I struggle with L&D terminology. My issues with “learner” are well-documented, but there are plenty of other words that we toss about in this profession that I don’t quite “get.” One that I have been struggling with recently is “modern.”
I first explored the question of what it means to modernize learning two years ago. At that point, I focused on the concept of value and how L&D can provide it at all levels of an organization. But I continue to struggle with the practicality of the term. What does it actually mean—beyond the application of new technology and content modalities? And how can I explain it in a simple and consistent way when people ask for help with “modernizing their workplace learning strategy?”
Of course, Jane Hart is way ahead when it comes to exploring the concept of modern workplace learning. I have referenced her principles in many articles and presentations I have developed on recent L&D topics. But I continued to wonder: how does it all fit together? How can L&D pros leverage the biggest conversations in our industry in a way that really “modernizes” their work and meets the needs of their organizations?
So I decided to strip everything down to the foundation. All of the content I’ve built over the past few years. All of the trendy conversations that are dominating the space today. And I tried to define “modern” as related to L&D. I came up with six words that seem to provide the best operating explanation of a “modern workplace learning experience.”
I explored the practical side of “learning in the flow of work” a few months ago. Of course, people learn by doing their jobs. But they don’t learn EVERYTHING they need just by doing the job. L&D has to be there—when and where they are needed. Mosher and Gottfredson have it right. We should be thinking about learning in terms of moments, not content objects. That’s also the real value of microlearning. The principles enable L&D tactics to better align to a person’s moments of need and fit development and support into their day-to-day reality.
L&D has a growing array of tools and tactics it can leverage to help people improve. But in an industry overflowing with LXPs, LRSs and LMSs, how can L&D pros piece everything together to create a consistent, scalable learning and support experience? The reality is that no single tool can get the job done. There is no silver bullet, no matter how much easier it would be to administer. Rather, L&D teams must introduce guidelines, such as my Modern Learning Ecosystem (MLE) Framework, to guide their strategic execution and expand their tactical options. This will foster a consistent experience for employees and streamline decision-making for L&D.
L&D is bad at data. This isn’t an indictment of a specific measurement approach. It’s an indictment on all of them. After all, if any of the existing approaches were sufficient, we wouldn’t have this industry-wide problem that is fostering wide-scale doubt in the function’s organizational value. To improve, L&D first must recognize that learning data and business data are not two separate concepts. Learning data is a part of business data, and this larger data story is necessary to improve how L&D identifies and targets their solutions. Once the scope of applicable data is expanded, L&D can take advantage of the massive data stores that probably already exist somewhere within their organizations … and start building relationships with data specialists that work outside the learning function.
Support one person or support everyone? L&D has been struggling with this balancing act for a long time. Back in the day, apprenticeship was a great way to provide personalized support for most roles. Today, the scale and pace of business make this largely unrealistic. Unfortunately, scale typically wins and one-size-fits-all training that fails to meet anyone’s needs is deployed. But there’s hope for shifting this balance. And that hope begins with data. Once L&D improves its data practices, they will swing the door open to the potential of artificial intelligence and adaptive technology. These tools will allow L&D to fully leverage their ecosystems to provide right-fit support at the right time at the scale of a global enterprise.
If you can’t prove that what you did actually had the intended impact, what’s the point in doing it at all? L&D is lagging behind most other business functions, including marketing, sales and customer support, in its ability to attribute the value of its work. Marketing can prove how a digital ad influenced purchasing behaviors and increased sales revenue. L&D’s data shortcomings inhibit its ability to do the same with its solutions. But this simply doesn’t have to be the case any more. Once L&D pros adopt this idea of “modern learning” and combine the power of AI with the right data, they will be able to escape the limitations of traditional measurement and prove how their solutions are impacting (or not impacting) business results. And this will fundamentally change how strategic decisions are made across the L&D function.
How long does it take to build a typical training program? Weeks? Months? What are the odds that an organization’s problems and priorities will be the same when it’s time to finally implement? Limited. An organization’s ability to learn is now a key differentiator. And it’s now becoming a strategic imperative as companies struggle to find people to fill critical roles. Therefore, L&D must evolve from a programmatic to a systematic approach. Rather than focusing on building and delivering training, L&D can most benefit the organization by fostering the channels and connections necessary to help people continuously develop. This will help everyone—stakeholders, L&D and employees—keep pace with the always-changing nature of modern business.
When you bring these concepts together, modern workplace learning is ...
a critical part of the employee workflow that takes advantage of the full ecosystem and applies data to guide and accelerate decision-making in order to provide a personal experience at scale that drives clear business impact and fosters ongoing organizational agility.
Yes, that’s a mouthful. “Modern” may look like a simple word, but it’s an inherently vague concept. It’s also a moving target. Today’s modern is tomorrow’s outdated. Therefore, L&D cannot afford to define “modern” with the most popular technology or content conversations of the day. Otherwise, they’ll always be chasing the next big thing. Rather, we must dig down to the foundation of what we do in L&D, establish the right principles and only then apply our current tools and tactics. Then, we’ll always be ready to handle the next business priority and provide the support people need to solve their next big problem—whatever it may be.