Right now, before our very eyes, the world of workplace learning is shifting. We find ourselves in a convergence of technological, cultural and workplace transformations—a perfect storm.
Constant innovation and disruption are the new normal and there are no signs that this is stopping anytime soon.
Speed and Quantity
There are two very obvious changes in our world that make it more difficult for learning designers to create isolated courses as all-encompassing solutions.
Speed of Change
One is the speed at which knowledge changes. In many fields, workers find it difficult to keep their skills up to date. No one person can know everything in their field. This can make it difficult to create courses that are current and relevant.
As Catherine Lombardozzi said in a podcast interview, “By the time you get through four years of schooling, what you learned in your freshman year may be outdated.”
Quantity of Information
Second is the amount of digital information that humans generate every day, aided by cheap computing power and inexpensive storage.
The staggering rate at which digital information grows is now measured in petabytes, exabytes, zettabytes and yottabytes. A sense of pressure from information overload keeps mounting. This makes it difficult for people to participate in lengthy training sessions.
Impact of Technology and Cultural Changes
Finally, technological and cultural shifts of the past decade have an impact on learning design. Here are a few of the many changes that affect learning professionals:
- Rapid adoption of mobile devices. Adults can get the information they need quickly, often outside of a training intervention.
- Software as a Service (SAAS). Now that many applications and services exist in the cloud, people can more easily collaborate outside of the conventional workplace structure.
- One training event is not enough. Training departments are beginning to realize that one training intervention is insufficient for deep learning to occur.
- Informal learning is significant. There is a growing realization that much of workplace learning is informal.
- Personal Learning Environments bust through stagnant structures. People learn by exchanging knowledge, content and ideas. The growth of PLEs makes it easier to get answers from those with more experience, regardless of their location.
- Knowledge is a connected network: People now have a sense that knowledge is embedded in a connected network of people and information. And that the network is knowledge itself.
With all of these dramatic changes, it would be short-sighted to think that our traditional roles will remain the same. Here are three roles that seem to be emerging. Do you find yourself adopting or moving closer to any of these roles?
Three Emerging Roles
1. Learning Support Role
In this role, which many have already adopted, you provide resources and assets needed to efficiently improve workplace performance.
This may be in terms of performance support, which Eliot Masie defines as, “Any learning modality, resource or asset that is accessible and applicable at the moment of need. It is embedded in the work process such that the learning is accessed in the context of the work flow and helps solve a very specific business problem.”
Rather than blindly developing training courses to close every knowledge or skill gap, you perform an analysis to determine the best approaches. It could be that job aids or mobile performance support are needed if knowledge in context is most important. You might design a learning portal that is a repository of related content and resources, such as podcasts and checklists.
You might implement social networks or initiate a community of practice to ensure that questions are answered and relevant discussions continue to reinforce and enhance performance.
2. Empowerment Role
In the empowerment role, you provide the tools and enable the skills for self-directed learning, content generation and sharing.
This might entail helping employees understand how to create their own Personal Learning Environment—a network of services and tools necessary for ongoing and individualized learning. For example, you can help employees set up RSS readers, social bookmarking and wikis. You can show them how to subscribe to blogs and podcasts, find relevant people to follow on Twitter and use web-clipping tools.
You might enable greater collaboration throughout your organization in this role, such as encouraging two or more people to work together to accomplish a common goal.
You can also establish ways for experienced employees to share their work as a way to capture tacit knowledge, improve efficiency and plan for successions. (See more on the share your work idea in this book review.)
3. Change Agent Role
Why are learning professionals poised to be change agents? As internal or external clients come to us for solutions, we are often in a position to take an analytical look at the systems within an organization.
We can see when enterprise software is causing more problems than it is solving; when processes are outdated and inefficient; and when communication between groups is an obstacle rather than an open channel.
By demonstrating leadership and vision (and being sensitive to internal politics), you can help employees and the organization achieve positive transformations. You can work on devising alternative solutions when training is not the answer and find ways to break down silos and in order to form synergistic relationships. Most important, you can work on making the learning and development function more relevant by injecting yourself into the pulse and flow of the workplace.
What other roles do you see emerging for the learning professional? Share your ideas in Comments below.
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