What is the biggest problem L&D professionals have to solve? It’s not costs, reach or even learner engagement anymore; it’s relevance. Travel agents, who used to tell you where to go for vacation, have been disrupted by reservation websites. Bookstores told us what to read and media what to think, and they have been disrupted by digital players like Amazon and Facebook. What about L&D professionals, who used to tell people what to learn? Are the offerings and experiences designed by L&D for their employees becoming irrelevant?

According to 2017 research by Bersin and Deloitte, employees attribute a net promoter score of minus 8 to corporate L&D offerings. This score means there are more detractors than promoters. At the same time, corporate learning has never been so important: Reinventing careers and learning has become the second-highest HR priority for CEOs, according to the 2017 Deloitte Global Human Capital Trends report.

So, what’s going on? Three forces are disrupting the L&D world, and we need to take them into account if we want to reinvent L&D.

The first force is the consumerization of learning. The official learning programs designed or curated by L&D departments and available via an LMS are now in competition with all the other ways to learn available on the web for free (or almost free). Whether it’s MOOC platforms, apps to learn languages, TED conferences or experts, learning is available anywhere as a consumer product.

The second force is mass personalization. With AI, machine learning and voice-driven interfaces, the internet adapts to users, becoming a personal assistant. Our smartphones tell us how late we will be to drinks with friends without our even asking. The new generations living with a personal assistant will expect 100-percent personalized assistance at work. The one-size-fits-all approach (“you’re a middle manager, here’s your training”) won’t be enough.

The third force, and probably the most important one, is self-driven learning. The pace of change is so fast, and the breadth of specialized skills is so wide, that L&D functions don’t have time to match training programs to urgent needs. Employees then learn by themselves to fill this gap. People also train themselves on skills that they might need for their future. Forty-two percent of millennials say they are likely to leave their organizations because they are not learning enough. All this self-driven learning, whether at the point of need or to prepare for the future, is hidden to L&D professionals.

When learners compare their self-driven learning experiences with the formal training they receive at work – compulsory face-to-face programs, endless compliance programs pushed in an old-fashioned e-learning course, etc. – it’s no surprise that everyone is asking us to reinvent corporate learning.

We must embrace self-driven learning rather than ignore it or fight it. Organizations with strong learning cultures significantly outperform their peers, according to Bersin by Deloitte. A 2014 Korn Ferry Institute study found that self-driven learning increases learning agility, and leaders with strong learning agility are promoted twice more often.

Embracing self-driven learning means three shifts in the way we work on L&D challenges today:

First, we need a self-driven learning mindset in our formal training programs. This means leveraging intrinsic motivation by developing more purpose and a wider sense of belonging to a community. It’s about designing programs where people feel that they are building something new together that will be useful for the company and for themselves. Social learning technologies can greatly help here.

Second, we need to make self-driven learning more visible. What if we could influence the kind of skills people are learning by themselves and make sure they help transform our organizations? What if we could track and measure what people are doing, while encouraging their passion to learn? Let’s create new kinds of learning experiences – ones that L&D departments don’t necessarily control but that are still relevant for the organization. Feedback apps based on company-critical skills, team assessments run by the teams themselves and best-practice videos are initiatives that we need to encourage and monitor.

Third, we need to make self-driven learning happen where people are, not just within the confines of an LMS. Soon, a worker in a factory who needs to follow special safety instructions will be located by his smartphone and receive training recommendations. A manager who needs to refresh her knowledge on recruitment before an interview will have the latest recruitment tips pushed to her phone. Trying to attract learners to LMS platforms will be a thing of the past.

The future of learning is self-driven learning experiences, starting from people problems and situations, individualized to each learner thanks to big data, and allowing people to connect and create a vibrant learning community. If we succeed in leveraging self-driven learning, L&D will become a core strategy for our organizations.

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