The future of L&D

Have you had a chance to look at the latest report from the Learning and Performance Institute about the Capability Map of L&D professionals? It makes for interesting reading. You can download a free copy of the summary report here, and if you’re a paying member you can download the full report here.

Here’s what I’ve taken away from the report. L&D will become a dead profession in the next five years unless we undergo radical change. Or thought about another way, L&D has the prime opportunity to position itself as a value adding service to the business.

Either way the future for the profession is highly volatile. I’m not even being sensational about this.

What are L&D professionals good at?
– Managing the learning function – hurrah!
– Live delivery – phew.
– Learning resources – yay!
– Performance improvement – come on!

What are we poor at?
– Business skills and intelligence – financial management, industry awareness, and procurement – oh man, that’s a hard message to hear from all of us who think we’re doing a good job.
– Analysis and strategy – assessment and evaluation, competency management, performance analysis – wait, we’re meant to be advising the business on all these things.
– Learning information and architecture – data interpretation, information architecture – this doesn’t surprise me.

This isn’t my opinion. 983 of you said this.

Learning and Development hasn’t moved on beyond identifying learning needs and developing and designing interventions that meet these needs. It’s stuck. It’s stuck its heels in, and is refusing to accept it needs to change. “We don’t need to change, it’s the culture of the organisation that needs to change,” or “I’m trying to move the organisation to become a learning organisation, and they’re just not ready for the journey”. I hear this a lot.

There are L&D professionals sitting there, right now, all worried about how they can argue the toss with HR about whether or not the Diversity programme should be an e-learning package or face to face delivery. There are L&Ders trying share their knowledge about presentation skills by videoing and giving feedback to the people attending. There are L&Ders who are trying to re-design their e-learning offering to make it more inclusive and accessible. Because that’s what we’re good at doing.

We’ve been sold to. We’ve been sold McDonald’s, when we should be seeking freshly cooked, natural goods to make our own food.

For L&D to be effective in the world of tomorrow here are the things we need to learn and need to learn fast:

User Experience

I don’t mean the UX of going through a learning intervention. I mean the UX of people experiencing your company brand. How do we improve that UX? What does that mean for the way people are working? What does that therefore mean about the skills, knowledge and behaviours they need or use? That then informs about the L&D intervention required.


L&Ders tend to be better at devising engaging, interactve learning interventions which give them high scores on their evaluation forms. What we’re bad at is taking customer data to inform if the L&D intervention made an impact. Forget big data, and ROI evaluation strategies. I’m talking about the basics. If I send someone on a time management course, can I see that the customer has an improved experience of us? That’s the direct link I need to be able to make. I should be able to collect data which either supports or refutes this.

Commercial Acumen

The world we operate in means commerciality is high on everyone’s agenda. Understand the pressures the organisation is facing. Those pressures mean they are natural barriers to people’s learning. If people aren’t learning, they’re not improving. If they’re not improving they won’t be commercially focused. Get under the skin of the organisation. Get all anthropological about the way you operate. That’s where our learning begins and therefore how we devise truly innovative learning interventions.

Collaboration with Suppliers

Gone are the days of partnering with the likes of ASK Europe, or Reed Learning, or Ashridge Business School to deliver your L&D programmes. For any of us to stay relevant, we need to come up with solutions which are exciting, innovative, and fresh. You know what stifles that thinking? Thinking you can come up with a solution by yourself. Or providing a brief and asking suppliers to tender their solution. You know what would be exciting? Sitting in a room with suppliers, and everyone is on equal footing. You jointly discuss the situation, and what is needed for the organisation to move forward. Agreements are then made about who can deliver what. Collaboration rules.

Financial Acumen

What does profit and loss mean? What is a balance sheet? What is the difference between profit and surplus? How do I write a business case? What is CAPEX? What is EBITDA? Fundamental questions about the financial running of a business. This is what gets talked about at senior levels. This is what we need to know better.

When we get reports like this from the likes of the LPI, I get all het up. I think “ah fudge it, I’m going home cos we all suck”. When I’ve had my rant I think, actually this is the time to be excited about the profession. We have such skills and knowledge available to us, and all we have to do is ask. It’s crazy thinking, and it’s so simple. I just need to get up, walk over to some different people and start to ask a different set of questions. Suddenly I’m learning about things I never knew I needed to care about, and actually I can suggest ideas to positively improve the way we do things. Suddenly I’m not the one receiving information at the pace of the organisation, but I’m being pro-active about finding out about the organisation and new opportunities become available.


Published by

Sukh Pabial

I'm an occupational psychologist by profession and am passionate about all things learning and development, creating holistic learning solutions and using positive psychology in the workforce.

5 thoughts on “The future of L&D”

  1. I like the idea around collaboration. I have just done the same thing with a prospective client, thrown some ideas back and invited to work with it. Too easy to just put a straight proposal back with solution an costs etc.
    Might not work but wanted to do something different.

  2. I’d like to add one here too Sukh, and that’s about innovation. I feel we’ve become stuck in best practice mode. This means we still accept ‘legends’ from the history of training, e.g. 55/38/7 is still doing the rounds. Additionally, we try to apply models of the way we’ve always worked to the way business is done now.

    This step is built on a mindset change:
    we don’t do L&D for L&D’s sake but for the business sake.

    This means changing our filter and looking at issues through a performance lens, not a L&D lens. More importantly, it’s about showing business that we can do performance and helping change business’s perception of our work.

  3. Sukh – great call out and I agree with Andrew, Why L&D hasn’t claimed the innovation perch alongside R&D and Marketing is a mystery to me. Well, it will HAVE to as you predict.

    With the pace of change blah blah, learning HAS to be the key skill. If we don’t learn quickly, and insightfully, we lose. Not just we as in L&D profession here but “we” as in an organisation.

    Leaders that learn make better decisions because of that; treat people better because of that and generally do well because they are not pompous enough to believe they know it all/enough.

    Learners that lead make a difference. Learners who take all you throw at them and still find more. Self-resourceful learners, curious learners, professionally-driven learners. They often infect and inspire their peers through like or competition.

    We have a profession that only – in part – matches those learners. We seem to have a lot to do. But as learners OURSELVES shouldn’t this be a beautiful dilemma? Shouldn’t we be delighted about what we – ourselves – can learn? Perhaps, but I’ve experienced many in our industry who don’t have the tenacity, vitality and restlessness about learning and coast through on old styles; lazy application and barely get by. Not good enough any more.

    If this LPI instrument – along with – and I have to say this, the CIPD Profession Map (which serves me well here as it gave me a licence to “professionalise” what I did; wanted to do and would be measured by) – then all the better for those who love learning; are adept at keeping their skills sharp and driving businesses on through people-based learning.

    I’ve heard many arguments for “training” to be an Ops function not an HR Corporate one, and I think that’s part of the “limiting” equation though. It becomes instructional, under-sophisticated and all about numbers. its intent to be at the heart of business back fires under Vorsprung Durch Learn. My experiences of this are bad ones.

    We need – again as Andrew points out – a performance linked learning function: that shows how people’s potential fulfilled and then stretched – is often what differentiates great organisations from mediocre ones.

    L&D professionals should be anything BUT mediocre.

    Great call blogging this, Thanks for picking it up.

  4. Reblogged this on Organisational Learning and Development and commented:
    Once again a fantastic little post from Sukh. I think that he and the report he quotes are definitely right. One of the big issues I see on a daily basis in L&D is a lack of skills and knowledge around the financial and business acumen piece and it is letting us down. As I have said in previous places if we are going to talk about ROI and the financial costs and benefits of learning initiatives we had better know what we are talking about because trust me the guy from finance sitting across the table from us does. It reminds me of one of the best book I ever read on the Learning Function “The Business of Learning” by David Vance.
    The need for good data stems from this necessity to be able to justify the need for and even in some instances the existence of programs. If we can’t show that there was a better customer experience because we sent our staff on a course then why are we sending them on the course. It is also not good enough anymore to have the soft numbers either; the doing this course will make staff more productive which will give them an extra hour a day to do the things they need to do which will equate to a $300,000 saving in first 3 months rubbish. Its rubbish and everyone knows it is rubbish, yet I still see they claims being made on almost a daily basis. However if we can show that an increase in customer satisfaction is due to the program of learning, then, then we are onto something.
    A lot of people in L&D need to realise that it is a business, just like every other part of the business and start to act like it.

  5. You highlight essential points for all L&D professionals. We need to behave as partners of business units and to do that we need to understand the the business we are in.

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