Agile L&D – How to Stay Ahead in the Modern World?

The business environment and skills required in the workplace are changing faster than ever. Often, it’s the learning and development teams in organisations that are tasked to keep the organisation’s capability up to date. Unfortunately, we often see such inertia in the learning and development function that responding to changes in the business – let alone doing it rapidly – seems a mission impossible. To constantly deliver value to the business, L&D needs to become agile. To help you start your agile journey, here are three building blocks for agile L&D.

Be smart in building your learning technology stack

Nowadays, technology is something that you cannot escape if you want to run an effective L&D function. However, you shouldn’t just blindly buy up technology to keep up with the latest fads. Naturally, you should always work out your own specific goals, and then find suitable technology, rather than buying tech first and then figuring out what you can and cannot do with it. However, to remain an agile L&D function, you should also look to make sure that the technology you get today can still be useful tomorrow. Here are a few things to look out for.

  • Interoperability. Can the technology be integrated with other systems, that perhaps don’t even exist yet, to pass crucial data and information? Some vendors may integrate only with their own products or their partners’ – or not at all. Don’t paint yourself into a corner by locking yourself to a particular vendor.
  • User experience. Don’t buy into technology that doesn’t have a great user experience. If it doesn’t exist yet, it’s unlikely to magically arrive later on. Professional teams and providers understand that not having a great UX is not an option.
  • Evidence-based learning methods. Business and the world around is changing. However, learning is not. We still learn the same way as before, and the mission of technology is to find the ways to amplify that experience. Thus, you should carefully evaluate the pedagogical expertise of your vendors and the research they’ve put into their products. There’s a lot of false information out there being sold as a good way to learn (learning styles are a good example).

Agile L&D is data-driven and proactive

If you’re still doing training needs analysis or assessment once a year or bi-annually, you’re already lagging behind. Responding to real-time business problems through learning interventions requires real-time data. At any point in time, you should be able to grasp the organisational competency and skills level without conducting additional assessment. This naturally requires capabilities for collecting data, and conducting data-driven training needs analysis. But it’s also about the mindset.

On the mindset level, you need to face the fact that you can no longer plan a year ahead. Of course, long-term strategy remains important, but it’s unlikely that the learning interventions you plan today would be as effective a year from now. So it’s about getting into the heat of the moment, operating within the business rather than from the outside. Proactively assessing and spotting skills gaps through learning analytics as well as rapidly evaluating the impact of your interventions should be standard practice.

Designing learning at the speed of business

Another area where agile L&D can really shine is learning design. Traditionally, you would identify a learning need, develop activities, programs or materials, fine-tune them, then roll them out and hope that people take up on them. The process can easily take several months, but the learning is always needed yesterday. Additionally, there’s always uncertainty whether the end product will be “liked” or taken up on by the employees. The level of uncertainty combined with long development times is a combination simply too slow and inflexible to support a modern business.

Agile L&D practitioners, on the other hand, are comfortable with “beta-versions”. They roll out activities and learning experiences rapidly, constantly collecting data, assessing, iterating and refining. They also switch old instructional design methods to design thinking and service design. Thus, they are able to design and deliver much more impactful learning experiences more rapidly. By setting their focus on the people and how to help them perform better, agile L&D practitioners enable themselves to work at the speed of the business and provide value with their learning interventions.

Final words

Overall, learning and development as a function is facing a challenge. Business leaders are often not confident in the function’s ability to deliver. We have to adopt new technologies, use them smartly, make decisions based on data instead of guesses and learn to operate at the speed of the business, serving business goals rather than “learning objectives”. To actually manage this, more agile L&D approaches are definitely needed and have proven to be valuable. Naturally, change is always difficult and painful. But it may help to stay agile even when adopting agile: take small steps and learn and improve as you go. While the three building blocks presented only scratch the surface, they do provide a good starting point for building the L&D function of the future on. And if you need help, you can always contact us and we can coach your L&D towards more agility.

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