New Landscape for Learning and Development

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The 2018 Workplace Learning Report by LinkedIn, surveyed 4000 people, 30% of whom were Talent Developers, 55% were customers of Talent Developers, the Employees, and the remaining 15% were Influencers comprising managers and executives. The number 1 trend as per this report is that training for soft skills is the #1 priority. It softens the impact of automation, the report says. ‘Robots don’t have soft skills’. May I add, ‘yet’. Robots don’t have soft skills, yet. When two-year-old robot, Sophia, understands speech and meaning behind words, talks of her favorite actor and emotions like love, people call her human-like. She is still an exception in 2018. The pertinent question though is, in the future, will learning soft skills still stay on the top of the pyramid?

I truly believe it will. Behavioral Learning and Development will stay the differentiator.

“If leading HR professionals want to play a part in this exciting journey, here are three cornerstones of the new learning landscape.”

#Accessible

#Bespoke

#Connected

#Accessible: Learning at my fingertips. When Learning and Development units first leveraged online learning at the corporate, we were looking for options for individuals to learn at their desktop, with access to learning delinked from the physical presence of an instructor. Today, my eight-year-old takes drawing lessons online and laughs a heartily when Siri tells him ‘I don’t understand you’, after which he accesses Google to quell his curiosity. Access has taken a whole new meaning with a generation that reaches out to text before they touch, when they wake up in the morning. In this new landscape of learning, can access be leveraged intuitively to multiply meaning for the learner without them necessarily seeking out a learning experience? And then again while artificial intelligence can make the access seamless, the learner’s need for a person to talk to will need to be filled in. Our current fascination for AI enabled technology, will be short-lived and replaced with the need for a person, an expert who is also as human as I am and hence fallible, who can be accessible when I need them the most. They would listen to the concern in my voice, and be with me, if all I need is to feel partnered in my journey, just when I need them.

#Bespoke: Where N=1. A term frequently associated with the clothing industry and with a positive construct, I thought it fit so well with our conversation on learning. There was a time when an L&D professional received a request from a business unit, the response would be, “so how many participants are you expecting to enable?” in order to meet their minimum quorum. Today however there needs to be flexibility in accommodating times when the N, our sample size, is 1.  Having been part of the team that introduced Design Thinking to 1,60,000 employees in three years, I’d like to take a leaf from the construct of Empathy. To be able to create bespoke learning experiences for our organizational learners, empathy is the foundation of our work. In this new landscape of learning, bespoke is made to order interventions, created looking at the profile of the learner, their learning requirement of today and coaching them to bring their best selves to work. Social skills seem to be disappearing. Today, as soon as we hear of a problem, some of us seem to be more comfortable gunning for a solution than pausing and asking a few probing questions to understand what the real problem is. In an age when the value placed on a written letter has skyrocketed, behavioral learning can truly add value when bespoke.

#Connected: Integrating Learning through Teaching. Leaders Teach has been a way of learning at respected firms for years. While it has its place in the sun, reverse mentoring has seen extremely positive benefits amongst learners and leaders who have used it well. It is time we flip the classroom also in the direction of ‘everyone teaches’. Apart from the observable benefits of variety of sources to the receiver, learning also gets better absorbed by the learner, when they teach. In this new landscape of learning, encouraging our learners to seamless connections; teaching and hence absorbing their learning more powerfully, is key. In this world that is hyper-connected, it is the connection to each other’s hearts that is really missing. While Sophia or her counterparts in tomorrow’s landscape can advance enough to understand the meaning behind my words, will they be able to pat my back when I’ve managed that tricky conversation, will they be able to remind me to breathe, when I’m practicing a lesson in mindfulness and will I know when they make a suggestion to my options on a deal, that they truly have my back?

Putting together the ABC, let us consider the case of Rita, the program lead, whose heart is pounding as she considers the possible options for a solution she is working on with her client. Her business case needs to be presented to the client in an hour from now and she knows there’s a missing element to the conversation. Deplete of insight she pings, on Whatsapp, her batch-mates and tutor from a negotiation class she took recently and sends out an SOS for a mid-morning break. As she picks up her steaming cuppa, and her friends are still awaited, she receives a notification on her phone from the organization’s learning app, sent to her by her tutor. ‘Succumb to pressure or be willing to walk away from that negotiation?’ Ref: Harvard Business Review.  Rita double clicks. And minutes later as she’s joined by her friends, she discussed her situation, shares her current learning, seeks their perspective and finally heads back to her desk all set to progress with presence, in her conversation with the client.

Unknown to Rita’s untrained and inexperienced eye, access in the new learning landscape may seem almost amorphous and fluid. But in reality, the learning experience has been carefully curated by a professional, leveraging artificial intelligence, knowing what the learner was working on at their desk before they took their break. Bespoke. And certainly, she didn’t notice that the brief article ends by nudging her to discuss her viewpoint with another, and even debate it with her tutor. They have her back, Rita is assured. Connected.

That was Rita’s story, what’s yours? After this article, I am certainly looking forward to my next coffee conversation, with peers from a class in leadership I took 7 years ago; and set a reminder to also reach out to our faculty and check on their availability. What I’ll look forward to at this conversation would include, their varied perspectives on my article, discussing proactively on that negotiation I’ve been mulling on and also predicting Sophia’s next move. Armed with this issue on insights about learning in the future, you now have access to some bespoke learning, whom are you connecting with next?

Divya Amarnath - A student of Stanford’s Executive Education, an award winning facilitator, and alumni of Columbia University, New York, Divya has over 15 years of diverse global corporate exposure in 10 countries. Currently Head-Learning & Development at ADM Infosys.

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