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Laura Overton’s 4 Tips for L&D leaders on how to make a lasting impact in 2016

Last week's Learning Technologies conference in London was the Super Bowl event for anyone involved in e-learning and workplace learning. With more than 7,000 visitors (yours truly among them), 250 exhibitors and 150 seminars, the two conference halls were packed full with ideas, theories, case studies, presentations, demos, launching of new LMS features, and unparalleled networking opportunities.

The exhibition seminars covered the latest issues in workplace learning and development, from emerging learning technologies and e-learning strategies, to leadership development, learning and performance, talent management and transformational learning.

One of the brilliant speakers of the seminars was Laura Overton, the founder and Managing Director of Towards Maturity, a not for profit benchmark practice that provides independent research to help organisations deliver improved performance through learning innovation. She currently holds the first position in the Top Ten E-learning Movers and Shakers list in the UK, the second position in Europe and 3rd worldwide!

Setting the frame

Today's L&D professionals have high aspirations for their roles and are seeking a wide range of business benefits from workplace learning:

  • 89% seek benefits related to efficiency
  • 88% seek improved individual processes
  • 91% seek improved productivity and engagement
  • 88% seek improved business responsiveness
  • 89% seek improved learning culture

(data from Towards Maturity's Embracing Change Report)

Opportunities to reach these benefits are massive, with hundreds of learning management systems on the market releasing new and improved features day after day, emerging technologies like augmented reality and virtual reality, models of blended learning or established e-learning strategies.

However, this multitude of opportunities creates the paradox of choice: when people have too many options to choose from, they get easily overwhelmed and either choose nothing or go with less-than-perfect options for their needs. This is why business learning objectives are rarely achieved:

  • only 41% are achieving benefits related to efficiency
  • only 39% are achieving improved individual processes
  • only 29% are achieving improved productivity and engagement
  • only 24% are achieving improved business responsiveness
  • only 21% are achieving improved learning culture

(data from Towards Maturity's Embracing Change Report)

What can L&D professionals do so their efforts are not made in vain?

1. Focus on the business problem

The first piece of advice Laura gave on this issue was to start with an intrinsic analysis of the company. Basically, you should focus on the business problem and come up with a plan to solve it. If you know there are more than one problems, or you simply don't know where to start, try to channel your attention to one single issue, be it building business buy-in, transforming your workplace learning, equipping your L&D team, better understanding your learners, or any other similar thing.

Then, and only then, should you consider your options in terms of learning providers and choose a full-featured LMS.

2. Understand the learners

Once you have a clear plan and the means to put it into practice, you need to get to know your audience like the back of your hand. After all, your audience, aka the employees, are the fuel that ignite the business engine and make all cogs turn, thus making the business successful.

Don't put labels on your learner's foreheads, place them in a box and treat them like brainless uninterested creatures. Older employees can be as proactive and tech-savvy or tech enthusiasts as younger people, so you shouldn't make assumptions about your audience based on their year of birth, or any other criteria for that matter.

Take your time and talk to them individually, ask them questions, find out their learning interests and what drives them to be better performers. How important is manager support for each of them? How would they like to access the learning materials? How can the L&D team help them connect with each other and network?

Listen to what they have to say and welcome their ideas. Companies that treat their employees as customers report better results and see that their learning initiatives support the skills that the business needs.

3. Think performance, not course

You need to take steps and transform your L&D strategy into one that creates the perfect environment for learning at the point of need. Employees learn more from on the job experiences and from each other than from formal courses, be them face to face or entirely online. The 70:20:10 model is not just a fad in workplace learning, you know?

You must try to see the big picture and think beyond the course. Don't measure all activities, or think that the best test result equals the best performance. Small things like using Google on their mobile phones, watching a YouTube video, or just having a chit chat near the water-cooler can have a great impact over how the employees consolidate their expertise and improve their individual learning processes.

4. Equip your team

Talent management and talent retention have a high spot on today's HR departments and this is partly because the new wave of workers value learning and development opportunities inside their organizations more than ever before. You need to prepare for the future and equip your team with resources that will help them thrive in the ever-changing workplace.

Build confidence in new media by encouraging the use smart devices and technology at work and helping managers to support their staff to get the most from online learning.

Instead of conclusion

Learning and development professionals seem to be in front of a jigsaw puzzle at the moment. They have to create learning strategies that bring along business benefits and they have a lot of opportunities/jigsaw pieces to play with. The challenge is, while keeping the result picture in mind, to focus on one thing, find the starting piece — a corner, a side or a detail in the middle of the picture — and build onto it.

Thanks, @LauraOverton, for such an inspiring presentation!