L&D 2020: the future of workplace learning

by | Sep 30, 2009 | Articles

The aim of the L&D 2020 project is to explore how Learning & Development in organisations might change over the next five to ten years, particularly focusing on the implications for L&D professionals. 

It was clear that the role of the traditional trainer had been changing radically over the past ten years or so and with the increasing involvement of line managers in delivering solutions it felt appropriate for a magazine devoted to the development of L&D people to be asking “What next for the profession?”

Phase 1
The first phase of the project had three main elements. We started by identifying trends and developments that might impact the world of Learning & Development.  We described these trends under 36 headings grouped into the four areas of Society, Work & Business, Technology, and the Brain & Psychology.
We then developed the second main element of the project, the scenarios. These were three possible futures that might emerge for Learning & Development and were designed to stimulate discussion about how L&D might respond in the different situations:

  • L&D is queen – impact of learning is clear and learning & well-being are highly important for organisations, learning is for whole life not just work.
  • Organisational necessity – economy and competition are tough, learning is focused on just immediate work issues and is seen as a cost to be contained.
  • National learning – UK Plc is struggling and the government is driving the learning and well-being agenda, companies are reluctant to invest in training.

Out of a short series of workshops and dialogue with other colleagues came a number of emerging conclusions, the third element of this first phase of the project.

Emerging conclusions

L&D is changing and will continue to change. The scenarios describe some very different possible futures and yet some key themes emerged which reflect the changes as being evolutionary rather than revolutionary, continuing travel along the path that some organisations have already started.

  • The importance of continuous, informal, social learning will continue to grow and will require L&D professionals to become competent in creating the conditions for this to occur.
  • Individuals will increasingly look for ways for their informal learning to be recognised (accredited) to demonstrate their value in the market.
  • The skill of learning will become increasingly important and people will need to be helped to become even more effective at learning for themselves and with others.
  • Whilst individuals will find ways to learn for themselves, the role of the line manager in focusing and reinforcing learning will continue to be crucial.
  • New technologies are not just ways of delivering the same content differently, they open up new opportunities for people to learn.
  • The boundaries between L&D and Organisational Development will blur further as learning is embedded into the way organisations work.
  • There will be a shift in balance of the L&D professionals’ skillset towards greater business understanding, change management, organisation development and use of new technologies.

Phase 2

The second phase of the project is sharing these ideas more widely to create a dialogue with leading practitioners in the L&D field through workshops and events. Another crucial part of this phase of the research is looking for organisations that are reorganising their L&D functions and changing the skills that are required for their L&D people.

So far we have identified and interviewed four organisations: the Civil Aviation Authority, the Department for Work and Pensions, Legal and General and Rolls Royce and you can read the case studies online.

All the organisations so far investigated are at different stages along their journeys and while each organisation describes its needs in different ways there are some clear, common patterns appearing. There seem to be three basic groups of necessary skills or knowledge: business understanding, the technical skills of learning and development and an understanding of consulting or business partnering.

Some consulting organisations talk about T-shaped people those who have a broad understanding of the business (the top of the T) and an in-depth knowledge of their specialism (the upright of the T) and these two dimensions are then deployed through their consulting skills. This model of thinking might be a useful for L&D people to think about their own skills.

L&D professionals need a comprehensive understanding of what L&D can do, how it can do it and what new approaches might be possible, as well as understanding the evidence base that supports these. Depending on the role, they may also have a portfolio of possible delivery options that they themselves can deploy.

They will have a broad understanding of business, be comfortable engaging with business managers at the highest levels and challenging them about their business issues, and care deeply about the business that they work in. They will deploy these L&D and business capabilities through their consulting or business partnering roles, which will allow them to build strong working relationships, diagnose issues and manage the change or  project process with either internal or external resources.

Different roles in different organisations will, of course, require a different mix of these three main areas. The major difference, though, that came through from all the interviews was that the difference between ‘new’ and ‘old’ L&D professionals is the focus on the business outcome rather than the L&D process, and the flexibility to do whatever it takes to achieve this.

Finally, it is also worth reflecting that, while the examples above have focused on the skills and knowledge required of L&D practitioners, all those people interviewed also mentioned the importance of the right attitude in achieving success as an L&D Professional.

The L&D 2020 project is ongoing and TJ is keen to hear from organisations who believe they are doing things differently. If you are willing to share your story please contact Debbie Carter at [email protected]

To find out more about the research so far and about the workshops and events for 2009 and 2010 please click here.

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