As learning leaders, we love what we do, and we want to be in a position where we have a seat at the proverbial table. We influence learning and performance and create space so learners can continuously improve. We strive for what we deliver to be infused into the culture and DNA of the organizations we represent. Sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn’t.

While organizations focus on sustainability, it is not always something that we strive for in learning and development (L&D). However, we should; it is essential to our relevance.

Grace Hopper, a pioneer in early computing language, said it best when she frequently commented that “We’ve always done it that way” is a dangerous phrase. In fact, she reportedly joked that after her death, if she heard someone say that phrase, her ghost would come back and haunt people. The truth is, we cannot do things the way we have always done them if we want learning to be sustainable.

Learners’ skills and knowledge start depreciating as soon as they leave the classroom. Organizations cut training budgets, often leaving the onus on the learners for their own development. If people are not receiving the knowledge they want, they go straight to Google, the source of all truth (facepalm).

If we want learning to be sustainable, we have to prove that we matter. We cannot be the drivers of strategy and innovation unless we can transform learning in a sustainable way. In the same way businesses must remain relevant, so must our learning delivery. How do we do it?

1. Don’t Become Stuck in the Linear Design Mindset

We all know and love ADDIE and SAM, but if we can open ourselves up to aligning with the business, we will go further. Consider your analysis more of a discovery piece, and don’t just listen for application. Know what the business is concerned about, and make sure that what you create is something that you can tie to the business results, in business language. Don’t be afraid to try new things, and don’t be change-averse. Think about how you can add value outside the L&D function, and build the relationship foundation first. As the relationship evolves, make it flexible, and then connect it to learning that changes with business needs.

2. Create and Deliver Ad Hoc On-demand Microlearning

Don’t become stuck in another mindset: that it takes a certain amount of time to develop an e-learning module. We can be flexible and innovative in the microlearning space, and we can be more agile and helpful to the business. Create on the fly, and showcase your talent in snippets.

3. Talk About Learning as Part of the Strategic Development Process

Many of the business leaders we support don’t understand the difference between learning and development. Any on-demand learning, embedded into day-to-day work, where the learner can take action in the moment, is strategic development.

4. Create a Learning Sustainability Plan

The learning sustainability plan is basically a workforce plan but for training initiatives. The information below can help you start.

Learning Sustainability Plan


If we think we can accomplish training goals with a one-and-done approach, we will fail. We must create sustainable learning by starting with the strategic plan, understanding the needed behavior change, and working through our inventory and its gaps. With this approach, we can build continuous improvement as a culture of our team. This culture is contagious and will help build engagement and success across training teams and the business.