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How the world of learning is changing

Sue Weekes

Sue Weekes on the reinvention of L&D

Some learning and development (L&D) professionals might struggle to see the relevance of Michelle Phan’s beauty and make-up videos on YouTube to their role. Phan is a digital pioneer who has a growing community of more than 7.5 million people and her teach yourself videos have been viewed more than one billion times. She creates all her own content (which has won a number of awards), directing, starring in and editing more than 300 videos. Steve Dineen, chief storyteller and CEO of online learning company, Fuse Universal, holds Phan up as one of the “trainers” making the biggest impact in the world today. “And the future best trainer in the corporate world will also need to have a community of their own, content they have created or curated which they share, they’ll answer questions online and they’ll connect people together.”

Getting social

It is indeed a far cry from L&D’s traditional course-centric remit but there are business, social and technological drivers which mean that if L&D professionals want to add value and contribute to the business, a degree of reinvention is required. While budgets have started to recover after the recession there is far more emphasis on measuring the impact on training and ensuring it is relevant to the business. Meanwhile, the technological wave that first made its presence felt with computer-based training (CBT) and then e-learning, continues to bring fundamental changes to how learning is both created and delivered and supports the shift towards social and more collaborative learning. To react to these changes L&D must not only acquire new digital and more strategic skills but also be more outward-looking. “L&D needs to be communicating with people across the organisation and to see learning in context,” believes Nigel Paine, learning, leadership and technology consultant. “And the context is working out how they can make the organisation more successful.”

A great deal of emphasis is placed on how L&D professionals must become more business savvy and headway has certainly been made in this area. The Chartered Institute of Personnel & Development’s (CIPD) annual L&D survey found that L&D strategy is “broadly aligned” with the business but Andy Lancaster, head of learning at the Institute, says in reality there are a number of L&D functions where closer alignment still needs to happen. “In the top learning organisations we are seeing a shift of L&D towards internal business consultancy,” he says. “Rather than just creating a course that is delivered in face-to-face mode, they are looking at the key organisational objectives and how learning can deliver these.”

Both Paine and Dineen have noticed a change in perceptions towards L&D at the more progressive organisations. Paine says that these days he can find himself talking to CEOs alongside heads of learning and also operational staff. “They can be more cynical so need more convincing when it comes to learning initiatives,” he says, while Dineen reports that L&D is starting to earn its place at the top table as well as working strategically with departments such as communications. “Barriers have been broken down,” he says adding that L&D’s voice is also being heard across the organisation. “One of our client’s trainers answer questions in online communities so they don’t just have a voice in the classroom but also online on a daily basis and their skills are as much social as they are stand up and talk.”

Reaching out

Paine believes that if L&D is to remain relevant, this cross-department and broader communication is vital. “L&D needs to start talking to people to find out what is troubling the organisation and what the big issues are,” he says. “If they don’t they will become less and less useful whereas in reality I believe there is an opportunity to become more and more useful.”

Earlier this year, the CIPD launched a set of new qualifications that cover the digital and business-oriented skills that are being required in the role. In addition, Lancaster explains that there are a number of key areas which it is encouraging L&D professionals to explore. These include using more data and metrics to inform their practice and also looking at how neuroscience and behavioural science can be applied in learning. “Some L&D professionals may not see the relevance of neuroscience but we need to recognise that there is informed opinion from data and neuro-scientists which will support us in delivering brilliant workplace learning and that is something we need to embrace more fully,” he says. Paine agrees that L&D professionals need to be on top of research into neuroscience and other learning theory and concepts, including when it comes to evaluation. He adds that this may mean eschewing established evaluation models such as Kirkpatrick: “You’ve got to get to the profound issues around impact and this may require new kinds of activity.”

Becoming curators

Given the information rich world in which we live, the CIPD is also keen to help L&D shift from being creators of learning to curators. Its research survey found that around half of learning is being created from scratch. “It is pointless reinventing the wheel when there is so much brilliant content out there,” says Lancaster. “And that includes enabling learners to provide their own user-driven content.”

This isn’t to say that L&D will cease producing learning material but that by both creation and curation they can better and more quickly serve the organisation’s needs. “Rather than a person wait three weeks to go on a course, they should be able to learn in the flow of work,” says Lancaster, citing bite-size and just-in-time learning as well as communities of practice as just some of the ways in which this can be achieved. Similarly, Dineen explains that Fuse is holding workshops to meet a demand from clients to learn how to create content more quickly. “Every client is trying to work out how they can create a more agile content methodology,” he says. 

L&D as a whole is also sharing its own best practice and helping to further its cause. Louisa Fryer, group and technology talent and development partner at Talk Talk, co-founded the online community Development Den ( in 2013 to bring together like-minded L&D professionals. It features a number of different communities based around subjects such as leadership and management, culture and engagement, behaviours and business skills and talent and performance. Members can enjoy topic-focused and taster events and take part in discussions. “The impetus was that really, in L&D, we are all doing the same thing so why not collaborate and share where there isn’t a conflict of interest,” she says. “The world in learning is changing so much so it is helpful to connect and learn together.”


  • Paula Lee of Acorn Principle Plus Ltd

    A lot of good insights in this article. Hubs and a community based on best practice is a good way of adding value as a benefit to the client. Also, I can see that training providers need to share some good free content online to build a presence and to engage with the learning community. My best 'take away from this article was 'just in time learning'. Something good to think about.

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