What L&D Forgot

Assuming you work for an organization of more than 40 or so employees, you likely have some experience with trainers or Learning & Development departments. When most companies grow and expand their offices, they start to look for support on onboarding and training their workforce. Over the years, companies grow and L&D becomes a less-than-meaningful business area. Subsequently members of that business area are the most unempowered members of the team.

That’s right, I think L&D is an unempowered department. Why? It’s in the social proof - you can go to any e-learning or instructional design event or conference and hear the pained complaints of developers and designers (the producers of the department): their managers don’t give them support, employees hate sitting down to learn, other managers resent them for taking their employees out for learning, the list goes on. I’m going to call this out as learned helplessness. L&D has forgotten their place at the table and actually walked away from it. It’s not that they were never invited - good business owners know that learning is crucial to a successful business.

It’s time to face the music: L&D isn’t working anymore and here’s why:

Overall, these departments fail to effectively integrate their work with the business objectives of the organization. Additionally, they forget to make their training actually answer the real business problem at hand.

Instructional designers and developers have gotten lazy. Don’t get offended - it’s a gross generalization - but it’s mostly true. I’m consistently disappointed at the quality of work I see in the industry; boring slide decks with paragraphs of information, monotone audio, failure to use adult learning theory, and lack of accessible design are all hallmarks of this laziness in the industry.

Designers and departments alike are using tools as a crutch. Overwhelmingly, conference attendees at an event I recently attended wanted to learn about the next best tool and not about the theory-into-practice aspect of what we do (aka, learning how people learn and designing for that). The industry is seeking to replace the work of designing for real learning with a tool that will do it for us.

So what to do, what to do? Well, first, if you’re a part of learning in any way at your organization, consider how you can start to create a learning ecosystem. If you’re not involved with learning, go knock on the door of the person who is an strike up a conversation. These are just a few ways to get started:

Be an organizational leader to get back your seat at the table. Learned helplessness in the industry has made us squeamish about talking numbers, business objectives, and performance. get over it now. Learn what the business needs by asking managers and the C-level. Make a case for training that furthers these business objectives.

Motivate, don’t beg. Think creatively about how you can get learners (employees) in front of a learning experience, be it online or in person. Work on motivating them by understanding what they really want, and use the training as a vehicle to get them there. Don’t whine and beg and complain about not getting support; make your work interesting and you won’t have a problem.

Circle back with business partners: make sure that you’re measuring the outcomes related to the business problems or objectives you’re working on. This is the kicker I see most of the time - measurement is hard, so L&D does the minimum (SCORM or others) but doesn’t actually make use of that data or connect it back to the desired outcomes.

L&D forgot it’s place at the table by forgetting how to meet business objectives. Fix that, and you’re place at the table will be fixed up in a jiffy.

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Posted by Kristen Gallagher

Kristen Gallagher
Kristen Gallagher is an organizational strategies and learning designer. Specializing in onboarding systems, manager development, and knowledge management, Gallagher delivers programs that are designed to evolve and scale with rapid changes. She is the founder and CEO of Edify and has architected and delivered onboarding programs for companies bringing on just one person a quarter to 50+ people a quarter.

She brings over eight years of learning design, business development, and program operations and strategy to Edify. She guides growing tech companies to create amazing people systems, learning programs, and cultures that scale. Kristen speaks on human resources, human centered design, learning & development in technical environments, and integrated people operations across the country. Informed by her interests in technical product design, art history, contemporary Southeast Asian art, and museums, Kristen brings an iconoclastic approach to designing and implementing learning programs in tech environments.

She's spoken and taught at Learning Dev Camp, ATD Cascadia, ACTW, Refresh Portland, Product Tank, PHRMA, and dozens of other conferences. Effective, efficient programs, events, and strategies are what motivate her, and in every project, she engages teams to understand trade-off’s, make data-driven decisions, and design evolvable solutions.