New Skills for the Learning Pro? The Big Question…

In a Learning 2.0 world, where learning and performance solutions take on a wider variety of forms and where churn happens at a much more rapid pace, what new skills and knowledge are required for learning professionals?” ASTD Learning Circuits big question for July

The Learning Circuits big question this month is an important one, but there seems to be a few questions embedded in it.  Does it ask what new skills are needed by learning professionals due to a wider variety of learning solutions?…or due to more rapid churn?…or due to the implied technology knowledge of the “learning 2.0 world”?  They are related of course, but they do each point to different skill requirements.  As a result answers to the question so far have been enjoyable but a bit a bit helter-skelter.

Harold Jarche nails the “learning 2.0” aspects of the question with his update of last year’s excellent Skills 2.0 article–especially from a personal learning perspective.  Nancy White highlights general competencies that would be of value to any knowledge worker in today’s workplace.  Mohamed Amine Chatti identifies knowledge networking and double loop learning as critical. I like those.  But again not necessarily specific to the learning professional.  Natalie Laderas-Kilkenny gets closer to skills that are important for the learning professional and says that a learning culture is an important precursor for successful learning 2.0. Right on!

Michael Hanley layers a business view on the question (thank you!) and charts some necessary skills.  I also like Clive Sheppard’s view that we don’t need to tear up the rule book and start again–that our mission remains (organizational performance) but we need to ramp up more quickly on current technology and methods.  Couldn’t agree more.

What Learning Professional?

The question also lumps “learning professionals” into a single group.  Most large training functions have many specialized roles and their skill requirements vary.  So here’s another layer to the big question discussion based on different slices of the “learning professional” roles that are out there.

Generally, most learning professionals will need a combination of these three skills to thrive in the learning 2.0 world.

  • User level knowledge of web 2.0 tools and their applications
  • Open attitude towards sharing, collaborating, contributing, and personal knowledge management that underlie their effective use.

How these skills take shape in various learning roles will vary by responsibility.    Here are a few:

Instructors

With over 60% of corporate learning still delivered in the classroom (ASTD 2008 State of the Industry report) there are a lot of instructors out there.  They need to develop sophisticated skills in the facilitating, coaching and mentoring using on-line and web 2.0 tools.  As classroom programs are extended or moved into on-line communities and action learning programs (see couching ourselves for a good example) coaching and facilitating skills will be essential.  Since these communities will focus as much on work as on learning, facilitators will also need a serious understanding of their organizations to maintain credibility in these contexts.

New skills:

  • Online facilitation and coaching using web 2.0 and other collaborative tools
  • Action learning coaching
  • Organizational knowledge and experience

Analysts and Performance Consultants

The long and ponderous needs assessment is dead.  Speed is essential.  Web 2.0 tools can help the analyst. First, the social media environments that communities now operate in can be a rich source of performance data to mine for skill and knowledge gaps and to signal when a team needs to bring more focus to capturing learning and knowledge. There are also many useful web 2.0 orientated tools for data gathering and internal “crowd-sourcing” that can be used to collect employee feedback, replace old flipchart voting methods and set priorities.  See UserVoice for example.

Also performance consultants will need to breakdown the traditional “training vs. non-training” solution duo into more nuanced solutions that integrate learning and work. There are powerful levers on the non-training side of that equation than need to be part of the future solution set rather than a casual hand off to another department.

Evaluation takes a different shape in the web 2.0 world as well.  It’s easy to determine performance impact for hard skill programs but the softer learning and knowledge sharing associated with communities and natural learning methods is a bit of a measurement bugaboo.  New ways of measuring learning need to be developed and incorporated into the toolkit.  I think Binkerhoff’s success case method has great promise here.

New skills:

  • Web 2.0 tools for data collection and analysis
  • Broader understanding of non-formal and informal learning solutions when recommending “non-training solutions”
  • Building learning road maps and curriculum design efforts to include social learning activities
  • Success case method for measuring informal learning programs

Relationship Managers

Most large training functions have generalists that maintain relationships with internal client groups to assess high level needs and assemble teams to meet those needs.   I see opportunities for this role to use web 2.0 tools to both maintain their internal client relationships and to share knowledge with the solution end of their training organization (The matrix model I suggest is here). Possibly one happy community? They will often be the initial discussion regarding learning 2.0 and social networking related solutions.

New skills:

  • awareness of the benefits and appropriate use of new web 2.0 tools
  • recognize genuine opportunities for learning communities and social media
  • educate internal clients on the learning advantages of web 2.0 (and shift mindsets away from traditional learning)

Instructional Designers and e-Learning Developers

I’m not a member of the instructional design is dead clan.  But ID pros certainly need to evolve and incorporate more discovery oriented and natural learning benefits of Learning 2.0.  There is no prescription for learning 2.0 designs as there is for e-learning 1.0 which makes some ID’s uncomfortable, but there are certainly principles and best practices that need to be learned by any ID that wants to stay relevant.

Not all are e-learning developers are instructional designers (and visa versa).  With their stronger technical skills, developers need to up their game in the integration of 2.0 and 1.0 technologies to enable more creative solutions.   Rather than defaulting to a rapid development tool for example, e-learning developers need the skill to develop an effective performance support environment, or to use simple tools to create realistic simulations.  Mobile learning is also growing and is an essential developer skill.

New skills:

Learning and Organizational Effectiveness Consultants

More than the technology of web 2.0 it’s the methods of informal and social learning that they support that have the most potential to change organizations.  Learning consultants and OD specialist are at the heart of this.  They need to work together more under a common umbrella. My idea of a learning consultant is more akin to the OD or Organizational Learning professional that get inside the organization and facilitate change and learning through workflow re-design, change management efforts and action learning.

New skills:

Learning Unit Directors and Leaders

Learning department leaders need to provide the resources to develop their team in line with the above.  The learning unit is a team of knowledge workers that must model the solutions they are recommending to their internal clients.  Learning unit leaders need the skills to make this happen.  More than providing web 2.0 tools they need to encourage and participate in their own learning communities.  They also need to manage their unit as a system.  Since their team (like most knowledge workers) will know more than they do about learning and performance, they need to learn how to manage the “system” and provide vision and direction more than the manage the “people”.  That means building workflow, measures and structures with their team that produces real results from the unit.

New skills:

  • manage the learning organization as a system
  • leadership (not micromanagement)
  • resources to model, experiment and innovate new learning approaches with in the learning unit.
  • web 2.0 tools

e-Learning Suppliers and Vendors

e-Learning vendors (authoring tools, LMS/LCMS, consulting services) have started to add social media tools as wrappers for their web 1.0 offerings but there are few native web 2.0 applications and solutions.   Whether we like it or not, the vendor world plays a big role in shaping technology based learning solutions.

Vendors, suppliers and consultants need new skills in recognizing market opportunities and provide solutions that push the envelop.  Where is the content designed for use within learning communities for example, or a community platform for leadership team development?  People are throwing them together using standard open source or proprietary social media tools but it would be nice to see some platforms/service that offer unique service by skill type the way we see traditional training program offerings.

New skills:

  • recognizing new learning 2.0 market opportunities
  • solutions and offerings built on web 2.0 values and platforms
  • external cross-industry learning communities
  • flexible content for role or discipline based communities (ex. Management communities, consulting communities, technical communities etc)

Summary

As Clive Sheppard said, our mission is still improving performance.  Web 2.0 focused discussions like this tend to put technology out front, which is a mistake we’ve made before. Web 2.0 and social media (more importantly the collaboration and sharing they enable) offers us genuine new opportunities for improving performance but they are just one of many important skills needed by learning professionals today.

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