For the first time this year, I had the pleasure of attending Elliott Masie’s Learning 2017 event in Orlando, Florida.

Attended by around 1,800 L&D professionals from around the globe and with 190 sessions to choose from, plus some thought-provoking keynote speakers, my first thought was how ever will I pick which sessions to choose from, without FOMO, so I focused on my key aims:

  • Observe leaders in learning. With some great keynote speakers and sharing of best practice, it was a unique opportunity to listen and learn from the experience of others.
  • Generally absorb everything, like a sponge! It’s great to get out of your day to day bubble and listen to others, to understand how we can better develop products that will help learners learn.

For those of you who haven’t attended one of Masie’s Learning Conferences before, it is definitely a unique experience, compared to other conferences I’ve attended.

John Lithgow at Learning 2017

It is truly holistic in approach, this year combining talks from former First Lady Michelle Obama, and performances by actor John Lithgow and musician, Val Vigoda; interspersed with insightful sessions creating opportunities to share best practice, and often discuss and talk through issues and shared experiences.

This setup also has the effect of pushing attendees to think more universally about the current and potential future themes for the learning field.

And for me, there were three key overarching themes I saw across individual, general and keynote sessions: an influx of new tech breeding new approaches to learning, the need for collaboration, and a right-here-right-now mentality.

1. The Times They Are a-Changin’

That we are in a time of confusion and opportunity was a theme across the conference. Digital disruption is at the centre of it and the key driver of why learners and the workforce are changing, thanks in no small part to the visionary Steve Jobs who wanted to “reinvent the phone”.

With such a wealth of information so easily accessible at the end of our fingertips, we now have access to everything, immediately – and the younger generations coming into our workforce have never known anything different.

These changes in technology are acting as a catalyst for change in how people want to learn in the workplace. The question is: how does the L&D world keep up and how does it balance the behaviours of employees with the business needs?

All aspects of L&D tend be centralised around change, change in people, change in training, change in demands. We need to be able to work in an agile way to develop our people and ensure they are optimal for the way businesses work today.

People are not good at change, so we need to create safe spaces for change – and change management is now more key to L&D initiatives than ever.

2. No Man is an Island

Time and time again, in many of the sessions I attended, L&D professionals were being asked to take action but the change they were trying to implement was at odds with their organisational culture.

But how are you meant to implement new practices and seek engagement for learning, if you have an unsafe, environment with distrusted leadership?

These thoughts were echoed by speakers Julian Stodd and Nigel Paine, who highlighted the need for strong and understanding ‘social’ leadership.

Gone are the days when it was effective for leaders to sit separate to others and give orders from on high – if it ever really was. To retain talent and prevent, particularly, millennials (though I dislike the term immensely!), leaving, leadership needs to be aware of the learning needs of their organisation and work supportively alongside L&D leaders to develop their staff.

This is also vital to ensure businesses remain relevant and meet objectives, as there is always a need to maintain relevant staff.

Compliance vs Performance

Something else that I found there to be a lot of reference, and dare I say, contempt for, was “the power of compliance” (They hold the budget, thus they hold the power).

Compliance is seen as a separate, box-ticking, legal exercise, but why? How can we ensure it isn’t a box-ticking exercise, but a deeper learning exercise?

There was a strong sense that if organisations can find a way to tie compliance and perhaps more general learning & development training together, to utilise that budgetary power to create a win-win scenario, then you would be able to be compliant AND retain knowledgeable and engaged learners within your organisation.

In his session on Lifelong Learning Mindsets (co-hosted with fellow McKinsey & Co. colleague, Katie Coates), Prof. Nick Van Dam, highlighted the need and relevance of lifelong learning in this ever-changing environment.  

Lifelong Learning Mindsets

With estimates ranging from 30-60% of existing jobs disappearing over the next 5 years, it is important for both employees and businesses to ensure staff have the right skills. It is also important for retention, following the steep learning curve in any role, learning slows and not only that, but their impact also slows.

This lack of impact and learning costs businesses. So finding the right balance between compliance and performance – that includes a component of lifelong learning – will be vital to ensure employees stay skill-relevant and effective in achieving business objectives.

3. I Want It All and I Want It Now

With a large focus on the change in learning behaviours, micro-learning was often highlighted as a solution. However, there was also an emphasis at various talks on the need for deeper learning, as well as short, relevant bursts.

Having reflected on this on the flight home, it seems to me that the actual nub of the issue was around the appropriateness of learning. This was all the more highlighted when I overheard the following exchange with two flight attendants:

Flight Attendant 1: “Have you done the training that was sent last week?”

Flight Attendant 2: “Yeah it was just videos so I let them run and then guessed the questions”

I have no idea what they were meant to be trained on, but luckily there were no incidents on the flight…

I felt this summarised the experience at Learning 2017: we need to have appropriate and useful training that is relevant to keep learners engaged, otherwise you are just wasting funds, and risking your business.

Anything we can do as L&D professionals – and perhaps utilise technologies to do – is to push certain content at the right time, or at the very least, perhaps we just need to make everything more easily locatable and build cultures of learning into the day to day business.

Why do we even have a separate L&D function? Surely all workers learn on a day-to-day basis something they can apply to their future work, whether it’s giving a presentation for the first time, solving a problem or leading a team in a project.

Importantly too, with the ever-changing state of play, is the need for problem solvers and critical thinkers. Karl Kapp referenced how game thinking can be a great gateway to this, and also suggested that calling gamification ‘game thinking’ could assist with engagement from leadership.

Without engagement, we’re just informing and hoping something useful has been retained for later use, or purely doing it to check the compliance box. We need to move learners to action from their learning – but what is the best way to do this?

Learners are people, so it’s important that organisations don’t lose sight of that and treat employees like content-consuming robots. Instead we should look to connect learners with their emotions, tap into identifying their needs, and map them to learning that needs to take place.

It’s also important to create a learning community for your organisation. If you can make the learning (content) work for them, while meeting your business needs, you’re onto a winner!

Similarly, it seems that Managers are often seen as the focal point for supporting and encouraging engagement with learning within a business. But, these managers are still people with day jobs… they get the bonus, promotion and now, WHAM! Please manage and support the development of a team of x people too, yes?!

While one can argue whether this is the best approach or whether development should be done through peers or assigned “Coaches”, the struggle is really to truly give supportive personal development.

There is a need to review what we can do to support and perhaps change the way CPD support is given, to remove this blocker to supportive development. One option could be to empower the individual with the tools to reflect on their own progress and truly engage in learning and application in their daily work.

This might be scary, but then again, is you current annual review process working? Do you have an engaged person working for you, or could you be getting more from that individual?

Strengths-Based Development

Tapping into an individual’s motivation as discussed, for example in the the strengths-based developments session by Courtney McMahon from Deloitte, is perhaps a more beneficial and pleasant experience for both the individual and the business.

These approaches really appear to improve engagement, and thus may well have an impact on retention too.  What more proof of ROI do you need?!

One Final Takeaway…

Right now you might be thinking, “that’s great Emma; but I knew things were difficult, so thanks for just reminding me of that fact”.

Well, the final question at the event was “What skill do you think L&D professionals need to develop for the future?”

I don’t think that even needs an answer; the question highlights what we need to keep doing: Practice what we preach and continue to learn and develop and thus promote effective and efficient, adaptive ways of implementing supportive learning within our organisations.

Which all sounds very much like what we’re trying to do here at HT2 Labs: helping teams and individuals learn from their experience. And if you’ve like to find out more about how we’re doing so, we’d love to hear from you.