The changing role of L&D: what do practitioners need to be?

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“Globalisation and technology are forcing organisations to embrace new competition and complex challenges.” – Andy Lancaster, CIPD

The learning landscape of the modern workforce is undergoing a radical transformation. As CIPD’s Head of L&D Andy Lancaster has noted, globalisation and technology are constantly growing and developing, bringing fresh challenges for organisations to face. Learners are becoming more independent, skills requirements are changing and job roles are having to adapt.

In other words, learning and development (L&D) is changing, and in order for us to adjust it’s time for us to rethink the role of the practitioner. So what do modern L&D practitioners need to be?



L&D has a long history of being an individual function within a business. Traditionally, L&D was focused on organising training logistics, creating learning plans and producing designs and training materials based on current needs. Up until now, your job will likely have been based upon planning a training programme and assigning a trainer to teach your employees the relevant skills over a day or more of formal learning. As part of a separate silo within the business, the L&D manager enforces the learning with little need to consult with other departments.

But as today’s learning journey becomes more personalised and informal, this ‘one-size-fits all’ approach to training no longer fits. How can you overcome the challenge in order to adapt?

“If everyone is moving forward together, then success takes care of itself.” – Henry Ford

It’s often said that teamwork divides the task and multiplies the success – and for that to happen, you’ll need to start looking at collaboration with others outside of your department. Consider your stakeholders; let’s say, for example, your business leaders. As the people who will outline the goals of the organisation and invest in your L&D, it’s vital that you have them on side. Communication is key to ensuring that both of you are clear on the overall aims of the business so that you can allow these aims to inform your strategy. A recent report revealed that 88% of high-performing learning organisations ensure there is a communication plan in place for all key stakeholders and that 91% of them have L&D that is fully aligned with the strategic goals of the organisation.

And if you’re clear on the overall aims, you can make more informed decisions on how to achieve them.

So go beyond just your L&D department. By providing key insights and stakeholder needs, collaboration with your HR teams, line managers, designers and learners is conducive to shaping the success of your L&D strategy and, ultimately, the success of your organisation.



What is coaching? In his book The Manager as Coach and Mentor, author and director of the OCM Eric Parsloe defines coaching as “a process that enables learning and development to occur and thus performance to improve.” When we think of coaching, we often think of it in terms of boosting athletic performance – but just as a great football coach can supercharge their team with the drive and enthusiasm needed for success, so too can the L&D practitioner engage the learner and encourage ownership of their personal learning journey.

“But how can we as L&D professionals coach effectively if learners are spending less and less time in the training room?” you may ask. “Doesn’t a more digitalised learning environment depersonalise the learning?” Not necessarily. In fact, new-generation learning engagement platforms (LEPs) such as Thinqi have specialised features that actively enable collaboration and discussion between a whole network of trainers, learners and peers, so you can stay connected and able to provide support every step of the way. Take Thinqi’s ‘Networks’ feature, for example. It allows you to manage members, have discussions, share files, make announcements, set assignments and accept learners into the network – meaning learners can learn independently and at their own pace without being isolated.

Some L&D practitioners have expressed concerns that less face-to-face training and more independent learning could render the trainer’s role redundant, but this is not true. Instead, it’s more a case of adapting to changing skills requirements. While face-to-face learning will still make up 10% of the 70:20:10 model, the rest of the time the trainer will need to assume the role of coach and mentor, providing invaluable support and encouragement throughout the learning journey.

And it’s not just trainers who can act as coaches. Research by Manchester Inc. revealed that companies that provide coaching to their executives showed improvements in productivity, quality, organisational strength, customer service, and shareholder value, as well as an average return on investment (ROI) of almost six times the cost of the coaching.


Data analysts

On a recent episode of The GoodPractice Podcast, guests Michelle Ockers and Donald H Taylor discussed how L&D in the 21st century is now less about ticking boxes for course satisfaction and is instead shifting towards measuring data analytics on business impact and maximising performance. L&D must be the accelerator for a high-performing organisation.

We already explored in a previous blog post the value of measurement to inform your curriculum and prove results. Data analytics tools allow you to identify the content and resources that learners are engaging with the most, what times they are most accessed and on which devices. This is the content that can help you align your curriculum with the needs of both the business and the learners. Put simply, technology is your enabler when it comes to using learning analytics to map your curriculum and measuring the business impact of your strategy.

And the proof is in the numbers; in a report by CIPD, it was revealed that in high-performing organisations, L&D departments know how to work together with the business to increase the impact of learning interventions. In fact, 79% draw on business expertise in their organisation to support learning (e.g. marketing, data analytic experts) and a whopping 85% use the information to regularly review their programmes and check that they support and enhance the organisational goal.



This brings us to another key role of the L&D practitioner today – the curator. Traditionally, the L&D manager was responsible for creating the curriculum of content and enforcing the learning. However, with many employees now taking control of their own development, L&D departments today are increasingly changing from learning providers to content curators. As a result, they are becoming more responsible for providing the tools and support to enable self-directed learning. But with so many videos, online courses, discussions, talks, apps and articles available at the touch of a button, it’s all too easy to become overwhelmed.

How do we overcome the challenge of information overload? In Part 3 of our modern learning blog series, we explored the value of the informal learning library (or digital library) in facilitating quick and easy content curation. In fact, our Thinqi platform is the perfect example of how an informal learning library can help you to overcome the challenges of curating and sharing learning content. Thinqi provides its users with easy access to a community of learners, enabling them to share, reflect and discuss using communication tools such as forums, comment threads and real-time chat facilities. ‘Tagged’ articles and curated ‘Playlists’ provide a Smartie-trail for learners to explore the content most relevant and aligned with their learning goals, meaning less time wasted sifting through content and more time spent actively learning. It’s the perfect social constructivist approach to learning.

But before you hang up your “learning enforcer” hat completely, bear in mind that this role is never going to be eradicated completely – at his keynote presentation at the World of Learning Conference 2018, Rafal Szaniawski noted that there will always be mandatory compliance training that’s a requirement due to law, policy or simply because of the need for certain skills to be developed within a business to ensure continued success.

In summary…

As a modern-day L&D practitioner, your job requirement no longer solely depends on managing a training delivery function – this is now more an expectation. The real need today is for a practitioner who can collaborate with the rest of the organisation to meet business aims, support and encourage a learning culture, align performance needs with business needs and train their colleagues and learners according to business aims.

There’s no denying it: L&D is changing. We at Thinqi are going to help you embrace it.


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