ‘innovation’ requires? Knowledge and learning.

      To address your point about disruption, many orgs like to pay lip service to it but very few follow through. It’s not that they don’t want to disrupt but it requires work and effort all leading to uncertainty. This then leads to resistance to change, which is a fundamental human reaction. So, the key for L&D is to manage internal change and to manage expectations. In my humble opinion, L&D is all about managing change and improving performance and less about the learning itself.

      I guess this is the cycle of the L&D life.

      Thank you for stimulating the discussion. We need more critical thinking and less blindly doing.

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