The L&D world is splitting in two

connection-647217_640It is now very clear to me, that the world of L&D is splitting in two.  There are those who think that the old ways of training are still valid and sufficient for today’s workforce, and there are those who realise that the world has moved on and a new approach to supporting workplace learning is essential.

The first group of L&D professionals I refer to as Traditionalists, since they cling onto 20th century views of Training & Development:

  • They focus on classroom training and/or e-learning as the only valid way to transfer knowledge into people’s heads. They specialise in creating content using e-learning authoring tools, and managing it in a LMS.
  • They fit new ideas into old practices – informal learning becomes informalized training, social learning is seen as adding social media to courses, and the 70-20-10 framework is seen as a training model (ie they just add coaching and experiential learning to organised training programmes) rather than a model for workplace learning in general.
  • They believe they know what is best for their people; they think that an understanding of pedagogy and instructional design skills is enough. They disregard the fact that most people are bored to tears sitting in a classroom or studying an e-learning course at their desktop – and don’t realise that many are working around L&D to sort out their own learning and performance problems rather than have to endure an L&D-designed initiative.
  • They miss the big picture – the fact that learning is much more than courses, but involves continuously acquiring new knowledge and skills as part of everyday work. But if they do, they see themselves as gatekeepers to knowledge, and believe they must track and manage it all in their LMS. They don’t realise this is an impossible and irrelevant task because it’s not about recording activity – its about understanding its impact on individual, team and business performance.
  • They reject the wisdom of the crowd – they believe “social” is something to be controlled rather than encouraged, as they don’t trust their people to share what they know, and believe they have to control its accuracy and quality. Whilst, of course sharing experiences is exactly what individuals have been doing in their teams since time immemorial, and, in doing so, learning effortlessly from one another as they go about their daily work.
  • They don’t recognise the world has changed – and that workplace learning is no longer about organising and managing top-down (e-)training – it’s about recognising that today’s worker needs to be constantly acquiring new skills and knowledge in many different ways – most of which they will organise and manage themselves.

The second group of L&D professionals – that I refer to as Modern Workplace Learning (MWL) practitioners – understand the realities of the new world of work, and that their own activities need to change to reflect this.

  • They are rejecting the creation of expensive, sophisticated e-learning content and preferring to build short, flexible, modern resources (where required) that people can access when they need them. AND they are also encouraging social content (or employee-generated content) – particularly social video – because they know that people know best what works for them.
  • They are ditching their LMS (or perhaps just hanging on to it to manage some regulatory training) – because they recognise it is a white elephant – and it doesn’t help them understand the only valid indicator of learning success, how performance has changed and improved.
  • They are moving to a performance-driven world – helping groups find their own solutions to problems – ones that they really need, will value, and actually use, and recognise that these solutions are often ones they organise and manage themselves.
  • They are working with managers to help them develop their people on the ground – and see the success of these initiatives in terms of impact on job performance.
  • They are helping individuals take responsibility for their own learning and personal development – so that they continuously grow and improve, and hence become valuable employees in the workplace
  • They are supporting teams as they work together using enterprise social platforms – in order to underpin the natural sharing within the group, and improve team learning.

So how can we help traditional L&D folk become MWL Practitioners? It’s not about telling them to keep up! We need to help them EXPERIENCE the new world of learning for themselves so that they are in the best position to help their organisation move forward

This is one of the reasons why I am running the 2016 L&D CHALLENGE. Although it will start officially in February, those signing up will have an opportunity to get started straightaway. So, if you know of anyone you think might benefit from it, please pass them this link where they can find out more about it.

FOLLOW-UP POSTS: (1) Crossing the Mindset Chasm (2) Learning in the Workplace in more than training or e-learning (3) The Uberfication of workplace learning

38 thoughts on “The L&D world is splitting in two

  1. Katrin Naert

    This post offers a great opportunity for L&D. Ask your learners in which vision on learning they recognize themselves. Put the same question to the leaders of your organization.

    And don’t worry, there will always be work great L&D that delivers results.

  2. Donald Clark

    Good piece. I’d add the idea that the new group has abandoned old theory – learning styles, NLP, Myers Briggs etc. I’d even venture that Leadership courses, long doses of compliance, & Kirkpatrick are on the way out. Well done Jane.

      1. Michael Eury

        Totally agree…still far too often I find myself in conversations with L&D people who cannot believe that I don’t believe that Learning Styles inventories are relevant, that NLP is not at all scientific, that evaluation = Kirkpatrick, and so on and so on…I’m pretty sure they think of me as some type of dangerous radical!

  3. Rod J

    Jane, thanks for your insights. A couple issues come to mind. First, I find that the L&D world is filled with individuals that seek and find security when they’re able to “Control” the process. The desire to “control” is a personality trait that may be difficult to unlearn. And in that same vein, individuals that seek control tend to avoid risk. When we flip the process, training diminishes their control in the process and the perceived risk increases.

    I suggest to change the system, organizations will need to replace major chunks of training ideology (including personnel), which by itself diminishes control and increases perceived risk. This leads me to insert a Steve Jobs quote.

    “You can’t connect the dots looking forward – you can only connect the dots looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in the future.

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  5. Tom Millar

    While I agree with much of the article above, here is a reality check. The IT professionals I work with still want to go away on the 3, 4 and 5 day courses with traditional training suppliers. Especially to gain IT Vendor certification. Their managers also want this, their managers also want them to stay at work because they can not ‘work around’ the missing body. Employers dont want to spend the huge sums required to send people on these courses, but want their staff to be accredited. So, how do we solve this? We need to do it all, a little bit of it all and everyone, not just L&D professionals, needs to change their practises and expectations.
    My tuppence worth


    1. Jane Hart Post author

      Tom, if you read what I said about performance consulting, it is about helping groups/individuals understand the best ways to improve, and so if that means going on 3-5 day training courses that is fine for them. The point is NOT assuming that everyone wants/needs to learn in this way – and creating and managing monolithic courses to address every training need. This is ALL about a big a mindset shift.

  6. Brian Washburn

    Jane – I like this article a lot. As previous commenters have stated, the title for this post is a bit mis-leading because it’s not just a mindset for two sets of diverging L&D philosophies, but rather, managers/supervisors also seem to fall into two similarly diverging mindsets when it comes to workplace learning.

    I think this article makes a great conversation starter for our ongoing HR roundtable series at our organization. This is a conversation that does need to happen not just at an L&D level, but at an organizational level!

    1. Jane Hart Post author

      Brian, yes – you are right – it’s about a whole new mindset – but we gotta start somewhere, and this blog is intended for L&D. Thanks for posting.

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  8. Rick Russell

    Wow…so much for nuance. What about those of us who still use an LMS while managing to get traffic to user-posted material on one section of it (for informal learning)? Or who build workplace-embedded learning as a job aid while still deep-linking to it in an LMS not to “control” users, but to track usage and help identify needs? Or who have — God forbid! — been less than amazed by some of heavily-hyped tools of Learning 2.0 (and whose internal clients have felt the same way)?

    I came to this article from several tweets. Maybe the eLearning Challenge for 2016 for all of these people is to be a little less self-satisfied and to focus on driving engagement, fostering leadership at all levels, and helping their colleagues improve their performance. If they do it with 2 soup cans connected by a string, so be it.

  9. Fleur Mouchemore

    Jane you have captured many of my thoughts and observations here based on my experience. As someone who will be looking for a new job in L&D in the future I am a little disheartened when I see that the majority of job ads have a traditionalist bias. However I feel positive that those of us who subscribe to the MWL approach can continue to disrupt the world of L&D and instead of complaining about it (as I have been of late!) we can demonstrate that another way is possible as you have been doing for me through my participation in your workshop on “How to become a personal learning advisor”. I’m really encouraged by your 2016 L&D Challenge and will be spreading the word!

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  12. Andy Tedd

    Good post Jane.

    Hopefully this post signals a start to a large section of the industry realising that employees, as citizens and consumers, learn how to do complex things and run their lives every day, without any assistance from formal learning, LMSs, competency frameworks, leadership guff and HR neuro drivel 🙂

  13. Nick Shackleton-Jones

    Thanks Jane – and thanks for weaving the courses vs. resources distinction into your explanation. In answer to your final question ‘How can we help L&D folk become MWL practitioners?’ – we have been tackling this problem for some years now, and eventually developed a ‘Learning Innovation Toolkit’ which goes some way towards describing the change that people need to make. Whilst we weren’t able to share this, I have tried to share elements – such as the CTR model and the 5Di process on aconventional. For those only interested in the headline, the shift is a about the application of design thinking to learning. It changes everything!

    1. Jane Hart Post author

      Thanks Nick. I agree – it changes everything! And I recognise the great stuff you have been doing in your organisation. It is not about tinkering with the traditional model – or “perfecting the irrelevant” as Charles Jennings puts it. To become a MWL practitioner requires a huge mindset jump.

  14. D. Stevenson

    Jane ,you have done an excellent job of laying out the changes in thinking that are required in adapting workplace learning to the realities of the “Modern Workplace”. However, have you looked at any of the job descriptions for postings for L & Development professionals lately? In my experience, nothing has change. The language used in almost 100% of these postings is describing the qualifications and experience desired as those of a “Traditionalist Learning Practitioner”. As an Independent L & D consultant I have found I have had some success in changing perceptions to more “Modern Workplace” thinking but in many cases it involves a considerable about of time to change the perceptions of the decision makers in the corporations I am working with.

    1. Jane Hart Post author

      It is true, most MWL practitioners are working within Traditionalist job descriptions – just interpreting them differently – although some are beginning to change their titles. I think we’ll see them change over time or possibly new roles will appear (not within the L&D function) that will offer the opportunities to help organisations improve in new ways, e.g Business Performance Consultants, Collaboration Consultants, etc

  15. Lars Hyland

    Interesting post, Jane, and one generating some good reactions too. I would suggest though that this polarisation and binary pigeonholing is a bit simplistic. In reality, there is a continuum that runs from necessarily highly formalised work environments which require groups of people to have very correlated skills and behaviour, right through to situations which require an ability to adapt to rapid change, demanding creativity and constant innovation in both process and end product/service. You could argue the long term pendulum is swinging towards the latter, but the reality is that globally there is a huge number of people entering the workplace who need structure and formal guidance in order to operate at a competitive standard. Equally there a people falling out of the workplace because their highly structured jobs become automated or have evolved into something demanding new skills and behaviours. So while technology is transforming the workplace in many fundamental ways (e.g. AI being used to replace many “professional-level” skills), it’s crucial that learning professionals learn how to harness it constructively across this continuum to empower people to retain and sustain their productive value for both themselves and their respective organisations.

    1. Jane Hart Post author

      Hi Lars, my polarisation, as you put it, is due to the fact that I fundamentally see it in terms of the big mindset shift involved. Those who have recognised that the world is a different place – and the workplace too – are re-thinking ALL their approaches to supporting people at work. Whilst those who can’t see it, are just tinkering with the same-old traditional approaches, I am afraid. So in other words I am seeing a flip-flop, rather than a continuum. I’ve tried to explain this a little more in my follow-up post.

      1. Lars Hyland

        Thanks Jane. Yes, I think my observation of a continuum was more focused on the range of learning design solutions that may be most appropriate and likely to effect/nuture the desired shift in behaviour and acquisition of skills. Clearly learning professionals need to master both ends of the spectrum in order to optimise the impact. As pointed out elsewhere the disconnects between organisational culture, societal culture (depending on where you are in the world), and the L&D professions ability to influence leaders and learners need to be bridged if sustainable change is going to be achieved.

        1. Jane Hart Post author

          Thanks Lars, the point I am making is that it is NO LONGER all about design and deliver learning solutions – but enabling and supporting individuals and teams as they continuously learn at they work from their daily activities, and address their own performance needs – which is what a large proportion of them are doing anyway.

  16. Tim Chudy

    Great article Jane. Maybe a more interesting mindset shift is within the organization or the L&D culture. I am talking with folks that are on getting on board with MWLs, but they are doing so in a Traditionalist organization. It will be interesting to see how this continues to evolve.

  17. Megan Jackson

    You nailed it! Great summary of where we are and where we are going. I recently joined Big Think as I was so impressed with the non-traditional approach to learning. We keep it simple with a mission to get people smarter, faster. Give people access to information to open up dialogues and change internal conversations. Help promote different ways to view and solve challenges as well as discover new opportunities. Awesome article. Thanks!

  18. Paul Lush

    Great article! While some may believe that there is a polarization of thought, the key to remember is that a great approach is to be able to balance methods on a “best of use and impact” approach. I recall, a few years ago, having to unceremoniously install a new toilet just prior to a social function. Upon my return from the hardware store, I set up my iPad in the washroom and followed along with a YouTube video guiding me through the installation steps. After 30 minutes, I had successfully installed a new toilet. My point is that I found the source of learning I needed for the specific task at hand, completed it successfully and now know where to find the information when I need it. Rather than a complete training course/video on the process, I only needed a specific element of information, thus I’m a believer in micro-learning! However, as a learning professional, I believe a balanced, flexible approach based on the specific need is the best approach.

    1. Jane Hart Post author

      Paul, as I said in the post, the MWL way is to use a performance-driven approach, and help individuals how best to solve their performance problems – not make assumptions for them, and take the “we know best” approach.

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  20. Ray Jimenez


    Your views are clear. The L&D industry suffers from the inertia of the past. Hence, openness to MWL is slow. But there is a strong resentment, at least from the people I work with. They believe that the breakaway point must happen and indeed happening now.

    Fundamentally, we need to honor our learners, the way they learn and find opportunities for L&D to cut cost, speed up and open up learning environments. The work environment today so different that the L&D solutions are slow evolve.

    In my small corner of your MWL, I encourage leaders to think micro learning designs and context/story-based design, focus on applications, not memorization. Perhaps, MWL values and models are morphing in many companies, but they are hidden and running under the radar.

    There heroes out there, those who toil to make the small changes. I often see their eyes glow when they see possible options to free them from the ineffective approaches. Every time I speak to these heroes, I feel joy, just to see the glimmer of hope in their eyes. I salute your articulation of MWL.

    Somehow, many of the L&D people are with you. You are telling the stories of the the hidden heroes.

    The mountain is moving.

    Best, Ray

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