Large organisations are empowering middle managers to help people in their professional development and defining their own goals in terms of performance. These practices, increasingly disassociated from the “endless” chains of cascading objectives, require coaching to help people in the short term (itinerary for the position) and in the medium term (skills development to be prepared for the future).
What is the role of the L&D department in this regard? Instructing, as coaches, middle managers? Being facilitators in the classroom to cover some needs that are repeated in the majority of the members of a group? Helping intermediate managers through performance-consulting to diagnose and design a solution strategy? Contributing to the budget to hire someone from outside the organisation? These questions and many others are part of a recurrent debate that many L&D departments face, partly because of the arduous need to justify their own existence.
Teams are online. With or without the mantra of digital transformation, people who work in organizations are already on the Internet, collaborating in WhatsApp groups, sharing documents if only by email, and using all types of mobile apps, inside and outside the work environment, to buy, socially interact, follow trends, and be informed. However, when they need to cover some of those needs that will help them meet their professional goals in the short or medium term, they look for the answer in Google, or in classroom training. What does Google provide us? Immediateness, “guaranteed” or sponsored results… And why face-to-face training? Because teachers tailor the lessons to suit the needs of the group, they question, raise the voice, change the angle, listen, expand, provoke, synthesize, respond to the students’ concerns, and what is more important, predict the next question. Teachers play with advantage and respond to the body language of their students. Within this concept of “face-to-face training”, we also include the rest of “face-to-face” interactions: when you sit down with your partner who is the reference when carrying out a certain task, and so teaches you “on the job”, or when you keep working sessions with your boss that guides you as to what you should do and how, or when you participate in cross-functional teams to find synergies where there are silos.
However, those of us working in the elearning world tend to focus learning only around an LMS (Learning Management System), which in practice is a tool very much focused on the delivery of sequential contents that includes a final test and justifies the completion (compliance), facilitating (the administrator) the final report and statistics of hours completed, accumulated, and the supposed savings in travel costs (in a world where Skype is diluted among the infinite video call options).
Is there an intersection between the world of people who learn and those who do online courses in the LMS? Surely, but the key challenge is to put the student in the centre.
There are great catalogue content collections available at reasonable prices that address general needs, linked to the use of tools or the so-called soft skills. However, when we move to the specific needs of a group (or tribe) that needs to fulfill a business objective, the production of elearning moves between the “scarce” pedagogical design (templates) to the “high” production time (and investment), and in the VUCA worlds in which we move when the development is finished, the content “has already changed”.
There is light at the end of the tunnel… and it comes hand in hand with a new category within the Learning Technologies ecosystem, the so-called LXP or NextGen LMS. These platforms allow us to tell a story that engages the student, integrating all kinds of home or professional resources such as videos, infographics, slides, tests, interactive activities, micro-content, traditional catalogue contents, etc., which, sequenced and dosed, propose an online learning experience similar to that the middle manager or expert partner would use to explain “what I have to do and how”.
Secondly, this learning is social in nature, because the interactions are not in communities or forums, but in the content itself, accompanied by recommendations, and with associated gamification systems with badges that recognise effort and can be dumped to other environments (for example, LinkedIn Digital Badges), and decentralized models that empower the employee.
Third, these new generations of platforms offer the possibility to automate the deployment of content based on extended fields of the user profile, and also to understand the “digital body language” and work in online marketing as it has been happening for years: with agility, starting from the MVP or minimum viable product, identifying what works best, iterating, correcting, and approaching the bases of Design Thinking also to the field of learning. Do not design a product and try to convince people to buy it; instead, talk to your client and develop what best suits their needs (no two organisations are the same). But who creates these experiences? The intermediate or expert manager itself, who identifies and contextualises the relevant content (“content curation”), uses the same jargon and perfectly links the message with the objectives or behaviours that are intended to be achieved, aided by L&D, because to learn in the flow of work we have to start by democratising the creation and deployment of learning experiences, and L&D is here among other things to promote that change management.