The Future of Learning

Get Real

I was on a call with a client last night, and they asked where I thought training was going over the next few years.

Some time ago, Imparta sponsored a research project by Training Journal in the UK, called Learning & Development 2020. The project examined a number of different trends in society, business, technology, along with a number of scenarios, to identify emerging themes for learning. The findings were, in summary:

  • Continuous, informal and social. Learning will continue the shift from being just thought of as formal, away from the office, programmes to an ongoing process where learning is continuous, social, informal and embedded in the workplace;
  • The importance of technology. It is tempting to think of some of the advances in technology as just new delivery mechanisms delivering the same content in new ways, but in reality, it lets people learn at different times and in different situations than they did previously;
  • Recognising the value of informal learning. To match a new, less formal way of learning, we need new ways of recognising and accrediting these new approaches;
  • Learning as a skill. Learning as a skill was identified as being very important and one that many people haven’t been helped to acquire;
  • The critical role of the line manager. While helping individuals develop their learning capability is seen as a high priority, so is developing the ability of line managers to help in the learning process;
  • Opportunity for L&D functions. As learning becomes even more ongoing, social and informal (and recognised as key to organisational success), L&D becomes more integrated into an organisation’s culture and ways of working.

Since the report was written, these themes have only solidified. The shift towards informal and social learning is definite, and here to stay. People are as likely to reach out to Google, Yammer or even YouTube for advice on their role, as they are to the L&D team or their manager. The best learning approaches recognise and embrace this.

But what of formal training? Unfashionably expensive and rather set in its ways, should it be it filed away somewhere between ‘executive boondoggle’ and ‘the way things used to be done’?

Not if you want to drive performance improvement, it shouldn’t. It is a catalyst; a way to engage people around new skills, build awareness of the need to change and create the time in people’s diaries needed to make a difference.

But formal training is changing, and this was my answer to the question last night. We’ve always known that good skills training is experiential; people learn more by doing than they do by being lectured at. What we’re seeing now is a logical extension of this. Rather than a training programme based on exercises and role-plays that has application exercises built into it, we are increasingly running application sessions in which people learn skills by osmosis. Call it task-driven learning.

A few examples:

Not just……but also
Training session on sales skills/opportunity managementDeal Clinic (or Breakthrough Session, if you prefer) where an experienced facilitator works with a pitch team, drawing on the most relevant tools for their current situation (Account entry? Building momentum? Positioning against the competition? Alleviating ricks?) to win the deal. This can be a virtual session and should be followed-through with shorter calls as the pitch progresses.
Course on Strategic Account ManagementAccount Clinic where an expert takes a complete account team through a structured process of understanding the issues, opportunities and untapped sources of revenue in an account, identifying and prioritising specific initiatives.
Course on Marketing Creativity or Proposition DevelopmentInsight Breakthrough Sessions, led by experienced marketing faculty, to push insight thinking to a deeper, richer level from where differentiated customer-centred proposition and campaigns emerge.
Course on Customer Service or Customer-oriented cultureAction learning sets where contact centre teams come together to develop solutions to a specific challenge, go back to the phones to try it out, then regroup to discuss how it went, etc.

In each of these examples, the concrete business impact is achieved in a very short timescale. Application isn’t left to chance; it’s supervised, facilitated and role-modelled by the expert right there and then. Sustainable skills are built almost as a byproduct… but all the more stickily because the motivation is built at the same time. People see it work, so they try it again for themselves.

This approach works. In one two-day session that covered three major pitches, we helped a client secure almost £60m of new revenue.

Perhaps the strongest thing I can say is that we do it ourselves, inside our own Imparta Sales Academy. I see getting involved in these sessions as one of the highest leverage things I can do as a CEO. And there’s nothing quite like a doctor taking their own medicine.

More insights…