More and more employees are asking themselves, “Do I need to leave to grow my career?” Unfortunately, many employees don’t receive the development they need to advance their careers. As learning and development (L&D) professionals, this hurts, because the training function is focused on helping others reach their highest potential. When employees feel they don’t have the development opportunities they need to perform at their best, it can feel like a failure on the part of the training function.
What about corporate L&D professionals’ (or human resources’ and organizational development professionals’) development? Does that mean one must leave their current employer to grow professionally?
Not in the least. There are ways to prioritize your professional development in house. However, learning practitioners focused on fulfilling employees’ needs often overlook their growth and development.
Thankfully, there are many avenues to prioritizing your career development. This article will explore practical, everyday ways L&D professionals can elevate their career development.
Are you old enough to remember when podcasting was just gaining popularity? Now, some resources state there are over two million podcasts available. With the proliferation of audio as a viable (and consumer demanded) consumption channel, podcasts are now a part of the mainstream lexicon (even though the various podcast platforms are not new tech).
If you still commute to a physical office (even if just for a few days a week), turn off the radio and turn on a podcast. There’s many L&D-focused podcasts out there that offer practical tips for all things training. Listening while commuting is excellent, but you may be a remote worker; in that case, try the following.
You may not do this as much as you should as a remote employee, but remember to take breaks. Stand up from your laptop, rest your eyes and stretch your body. Or, if the weather permits, take a walk in your neighborhood, all while listening to a podcast. Make taking regular breaks a habit, and include your favorite podcast.
Blogs, Online Magazines and More
There’s no shortage of resources out there to help L&D professionals advance their careers. If audio content isn’t your jam, you can tap into one of the many blogs, magazines or other resources available.
Read the perspective of other L&D professionals, including those from technology vendors and research groups, in blogs and magazine articles. Research studies and analyses also help practitioners stay abreast of trends and benchmark their programs.
Everyone is busy. Most have more work than time on any given day. So, how can you read blogs, magazines and more when you’re already struggling to get everything done? Unfortunately, there isn’t a magic bullet. One has to commit and turn that commitment into a habit. However, there are ways to “game the system.”
Try this: Have the website (i.e., a blog, online magazine, etc.) read to you. Some browser extensions turn a written article into an “audio event” versus a reading event. Listen to the piece while having your lunch.
If you’re already active on any social media platform and post on those various platforms four times a week, make one of your posts about something you’ve read. Now, instead of trying to form an entirely new habit, you’re tweaking an existing one. The “game the system” part is that, when it’s time to post about an L&D-focused topic, you’re forcing yourself to consume content before being able to share.
Learning Networks, Communities and More
Listening to podcasts (or audiobooks) and reading blogs and online magazines are surefire ways to get exposed to more ideas (some that you may disagree with). However, you might want something more hands on and engaging. If so, consider joining a learning community.
These communities come in many shapes and sizes (i.e., such as the LinkedIn Group for those that have attained Training Industry Inc.’s Certified Professional in Training Management, CPTM, credential). There are also cohort-based learning groups for instructional designers and communities run by learning technology vendors.
Earlier, we mentioned prioritizing professional development means making it a habit. In the case of learning technology vendors’ communities, it may be simpler to do because you’re using their tools regularly. An empowering highlight of many learning communities is they are free and host industry experts that share their knowledge and wisdom with anyone willing to tune in.
Ask your industry friends which learning networks they’re a part of and check them out. Join the mailing list to get notified of upcoming events. When the notice hits your inbox, read through the topic, description and presenters. Accept the invitation and add it to your calendar if you believe you would get value from the session. Voila! Just like that, you have easily set aside time to bolster your skills and career.
What’s the Correct Path?
Ideas of places to visit don’t necessarily embody prioritizing your professional development as an L&D leader. The point is that the above highlights learning in our modern world.
Although in-person classroom training still has its place in workplace L&D, that model is less practical in many cases nowadays.
Here’s another way to think about this. Suppose your career aspiration was to become an organization’s chief learning officer (CLO). Would you invest tens of thousands of dollars to get a specialized degree or learn by doing and building?
There is no correct answer because context is important. What is the context of your job and the business? What is the environment of your industry and the landscape of your organizational resources? All of these factors play a part in deciding which path to take. No matter what you do, how you do it, or where you go to get it done, it’s important to never stop learning.
Your professional development is preeminent when you proactively lean into lifelong learning. Holding to the perspective that authentic learning only happens in a college class versus non-university certification tracks is outdated thinking.
For example, pursuing a traditional college degree versus certificate-based cohort learning are both viable paths. As lifelong learners, it’s no longer a matter of “or,” but rather the reality of “and.” Depending on where you are in your career (context), you may need to gain a broader perspective on microcredentialing through a magazine article, blog post or podcast. Then at a different career point, enroll in a specific certification program or a university program if the prerequisite to landing your dream job includes a Ph.D. You must own your professional development regardless of the path it takes.
A Practical Way to Prioritize Professional Development
There are many pathways to more profound development. In short, as an L&D leader, you own your professional development. Here are some ways to get started:
Make Learning a Habit
Just like you might remind your employees that “learning is not a single event,” but rather something that happens over time, apply that same wisdom to yourself by making learning a personal habit.
There are many ways to do this (unstructured or structured); set it up so it fits your context. Try this: At least three days a week, start your work day by reading workplace L&D content (or listening to a podcast or audiobook). Whatever content you’ve consumed, jot down at least three takeaways. You can use the Notes app on your smartphone if you’re not at your desk at work or in your home office.
Then, take it to the next level by sharing your takeaways. You will need to be more intentional at this step, but this is a great way to reinforce your learning. You could share a link to the article in a LinkedIn post with your insights and ask your network their thoughts on the topic.
Use Employer Benefits
Does your employer have an educational reimbursement program? Great! Leverage that employee perk.
Use a two-prong approach. Ask yourself:
- What skills do you need immediately to deliver more value to your organization and its employees?
- What is on the horizon (in your industry, company, department, etc.)? What skills do you need to help future-proof your organization (or your career)?
Go through this thought exercise once or twice a year to find the learning programs (certifications, webinars, university credit, whatever makes sense for your context) that address your needs.
Prioritizing your professional development as a workplace learning leader is about lifelong learning and using all avenues of learning to fit your career and development context.
Learn new perspectives and gain additional insight through podcasts, audiobooks, L&D-focused articles, blogs, research organizations, magazines and learning communities. Share what you know with others.
When it makes sense, take your learning to the next level. If you have the perk of educational cost reimbursement through your employer, use it to upskill as necessary. Take certifications or college-credited classes.
The bottom line — you own your professional development. How you make it happen is just as flexible as your imagination.