The Learning and Development (L&D) industry has been undergoing a seismic shift. With the advent of new technologies and changing workplace dynamics, the future of L&D is facing challenges that are far more complex than ever before.
And then there was the wake-up call.
In December 2021, ByteDance, the parent company of TikTok, dissolved its entire L&D department. The reason? They felt that many of their learning initiatives were not adding value and were merely “feel-good activities” with limited impact.
If this doesn’t serve as a wake-up call for the L&D community to reevaluate their strategies and skills, nothing will.
Now, at the heart, I’m sure there was a lot more behind the scenes at ByteDance, but I think you all get the picture. Many companies are rethinking their L&D efforts, and we are seeing many of our colleagues being laid off.
However, according to a RedThread Research article:
“L&D functions are now more visible than ever, being called upon to solve big problems like upskilling, reskilling, and workforce mobility. About 50% of high-performing organizations are involving L&D in larger strategic discussions, a percentage that would have been unheard of a decade ago.”RedThread Research
In this context, it’s crucial for L&D professionals to focus on developing the skills of the future – not just your typical “I need more Articulate skills” but skills and approaches beyond those that are L&D focused, that will allow you to stay relevant and effective in the face of disruption.
Here are five key skill areas that every L&D professional should focus on for future success:
- Agile Approach
- Data Analytics
- Technical Acumen
- Business Acumen.
- As a bonus, we’ll also discuss “Leading from Any Seat—Why Every L&D Role is a Leadership Role.”
In the comments below, I’d love to read what additional skills you feel are critical to the future of L&D.
Agile Approach – Change is the only constant
Businesses today aren’t just asking for agility; they’re demanding it. And guess what? L&D isn’t the only department getting this memo. Marketing, Sales, Operations—they’ve all been operating in an agile state for a while now. One might even say we in L&D have been behind the agile curve.
Why Being Agile Is Important
Mastering Agile skills is more than just creating nimble training programs; it’s about being an agile partner within your organization. As business landscapes shift and organizational priorities change, L&D professionals need to be agile enough to pivot quickly and align their initiatives with new strategic goals. Agile skills empower you to collaborate more effectively with cross-functional teams, adapt to organizational changes in real-time, and provide learning solutions that are both timely and relevant. This level of agility positions L&D not just as a reactive service department but as a proactive strategic partner.
Must Have “Agile” Skills
- Scrum Fundamentals: Understanding the basics of Scrum, an Agile framework, can help L&D professionals manage complex projects more efficiently and collaborate effectively with other departments.
- Iterative Development: The ability to develop training modules and programs in iterations allows for continuous improvement and the flexibility to adapt to changing organizational needs.
- Stakeholder Collaboration: Agile methodologies emphasize close collaboration with stakeholders. This skill is crucial for L&D professionals to ensure that learning initiatives are aligned with business objectives and receive the necessary support.
- Design Thinking: This approach encourages empathy, collaboration, and problem-solving. It’s particularly useful for L&D professionals in designing learner-centric solutions that are both innovative and aligned with business goals.
Data Analytics—Making Informed Decisions with Data
Relying on your gut or past experiences has its charm, but let’s be honest—it’s 2023, and “I think this will work” just doesn’t cut it anymore. And honestly, other departments have been data-driven for years. Marketing’s doing it, Sales is all over it, and even HR has a dashboard. It’s high time L&D catches up and starts making data-driven decisions beyond Kirkpatrick’s levels one and two.
Why Data Analytics is Important
Data analytics in L&D is no longer just about gauging learner satisfaction or assessing knowledge retention—those are baseline metrics. The real power of data analytics lies in its ability to offer deeper insights that can drive strategic decision-making. By leveraging data analytics, you can uncover patterns in learner engagement, identify skills gaps, and predict future performance. This enables you to align your L&D initiatives with organizational goals more effectively, justify budget allocations, and secure stakeholder buy-in.
Must Have Data Analytic Skills
- Data Collection and Preprocessing: Understanding how to gather relevant data and prepare it for analysis is the first step in any data-driven project. L&D professionals should know how to collect data from a variety of sources, such as: Sales data, customer feedback, and other business analytics tools. Move beyond your LMS.
- Statistical Analysis: Statistical analysis is crucial for understanding the current state of your training programs and learner engagement. By applying statistical methods, you can accurately interpret data, identify trends, and make immediate improvements to your L&D initiatives.
- Predictive Analytics: Unlike statistical analysis, which focuses on understanding the present, predictive analytics aims to forecast future outcomes. This advanced skill allows you to anticipate learner needs, skills gaps, and the potential success of training programs, enabling proactive planning and strategy
- Data Visualization: The ability to present data in a visually compelling way helps in communicating complex insights more effectively. Skills in tools like Tableau or Power BI can be invaluable.
So, the next time you’re about to make a decision based on a hunch, take a step back and ask yourself, “What would the data say?” Trust me, once you start making data-driven decisions, you’ll wonder how you did it any other way.
Curation—It’s Not Just for Museums Anymore
If you’re thinking curation is something only art galleries and museums do, think again. In the L&D world, curation is your secret weapon for delivering impactful learning experiences. As a matter of fact, I wrote a nine-step guide to curation here.
Why Curation Matters in L&D
As we said in the Curation Coffee Chat, we don’t have a “finding” information problem. We have a “filtering” problem.
We’re inundated with information. Solid curation skills enable you to cut through the clutter and deliver content that is truly valuable and relevant to your learners and the business. But curation isn’t just about enhancing the learning experience; it’s also a practical time-saver. Instead of investing hours in creating content from scratch, curation allows you to leverage existing resources. This frees up time for you and your team to focus on other critical aspects of your L&D initiatives. Be sure to check out Mike Taylor’s “CURATED” model here.
Must Have Curation Skills
- Identifying Objectives: Before diving into the sea of content, know what you’re swimming for. What are the learning objectives? What skills or knowledge are you aiming to impart?
- Sourcing Quality Material: Sourcing Quality Material: The internet is a vast ocean of information, but not all of it is reliable or valuable.Quality sourcing involves a meticulous evaluation process. It’s essential to consider the credibility of the source and where the information is coming from.
- Organizing and Contextualizing: Don’t just throw a bunch of links at your learners. Organize the content in a logical flow and provide context. Why is this material important? How does it tie into the learning objectives?
- Keeping Content Updated: The world doesn’t stand still, and neither should your curated content. Regularly review and update the material to keep it fresh and relevant.
- Measuring Impact: Use analytics to track how your curated content is performing. Are learners engaging with it? Is it helping them achieve their learning goals?
Curation isn’t just about collecting content; it’s about delivering the right content to the right people at the right time. So, if you’ve been underestimating the power of curation in L&D, it’s time to rethink. It’s not just a buzzword; it’s a strategic approach that can make your learning programs more effective, relevant, and engaging.
Technical Acumen—Being Tech-Savvy Isn’t Just for IT
Digital transformation is more than just a buzzword—it’s a business imperative—and having a strong technical skill set is no longer a sideline attribute. Technology acumen is a core competency that every L&D professional needs to integrate into their toolkit. From automating workflows to creating more interactive and personalized learning experiences, technical acumen is shaping the future of L&D in ways we can’t afford to ignore.
Why Technical Acumen is a Must
Businesses are going digital, and L&D can’t afford to be left behind. Whether navigating content stores like LinkedIn Learning or using generative AI to help create content or process information, technical skills are now part and parcel of the future of L&D.
Consider the ability to improve efficiency and automation. With the right technical know-how, you can automate repetitive tasks, freeing time for more strategic work.
Must Have Technical Skills
- Gamification Development: If you’re still relying solely on traditional training methods, it’s time to get your game on – literally. Gamification can make learning more interactive and fun, and knowing how to develop these elements is key to modern L&D.
- Generative AI: This is where tech meets personalization. Generative AI can tailor learning experiences to individual needs, making your programs effective and highly adaptive. Now is the time to learn more about using generative AI for learning. Check out our Immersive workshop with Myra Roldan.
- Video Editing: Forget static slideshows; dynamic video content is where it’s at. Being skilled in video editing allows you to create compelling narratives, incorporate interactive elements, and even blend various media types to enrich your training materials.
- Data Analytics: And yes, we’re back to data. Being proficient in data analytics can provide invaluable insights into what’s working and what needs tweaking in your programs.
If you’ve been hesitant to embrace the technical aspects of L&D, consider this your call to action. Believe me, honing your technical skills isn’t just a career booster—it’s a game-changer for your entire L&D strategy.
Business Acumen—It’s Not Just for the C-Suite
Let’s talk about Business Acumen. If you’ve been thinking this is a skill set reserved for executives and managers, it’s time to broaden your perspective. Business acumen is essential for L&D professionals.
Why Business Acumen is a Must
One of the biggest challenges to the future of L&D is ensuring that training programs align with the company’s overall objectives. Business acumen helps you understand these goals and how your role in L&D contributes to achieving them. By understanding the business side of things, you make smarter decisions about allocating resources, whether budget, time, or manpower.
Besides, when you speak the language of business, you gain credibility. This can be invaluable when getting buy-in for new initiatives or securing budget approvals.
Must Have Business Skills
- Financial Literacy: Understanding how your company makes money is more than just interesting trivia; it’s essential knowledge for any L&D professional. This insight allows you to align your training programs with the revenue-generating activities of the business, ensuring that your L&D initiatives contribute directly to the bottom line.
- Strategic Planning: It’s not just about crafting a roadmap for your L&D initiatives; it’s about ensuring that this roadmap is in sync with the company’s overall business strategy. When your strategic plans for L&D align with the broader goals of the organization, you’re not just ticking off boxes—you’re contributing to the company’s success in a meaningful way.
- Stakeholder Management: Knowing who holds the influence and how to engage with them is crucial. Whether it’s the CEO, department heads, or team leads, effective communication and collaboration can make or break your L&D projects.
- Market Awareness: Keeping a pulse on industry trends and competitor activities isn’t just about staying current; it’s about future-proofing your L&D programs. By understanding what’s happening in the market, you can anticipate the skills and knowledge your workforce will need down the line, allowing you to design learning plans that are relevant today and set the stage for future success.
Strong business acumen is no longer optional for L&D professionals aiming for excellence; it’s a fundamental requirement. By understanding how your company generates revenue, aligning your L&D strategies with overarching business goals, effectively engaging with key stakeholders, and staying attuned to market trends, you position yourself to create programs that go beyond educational milestones to drive real business results.
Bonus Section: Leading from Any Seat—Why Every L&D Role is a Leadership Role
Learning leadership is more than just managing training programs; it’s about becoming a catalyst for change and innovation within your organization. You don’t need a managerial title to wield influence. In fact, learning leadership allows you to inspire change and drive initiatives from any position. It’s about shaping a culture of continuous learning that permeates the entire organization. This kind of leadership fosters innovation and adaptability, qualities that are increasingly essential in today’s fast-paced business environment.
Must Have Leadership Skills
- Adaptive Leadership: Whether navigating team dynamics, managing remote learners, or implementing new technologies, adaptive leadership allows you to be flexible yet focused. It’s about recognizing when to take charge, when to step back, when to push for innovation, and when to stick with tried-and-true methods. This nuanced approach to leadership enhances your effectiveness and impact, regardless of your official title or role within L&D.
- Clear and Persuasive Communication: Whether in a formal leadership role or not, your ability to articulate ideas clearly and persuade others is crucial for driving change and implementing successful programs.
- Strategic Alignment: Leading from any seat means thinking beyond your immediate tasks. It involves aligning your actions and initiatives with the broader business goals, ensuring that your contributions are impactful.
- Creative Problem-Solving: Leadership isn’t about having all the answers but knowing how to find them. Being adept at identifying challenges and brainstorming solutions is a skill that elevates you from a participant to a leader in L&D. Check out my Creative Problem Solving posts here and here.
Let’s wrap this up: The Future-Ready L&D Professional
As we navigate the complexities of today’s business environment, it’s clear that the role of L&D professionals is evolving at an unprecedented pace. Gone are the days when technical acumen and business skills were the purview of other departments. Today, these competencies are integral to the L&D toolkit. From adopting an Agile approach and leveraging data analytics to mastering the art of curation and understanding the nuances of business, each of these skills serves as a cornerstone for future success.
And let’s not forget the bonus skill—Adaptive Leadership. Leadership in L&D is not confined to titles; it’s a mindset that can be cultivated and exercised by anyone, regardless of their role. It’s this holistic skill set that will set you apart as a future-ready L&D professional, capable of driving not just educational outcomes but also business results.
So, as you look toward the future, consider this your roadmap. These are not just skills to learn; they’re competencies to master. And in doing so, you’ll not only elevate your own career but also contribute to the broader success of your organization.