What Learning Leaders Need to Focus on the Most: 3 Takeaways from DevLearn 2017

October 31, 2017

Here are the key trends learning and development pros need to focus on, according to speakers at the 2017 DevLearn Conference.

Learning leaders, I’d like to take a moment to recognize the unique importance of your work. Because that (among many things we get into in this post) is what the DevLearn 2017 Conference provided to me – a reminder on how important and inspiring the mission of cultivating lifelong learning can be.

“I believe literacy paves the way for a lifelong learner,” DevLearn keynote speaker LeVar Burton, host of Reading Rainbow and actor, said. “And I believe someone who learns for life is a dangerous individual indeed.”

That’s exactly what learning and development (L&D) does – dedicate their careers to creating “dangerous individuals” that will shake up systems and change the world. What could be more valuable than that?

The challenge is, as the conference exposed, there is a ton of change in the L&D space, from technology to the way professionals learn to how we measure learning programs. What should you focus on to excel in your role?

Well, DevLearn 2017 provided some answers. Here are some key takeaways from the conference on the most pressing issues for L&D moving forward.

1. You need to think like a futurist.

Noted author Amy Webb says all professionals need to think like a futurist. What does that mean?

“Look for weak signals on the fringe," Webb said at her keynote address at DevLearn. "Not looking at what is trendy, but rather shifts in behavior related to technology."

What does that mean for L&D? You need to be looking at skills gaps and look to new technologies to address them within our organizations. And you need to understand the expectations and desires of today’s learners and think about how to best accommodate them with your programs.

How do you do that?

To address skills gaps, it comes down to looking at the data, both internally and externally. Internally means speaking with your business partners to see the skill deficiencies they see in their departments. And externally, it means using resources like the Economic Graph to reveal emerging and in-demand skills your organization will soon need to master.

To address the changing behavior of learners, it means embracing new engagement strategies. Learners are more mobile, social and have shorter attention spans than ever before. To overcome that, DevLearn speakers suggested embracing:

  • Microlearning. You've probably heard this before, for good reason. According to Andrew Hughes, president of Designing Digitally, “we are in the age of instant gratification” and for the modern learner, “it’s not about what you know, it’s about access to the information to the information so that employees can learn it when they need it." Microlearning provides short, to-the-point videos that gives learners exactly what they need, when they need it, so that they can overcome a challenge and move on with their day.
  • Gamification. Hughes went on to talk about the power of gamification, as it makes learning stickier. For example, here’s a training game made to help Air Marshalls direct planes. “There has to be an element of fantasy in games”, Hughes says, so that employees will get excited about the game, all-the-while mastering key skills.
  • Augmented Reality (AR)/Virtual Reality (VR). According to Hughes, AR/VR programs will become a standard training method – eventually (the price needs to still come down). But don’t wait for that to happen. Start experimenting with VR and thinking about how it can fit into your organization.

2. It’s time to rethink your learning management system.

I was in a room of 50+ people and when Frank Nguyen, Chief Learning Officer of Advisor Group, asked the question: “How many people want to blow up their LMS?”. Almost every hand in the room went up. People had up to four LMSs, and they weren’t happy about it.

He said that we need to move past the LMS as our system and build a digital-era learning ecosystem and towards a digital-era learning strategy.

That means going from this:

To this:

The problem is that L&D tends to lean on the LMS to do all of the heavy lifting that it is not capable of doing, like tracking activities and reporting. As you can see, the LMS is still part of that system, but there are other essential components to the learning technology ecosystem that an L&D leader needs to be successful. They include:

  • A learning content system that can deliver quality content and provide detailed metrics on learner interactions with that system.
  • Learning Record Store (LRS) that houses learning records from learning content systems or other learning activity systems.
  • The Experience API (xAPI) that allows learning content systems to communicate with your LRS systems. It also allows you to take digital learning outside of your LMS or web browser and still track essential learning metrics.

3. New strategies are coming out for measuring learning.  

It’s not easy to measure learning programs. The good news is that all hands are on deck to figure out how you can measure learning and create transparency and agreement around those metrics with executives and cross-functional teams.

Glenn Bull, Founder and CEO of Skilitics, says that we need to look not only at metrics (the what happened) but at analytics (the why and how it happened). In other words, it’s not just enough to know that someone took a course or passed a test.

For example, say someone got 7 out of 10 on a test. You could take that at face value, or you could weight each question based on the level of understanding a person would need to answer each question. L&D should then use that data to identify both the weaknesses in the individual and the learning solution, which can then be rectified.

Similarly, Nguyen L&D pros should seek to show correlation with improved business metrics, rather than causation. The graph below shows two consecutive years of sales: one with learning programs (2016) and one without (2015).

While Nguyen doesn’t suggest learning professionals claim to cause the increase, he finds that cross functional teams and executives are comfortable with the idea that increased learning is correlated with more sales success.

Looking for strategies on improving your L&D program? Download our Workplace Learning Report today for free, where we surveyed 500 L&D leaders to find what’s working (and what’s not).