Quinnsights: No Room for Complacency in L&D

There are plenty of indicators of problems with the status quo, yet it appears that learning and development is not moving forward much, if at all. What’s going on? There is no room for complacency in L&D.

Big data, machine learning, and artificial intelligence are changing work in fundamental ways. Rote aspects of jobs are being automated, and the need to use analytics is increasing. Work is changing, and so must L&D.

It is becoming increasingly evident that formal learning won’t be able to keep pace. While courses will continue to play a role, we need to adapt and start finding ways to support informal, independent, and group learning built upon exploration, experimentation, and collaboration.

Virtual reality, augmented reality, chatbots, and content systems will be able to assist. We can make learning deeper, more distributed, and more flexible. Knowing how to leverage these technologies is part of the needed change.

Research suggests that organizations that are broadening and deepening their focus are more successful. Towards Maturity finds better outcomes from the organizations that score higher on their index; up to 3x better growth, productivity, and profitability. Similarly, Bersin finds that high impact organizations show 3x greater profit growth.

You’d think everyone would want these results, rather than seeing them ceded to their competitors. Yet Bersin finds “Only 14 percent of L&D leaders indicate that they are viewed as strategic business leaders; 52 percent are viewed as mediocre or worse.” The state of L&D is less than stellar.

The myths that we follow—learning styles, Millennials, attention span of a goldfish, neuro-anything, etc.—are evidence that our practice is less than optimal. The fact that the Serious eLearning Manifesto was needed is another indictment of our industry.

Why are we not moving forward?

Why are we not moving forward? The answer lies in several different but related areas.

First, doing things differently takes awareness that change is needed. There must be a willingness to endure the necessary steps. There will be setbacks, and commitment will waver. Courage is required, as well as successful organizational development. However change is inevitable. Forces are driving upheavals in our work, and that will mean a necessity to adapt or face the consequences. Businesses must ensure that the money it is investing in L&D is having an impact. CFOs can’t ignore L&D forever. At some point, the connection will be made.

A second reason why L&D may be slow to change is that there’s little evidence of what we do! It’s hard to discern whether anything meaningful is being measured. We frequently evaluate the costs of what we do versus the people we serve, and benchmark that. Yet while that data is easy to collect, it’s only about efficiency. What about impact? “Smile sheets,” sadly, have essentially zero correlation with the effectiveness of the learning. What’s needed is richer measurement. Yet it’s rare.

When there’s no true evaluation of impact, it’s easy to become complacent. While there may be some unease, there’s no sense of urgency. With new tools, services, and marketing messages, it’s easy to believe that we’re expending effort and doing something. Yet that’s misleading.

There’s a huge opportunity that should be driving excitement, as well as urgency. The new era will require a deep understanding of learning. No one in the organization is better poised than L&D to deliver. The race will soon be on. L&D can (and should) seize this opportunity to become central to organizational success.

There is no room for complacency in L&D. It’s time for L&D to look beyond the classroom and see the future that lies on the horizon. It’s time to get moving!


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