"It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives... it is the one that is most adaptable to change." Charles Darwin.
In the modern digital world characterised by rapid change, uncertainty and unfamiliarity, learning is the fundamental mechanism by which organizations can identify and interpret what is happening, and adapt to it. Only those organizations which place learning at the front and centre of their activities are likely to flourish in this environment. Those that do not face decline and extinction.
Against this background, the Learning and Development function (L&D) has a pivotal role to play in helping organizations embrace and embed learning. This represents a sea-change from the current reality in many organizations today, where the focus of the function is on the administration of a small number of formal, structured internal training courses.
In the first instance, L&D will need to help proselytize the critical importance of learning in the current context, potentially acting as a ‘marketing function’ to ‘sell’ the value of learning to leaders as well to every other employee throughout the organization.
This needs to be underpinned by a vibrant and dynamic learning delivery model. On the one hand, this should make far greater use of new digital technologies and online training to extend access to a much wider range of education offers provided both internally and externally. This may be described as the ‘Amazon-ification’ of learning, enabling the customer (in this case employees) to choose from an almost unlimited menu of content. It could also incorporate the use of AI-aided recommendations for further learning relevant to each individual student.
At the same time, however, given the significance of experimentation and experiential learning in the context of digital transformation, the L&D function also needs to encourage and support a wider emphasis on these. It should help build wider organizational capability in such activities, emphasize the importance of collaborative and collective learning, and put in place mechanisms which both ensure this takes place and that the learnings emerging are disseminated effectively across the organization.
Associated with this, the function also needs to factor in the reality that different learning routes and mechanisms appeal to different people, so one of the tasks is to provide access to those which best suit and meet the needs of each individual. It is also very likely that many people will need training in how best to approach their learning, and ongoing support to ensure they get the best out of it. This will be another core activity for the L&D team.
The function should also be proactively seeking to develop ‘hard’ measures which assess the value that learning is bringing to the business. That there are tangible, measurable benefits arising from it is clear, not least in terms of the ability to attract recruits and retain personnel in a situation where demand grossly exceeds supply. But other measures associated with the direct impact of learning activities on business outcomes should also be explored, as part of reinforcing the case for placing learning at the core of the business.
The L&D function within corporate organizations seems to be at something of a pivotal moment. The ‘Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous’ (VUCA) world, driven in large measure by digital disruption, we are in – and will remain in – fundamentally changes the role which learning needs to play. The function needs to seize the moment – if it doesn’t, other functions will.