The 70:20:10 framework helps to put the work of learning and development (L&D) organizations into perspective within the whole of employee learning (previous article). That leaves the question of what, if anything, should L&D do to facilitate the over 90% of learning that takes place outside of its traditional role.

Bury_your_head_in_the_sandDoing nothing, allowing the field of L&D to naturally evolve,  may seem a reasonable response. For as long as organizations have existed, they have provided employees with training. For just as long, employees have also been learning experientially and socially, without the help of a training organization. Learning the multifaceted “ropes” is necessary to become a valued employee.

When I think about my own first days on a job, I remember thinking I knew it all. I was a degreed professional and I’d been hired to do a job I was well-trained for. I learned quickly how wrong I was. There was a company culture to learn. There were organizational accountabilities and performance expectations. There were collaborative partnerships to be forged. There were policies, practices, and procedures to learn. Where school was all about the student, employment is all about the employer. I learned quickly how to increase my value by focusing on things important to the organization and where my expertise was most valuable. Most of this was learned experientially, some of it was learned socially. Very little of it was led by the training organization. That’s as true today as it was thirty years ago, so what is the compelling reason to change?

That compelling reason is technology, specifically the Internet, facile access to it, and the pace at which it continues to grow. When personal computers promised to make business more efficient, L&D organizations stepped up to train employees to use the new business machines and software. As employees became more adept with technology, training moved into the computer itself and elearning was born. The pace of technological change kept increasing. Rapid development tools offered some relief, making it easier to quickly move training content online. It may not have been effective, but it was accessible to a large, geographically dispersed audience.

The inevitable end to this evolution of the traditional L&D function isn’t good. Employees have become accustomed to rapidly changing technology and have unparalleled access to an exponentially growing body of content and knowledge via the Internet. A sizable number of employees are more adept at finding information than those in Learning and Development.  Like many professions who feel they “own” content areas, the strategy of being the sole purveyor of organizational knowledge can’t scale to keep up with the growth rate of information available at every employee’s fingertips. Employees are increasingly more self-sufficient, more efficient, and more connected socially with other professionals, inside and outside the organization.  Donald H. Taylor refers to L&D (along with a number of other professions) as being, “on the cusp of a Cambrian style (mass) extinction.”

The only way for L&D professionals to survive extinction, as a group or individually, is to change in a revolutionary way. We must adopt strategies that scale with the exponentially growing content on the Internet and increasingly facile social access to experts around the world. We need to abandon hope of being providers of content, which is inherently non-scalable, and instead develop effective ways to facilitate informal, social, and professional learning in the workplace.

One of the more practical and immediately applicable articles I’ve read on the the topic is Jane Hart‘s, “Emerging new roles for learning and performance professionals.” In addition to training, Jane identifies three additional competency areas: performance support, social collaboration, and, “professional learning,” which is largely the self-directed activity of professionals in the workplace. L&D professionals can and should be able to address all four of these needs using scalable approaches.

Ultimately, it’s all about adaptability and adjusting to a constantly changing workplace. In many ways, it really is survival of the fittest. With the climate changing drastically, will we be among the masses continuing with old practices that no longer work, or will we adapt to the new climate and develop effective practices instead?

Thanks for reading!


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