8 pointers for learning enablement

By Carole Bower

How do you ‘enable’ learning? That’s a question that many Learning and Development people are asking right now as they strive to become “invisible” – a term Bersin uses to describe “a mind-set and approach that enables and assists learning wherever and whenever it occurs in an organization”.

invisible L&D

Self-directed learning, invisible L&D and learning enablement are all big themes for Lumesse right now. In the latest edition of The Curve magazine, I wrote about how organisations are shifting from a top-down learning approach to the enablement of self-directed learning, and our recent Think Tank event revealed that the organisations we invited had a consensus view on the validity of an invisible L&D function (as long as the importance of L&D was acknowledged and the results were not invisible!).

The Curve: issue 4

So back to the big question – how can L&D switch their focus from creators and distributors of learning to the enablement of learning, where the impact is definitely felt?

To address this, here are just 8 enablement pointers to consider:

  1. Co-ordination

Ensure learning content provision co-ordinates with other parts of the organisation responsible for content (e.g. product literature, marketing communications, branding, campaigns, knowledge management systems, social platforms).

The impact of a co-ordinated approach clearly plays a part in achieving unified, consistent messaging. However, this approach also ensures messaging is easier to adapt and the overall business impact is easier to measure.

2.  Design thinking

Learning initiatives that support self-directed learners need a more iterative and agile approach when it comes to design.

Self-directed learners need to develop skills not only for today but for the future too. Therefore, a traditional problem-focused approach to creating learning needs requires a more flexible, design thinking approach which is solution-focused. This approach is more likely to result in a learning solution that both enables learners and resembles a learning experience as opposed to a one-off intervention.

Design thinking will help organisations drive creativity and innovation since prototyping, continuous feedback and collaboration are key ingredients to this approach.

Because the focus is people-centric rather than problem-centric, identifying the real route of an issue helps to ensure the most appropriate learning intervention is identified and continuously improved to meet ongoing needs.

3.   Learning in the workflow

If you are creating learning to support job tasks, aim to create resources that will support learning in the workflow.

Explainer videos, support hubs, job aids, infographics, tools, templates and content management systems may be more appropriate than a single, one-off learning intervention.

Our Self-Directed Learning model talks about the importance of practice for learning and that practice (or attempted practice) often happens before seeking enlightenment. Well-designed resources can play an important role in providing those “aha” moments.

Integrating learning into the workflow will drive greater accuracy and performance on the job while ensuring that learners are supported when they need it.

Learning presented as a separate intervention (or interventions) may be forgotten by the time it is needed, so a “support” approach may be more appropriate and provide a continuous learning experience.

learning model

4.   User-generated content and Social Learning

Supporting user-generated content and social sharing may create a sense of fear in some organisations concerned about content accuracy and moderation. However, for an agile organisation this is a great approach for distilling learning.

The Fosway Group’s ‘Digital Learning Realities Research 2017’ cites user-generated content as one of the biggest emerging trends.

Whilst there has been low adoption of Social Learning as an approach in the last decade, it is now on the increase – supported by new Social Learning platforms and by organisations tapping into existing social networks that are achieving high adoption and contribution rates.

Social Learning is a key part of our model on the self-directed learner, where motivated learners practice and then share and validate concepts to underpin their learning experience.

The impact of supporting a user-generated content approach means that business needs can be met quickly.

Learners like to hear people ‘like them’ – and people who they aspire to be like – sharing knowledge and expertise. This drives engagement and helps them to better relate to the concepts being delivered.

Social Learning is also key in ‘enabling’ learners as the support needed is extended beyond the remit of the L&D function.

5.  Curation

Curate (rather than create) content for groups of learners with specific needs. These skills may exist already in the organisation as Learning Designers are already skilled at collating and filtering content to meet learning outcomes, and then designing the context to present this content in a usable and useful way.

Curation tools like Anders Pink can play a key role in searching and filtering relevant content.

Effective curation means that business needs can be met quickly and the context for learning can be adapted for different audiences (e.g. through guides, learning hubs, social/sharing platforms).

Whist the curation role can be carried out on behalf of the learner, it can also be carried out by individuals or groups of learners as part of a Social Learning strategy.

6.  Analytics

An invisible L&D approach will need to use data and analytics to measure impact and sense new requirements.

Our Think Tank report highlighted the need for L&D to up its game on analytics – it is not just about measuring completion and assessment scores but understanding much more (e.g. by using xAPI, data analytics and Machine Learning predictions) to assist the whole learning experience.

Improved analytics means that it is not only easier to identify who is learning what – it also aids the identification of future learning needs.

Improved analytics can provide a personalised/adaptive learning experience for the learner, and intelligent recommendations from AI-driven systems are even more powerful in guiding self-directed learners towards their goals.

7.  Learning ecosystems

Predictions around the demise of the LMS have been well documented but the LMS platform does still meet the needs of organisations, especially for distributing and reporting on mandatory content.

The LMS should not be considered as the only route to learning though. The needs of the self-directed learner are likely to be met by several different systems (e.g. other learning content platforms, social sharing, user-generated content, content management systems, search and curation) and L&D should aim to assist and facilitate this by helping people to develop in the most effective way for them.

An ecosystem approach helps people to continually develop based on their own needs and the needs of the organisation.

It’s about supporting learning whether it happens formally or informally – a learning ecosystem is more likely to drive a learning culture across the organisation.

Towards Maturity article ‘Why “all in one” learning tech is a myth’ states:

“The most forward thinking CLO’s are creating learner-driven organisations that empower workers to share their knowledge and take ownership of their own personal development. This is a new way of thinking, one that requires a fresh mind-set, as well as new strategies and tools.”

8.  Measurement

Measuring Return on Investment may be important for an organisation but can promote a short-term focus as KPIs are usually time-bound.

Our recent Think Tank event discussed the fact there is increasing pressure on L&D teams to become salespeople, and the need to challenge “short-termism” and invest in the medium term for better results.

Return on Engagement is another (soft) measure that may get overlooked. However, self-directed learners will be looking for peer-endorsement and social sentiment when selecting their preferred learning opportunities.

Measuring how learning impacts business performance in the medium/long term provides a more accurate picture around effectiveness. Longer term and continuous measurement ensures the focus is on ‘improving’ performance as opposed to ‘proving’ performance, which is more appropriate for equipping today’s agile workforces for the future.

Social sentiment analysis is becoming more sophisticated, and advanced technology and machine learning can provide valuable data and actionable insights for an organisation.

On a final note, there is one other “enabler” that L&D should be adopting and that is to “Keep learning”.

At our Think Tank event, delegates felt that Learning Design skills are already being stretched; one delegate felt that as a discipline, it is not really ‘skilled up’ to deal with a development such as social video, for example. Others felt it would be a big loss if we were to undervalue Learning Design as a discipline.

So as new technologies, trends, digital transformation and future of work predictions are all playing a part in disrupting organisations, L&D people not only need to enable learning but ensure they are learning too. The World Economic Forum states it is not about learning new skills but unlearning old ones.

https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2017/01/learning-new-skills-isn-t-enough-to-stay-ahead-you-must-also-unlearn-old-ones/

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