Earlier this year, I wrote that L&D was a ‘Field of Dreams‘ industry, running on a belief that “if you build it, it is good”. There’s strong evidence that we’re not delivering on the needs of the organization. So what is a good basis for finding ways to support people in the moment and develop them over time? We want to look to what research and theory tell us . In short, I think L&D should be evidence-based.
What does the evidence say? There are a number of places where we can look, but first we have to figure out what we can (and should) be doing. I suggest that L&D isn’t doing near what it could and should, and what it is doing, it is doing badly. So let’s start with that latter.
One thing L&D should be doing is making learning experiences that have organizational impact. There’s evidence that organizations that measure impact, do better. There’s also evidence that there are principles on which to design learning that leads to better outcomes. Yet, despite signups for the eLearning Manifesto, there’s still evidence that organizations aren’t following those principles, if extant elearning is any indication. Similarly, the number of L&D units actually measuring their impact on organizational metrics seems to be lagging those that, for instance, just use ‘smile sheets‘. And even those are done badly.
There’s also an argument that L&D could and should be considering performance support as well. There are certainly instances where, as I’ve heard it said (and I’m paraphrasing, I can’t find the original quote): “inside every course there’s a lean job aid waiting to get out”. Certainly, performance can improve with a job aid instead of training (c.f. Atul Gawande’s Checklist Manifesto).
Further actions by L&D include facilitating communication and collaboration. Again, organizations that become learning organizations succeed better than those that don’t. The elements of a learning organization include the skills around working together and a culture where doing so can flourish. We know what makes brainstorming work, and more.
In short, there’s a vast body of evidence about how to do things right. It’s time to become professionals, and pay attention. In that sense, we’re organizational learning engineers. While there may be a lack of evidence about the linkage between individual learning and organizational learning, we do know a lot about facilitating each. And we should. Are you ready?