L&D has seen some drastic changes over the last decade. For starters, there’s an increase in self-directed learning and rise in mobile learning and adaptive experiences. You may have also heard the term performance support, which refers to aids that help employees quickly learn or access knowledge on the job.
With an ever-changing, increasingly digital economy, we are seeing employees discover knowledge in new ways. According to Think with Google, 91 percent of smartphone users “turn to their devices for ideas while completing a task,” and “how to” searches on YouTube are growing by 70 percent each year. Meanwhile, 2014 research by Bersin by Deloitte found that more than 70 percent of employees use search engines to learn for work.
As a result of performance support technologies, digital transformation is becoming more accessible to L&D. Are we ready? I interviewed Christopher Lind, head of global digital learning at GE Healthcare, to find out.
Chris, thanks for taking the time to talk with me today. Tell us a little bit about yourself.
Wow. That’s a big question. Professionally, I’d say I’m someone who’s always found myself at the center of developing people, business operations and technology. My love of technology and developing people goes back long before I was even out of school. However, once I found my way in the workplace, I’ve been relentless at reimagining the ways organizations develop people to improve business outcomes, and technology plays a huge role in doing that right.
On a personal note, I’ve got an incredible wife and four, soon to be five, little bundles of energy that keep me busy. As a result, getting out isn’t always easy, so I spend any free time I have either flying my drones or taking a break from technology and messing around in my woodshop.
What is your interpretation of L&D today?
There’s been a lot of discussion about how the purpose of L&D is changing. Personally, I don’t think that’s true. For far too long, L&D has confused purpose with … actions. I think what’s happening today is we’re better separating our purpose from the actions we take to achieve it. As a result, the actions and the way we prioritize in L&D are changing, but our purpose remains the same.
With that context, I’d say our purpose is – and always has been – to identify root behavioral issues within a business problem and architect constructs that provide people with the requisite knowledge, resources and experience required to positively correct the behavior.
Where that’s changing in action is that technology is now allowing us to create and deliver these constructs in ways never before possible. For example, it’s not that classroom training was originally a bad design. In its time, it was one of the only constructs we were able to create. However, technology has blown the lid off that limitation and allows us to create constructs in superior ways that fit within the flow of how work is done.
Could you provide an example of the methodologies you are using and how you have had to adapt to the new skill sets required?
Absolutely. Let’s take a big corporate system implementation and look at how some of the L&D skills remain and others have had to evolve. Historically, when companies rolled out new systems, L&D was called in to ensure people could properly use these new systems.
They did that by identifying the new behaviors required for success, identifying what knowledge people needed to perform those behaviors, mapping the connection between these new behaviors and business outcomes, and crafting a meaningful story to pull it altogether. After that, L&D would architect all that information into a traditional education delivery mechanism, be that a live classroom, virtual classroom or e-learning, and deploy it to the masses, mainly because that’s what was possible.
While a lot of the overarching principles remain, today, we must think completely differently about how they’re executed. We must take a much closer look at the actual flow of work and determine what components of the construct belong where. This requires the skills of a detective to holistically understand technical workflows and processes to identify exactly when specific pieces of information will be needed. It’s a level of granularity that hasn’t historically been required.
It also requires an unprecedented level of technical acumen to architect systems that can symbiotically work together to ensure people have the right information at the right time. It’s also a requirement to understand the downstream implications of those decisions. What may seem like a simple decision or minor change may have a ripple effect, massively impacting the timeline or success of a project.
The other skill that has always been important but is rapidly evolving is data analytics. While often an opportunity area for L&D, previous analytics was often done using qualitative data. Now, these analytics are often quantitative and carry broader implications. They not only tell us about the design of our content but address how effectively we analyzed the workflows and architected the systems. Decisions regarding the outputs of this data carry greater risk or expense.
What do you see happening in the next five years?
At the rate things are changing, it’s hard to say. However, I think we’re going to see effective learning and development organizations become more invisible to their audience. This is a big change for many L&D organizations. They’ve often thrived on being center stage and have historically found their success in coordinating and facilitating highly visible programs or implementing massive programs and portals.
As people in the workplace continue to become more distributed and demand a greater level of personalization, achieving that is going to require us to serve as behind the scenes the engineers and architects creating constructs that enable and empower people to choose their own development pathways.
Now, I have been challenged that being less visible will make us less valuable to the business, and I recognize the counterintuitive nature of the concept. However, making this shift will put us in a position to spend more time as a strategic business partner, scale our services to a broader audience, serve the business in a greater capacity, and have far greater data to support and validate the criticality of our service.
Could you provide a recent example of successes and failures in rolling out new approaches to learning?
One of our successful approaches was one of the simplest. We started a weekly webcast on different topics relevant to our audience. We invited a small panel of experts on the topic and facilitated a panel discussion about a situation that happened, how the team worked together through the process and what they learned. It was a very simple structure and relatively easy to implement. Sometimes, the examples were successes. Sometimes, they were failures.
At first, we questioned whether it was working, because a lot of the audience didn’t interact or ask questions. We later found out it was because … simply listening to the discussion is what fits best into their flow of work. More people than I can count listened in, and while I can’t say we were able to quantifiably measure a specific business impact, the response from our audience was overwhelmingly positive. We were able to capture multiple instances where other teams avoided the same mistakes or took a new approach based on something they heard from the webcast.
We are also seeing a trend toward bite-sized knowledge-sharing among peers, either using webcasts or podcasts, which are becoming increasingly popular. What skills are critical for today’s L&D practitioners as a result?
Technical acumen is rapidly becoming one of the most important skills for today’s L&D professional. I’m not suggesting everyone has to be at the point where they can program or engineer software. However, it is important to get to the point where you understand the fundamental ways technology works. I often see organizations make bad decisions on new technology because they didn’t even know the right questions to ask.
Learning agility is another skill that is and will continue to be critical for successful L&D. What you’re comfortable with and works well today may not work next year, and you must be comfortable adapting and evolving as things change. Long gone are the days where you can rely on your trusty L&D tool bag and simply pull out a modified version of what you did somewhere else.
Finally, I’d say the most important skill for an L&D professional is critical thinking. Objectively gathering and analyzing the facts of your environment in order to make sound decisions will stand the test of time. If you are continually challenging yourself to grow in this area, you can overcome just about any other gap.
What is your advice to other professionals when deciding which path to follow in their L&D career?
Gain a broad understanding of all the various aspects of L&D before you go deeper with your technical skills. I’ve seen people get really deep in technical L&D skills they hate because they didn’t realize they could do something completely different while still reimagining L&D. “L&D” encompasses a broad spectrum of skills and talents.
Once you figure that out, find ways to gain a wide variety of experiences within your focus area. Don’t get stuck in a place where you’re always looking at the same situations or solving for the same problems. It will make it exponentially harder for the critical skills I referenced earlier to not become stagnant.
My final piece of advice is to experiment and explore. It is so easy to fall into the trap of looking at L&D through the lens of “what’s the best we can do with what we have?” Find opportunities to reimagine [what would be] possible if you could do anything.