Modernising the L&D function: From learning gatekeeper to learning concierge

computer-23713_640I have written a lot about how knowledge workers are using the Social Web to organise their own learning and performance support and how this is changing the face of workplace learning such that the new role of Traning & Development (T&D) will be to support these new ways of self-organised learning. But I still encounter comments like this:

“We can’t let people learn things on their own; how do we know they are learning the right things”

It is clearly difficult for some, who see themselves as “gatekeepers” to learning, to understand that they can no longer control everything that people learn in their organisation, and that it is not a matter of “letting” people learn things on their own, but recognising they are already doing so. The door to a new world of knowledge is now well and truly open for anyone to pass through, so it’s now more a question of how we can help people in this big World Wide Web of Learning, rather than shutting down access to it. I’ve already talked about how helping to build new personal and social skills to work and learn effectively in a networked world will be a vital new area of work for T&D, but there is another new opportunity that I haven’t yet mentioned – and one that bridges the gap between directed learning (training/e-learning/blended learning, etc) and self-directed/self-organsed/self-managed learning; a service that is aimed at supporting the large number of people who are not yet proficient at organising their own learning. Enter the Learning Concierge service. This service gets its name from the fact that it operates in a similar fashion to the concierge service for hotel guests. Here’s a very brief example of a hotel concierge in action:

A guest is looking to do some city sightseeing.  She could simply go out exploring herself or first do some research on what to see, but if she wants some advice, she will might talk to the hotel concierge. In order to provide the best help to the guest, the concierge needs to understand what she is interested in visiting, how long she has got, and if she prefers to visit the sites herself or have a guide, and depending on her answer (and her budget) he might simply mark up some major sites on a city map, recommend a walking route, a hire care service, or even a tour bus or personal tour guide. In other words the concierge makes sure he makes recommendations that work for her.

So, a Learning Concierge service works in the same way, providing personal advice directly to workers on how they can address their own workplace learning and performance problems in the way that works best for them. Here’s a very brief example of a learning concierge in action:

A worker has identified a problem with her presentation skills in client meetings, so calls on the learning concierge service for some advice. In order to provide the best help, the learning concierge needs to understand exactly where the problem actually lies. He will also need to know if the individual would like to work on the problem by herself or with help and support from others, and then depending on her answers (and what funding she has), he might recommend some resources and articles, or suggest a presentation coach or mentor, or that she takes a masterclass or an online course. In other words the learning concierge makes sure he makes recommendations that work for her.

Compare this with the normal approach that T&D would take to dealing with this same problem – that is simply pointing the individual towards the  online course on Presentation Skills hosted in the LMS library. So, a Learning Concierge service operates very differently to the traditional T&D approach. Here are some further features of a Learning Concierge service which demonstrate this.

  • It is a PULL SERVICE – so people can chose to use it. Individuals are not obliged to use it if they are happy to organise their own learning – unlike most T&D initiatives which are PUSHED down to workers, who have no choice whether to use them or not.
  • It is a PERSONAL service that recommends options that are TAILORED to the needs, preferences, time and budget of the individual(s) concerned – it does not apply a one-size-fits-all solution.
  • It uses a PERFORMANCE CONSULTING approach to identify the core problem and recommend a range of possible solutions – it does not assume that training is the only solution to the problem.
  • The service is INDEPENDENT of vendors and platforms – and particularly values the wide range of free or low-cost opportunities available on the  open Web that are mostly overlooked by traditional training departments.
  • The service is STAFFED by experienced learning and performance practitioners with wide expertise in performance consulting who understand the huge range of opportunities afforded by both formal and informal learning, social and networked learning, performance support, as well as collaborative team working. They are therefore able to save an individual hours of web search time as they have answers at their fingertips.
  • The service responds QUICKLY to requests for help, as it recognise that people often need rapid support for performance problems – and can’t wait for weeks to be booked onto external courses or workshops.
  • The services DOES NOT MANAGE or TRACK the activity that is chosen or undertaken by the individual(s) – instead it sees it as the managers’ responsibility to review the performance improvements and changes in the individual. It does however request feedback from the individuals concerned in order to refine the service to them in the future.
  • The service is EVALUATED in terms of the quality of the service it provides – rather than on the number of people booked on courses or who have completed courses.

For some organisations, a Learning Concierge service may be seen as an additional service to the traditional training function, for others it might even replace the old function. However, since staffing is likely to be the main stumbling block to providing an effective internal service, an outsourced service might be a more appropriate way forward. This is also a good option for small organisations without a T&D function, or for larger organizations whose T&D departments have been drastically reduced in size.

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