There is no doubt that this a phenomenally interesting time within the L&D, training and performance industry. We are at the beginning of a global transformation! The old school “course centric” view of the world is being replaced, not just with new thinking, but with new learning technologies, new forms of digital content and a new realm of data science that is allowing learning professionals to understand the impact on their designs and investments. Nevertheless, a key aspect of the current change is often overlooked, which is quite ironic considering that it is the development and evolution of the skills within the L&D industry itself.
When I started my first eLearning company, Fuel, almost 20 years ago, we, along with other rivals of mine at the time (who have now strangely become collaborators and partners in this new world) created new roles like “E-learning Instructional Designer”. Now we’re at the same critical juncture where new roles are being created that will become the norm for the next 20 years. So, what are these roles and why do I have the same confidence today as I had back at the start 20 years ago, when nearly all of the trainers that worked for me told me I was wrong….even though most of them have in fact become Instructional Designers since?
The reason I feel so confident is simple – we have learning data science available to us. We now have the capability to track and analyse learning activity at the same level that Facebook and Google track consumer data to enhance the performance of their advertising campaigns, meaning it is possible to measure the outcome of learning designs in a truly meaningful way for the very first time. New learning programmes are now being designed with performance KPI goals as the starting point rather than at the end. We are now starting to see learning data correlated with organisational KPIs for every programme (with the current exception of compliance), which means we will see more and more Heads of L&D running into their CEOs saying not only do I have the evidence why my budget should not be cut, but the why it should be higher.
This has only just started within our industry but it is easy to predict the outcome. If L&D departments can prove measurable performance outcomes on their design and investments, then our industry is about to enter a New World of Learning where solutions that work will be celebrated and those that have clothed the emperor in nothing… will be found wanting.
For those of us that are progressive, the next few years will be amazingly interesting and for those that think change is for others, it’s going to get a little rough.
So let’s examine these roles:
If we consider the old mindset as one where L&D wait for the business to knock on the door and tell us what course they need building then the Performance Consultant is the antitheses of this. A performance consultant is actively approaching the business units, striving to understand the business challenges that the leaders and their teams have & constantly thinking of ways that L&D can design solutions that solve these challenges and drive measurable performance increases within the division and the people within it.
All these new roles are critical to the success of a true learning organisation but the Performance consultant is the pathfinder, and now that learning can be business relevant, this is the role that connects business with L&D. The name defines the difference in focus for our industry, away from designing learning to thinking about performance outcomes first (perhaps with the sole exception of compliance training – where the prime goal is to keep the directors out of jail, which as a director I concur is important, albeit not a performance outcome)
For the performance consultant to be really successful they need to understand both business challenges and have a high-level understanding of all the old and new tools and new roles available to them, as they are the performance architects.
Experts like Rhys Giles at PA Consulting are now designing learning programmes like PA’s “We All Sell” backwards from the original problem statement. So now the first question is “What is the north star of this programme e.g. what are the organisational KPIs we are looking to improve and what learning and business data will we be looking to correlate this against” to prove the impact of the solution.
For a customer service programme in retail, this may be increasing the NPS score or for Princes Trust, for example, their North Star goal is to use learning technology to help double the reach of the people they impact. Therefore, in every case going forward, the performance consultant is clear from the start on the desired outcome and clear on what learning measurements are being correlated against these organisational KPIs e.g. understanding, continuous engagement or measuring behaviours. Sometimes macro experiences like these may be overkill and a quick video captured from the expert and shared out may be a better answer. That is the essence of the skill of the performance consultant – to understand the business challenge and at a high level design the solution.
In the old world of learning, there wasn’t a wide toolset to design from e.g. face to face event, virtual classroom or a SCORM eLearning course. Now with the growing toolset available, the role of performance consultant comes of age as amongst others they now have all these tools to use to architect the solution.
• Micro-content (bite size video, articles)
• User generated content
• Performance observational assessments
• Reflective assessments
• Instant search
• Mobile app experience
• Manual and automatic curation
• Responsive experience
• One to ones
• E-mentoring and e-coaching,
• Competence/evidence based questions
• Continuous conversations
• Machine learning discovery tools (from both within their organisation and outside of it)
• API Integration directly into business systems
• API integration with 3rd party learning apps
• Live video and virtual classroom
It’s not just the new tools, the Performance consultant should be able to understand a new wide variety of ways to measure; but not only understand content possibilities but to measure continuous engagement, behaviours and to understand what dashboards could be created to understand & correlate the impact of an experience. Face to face, virtual classroom training and coaching/mentoring are all still critical elements, but the shape of their delivery will also continue to evolve.
The mind-set shift means that we can understand what is having an impact and whether our initial assumptions of learning impact are right or wrong. This allows us to continuously improve the experience design and increase the value of the investment and the measurable performance of people engaged in the learning experience.
The role of a Performance Consultant is far broader than the traditional Instructional Designer but without the specific need to use all the tools that the experience designer who does the practicality of the assembly. Within Fuse our Performance consultants also scope and recommend the content requirements an the role is separate from the experience designer but we see in companies with smaller teams then the roles collapse into one.
The true performance consultant armed with the old and new world of learning and learning technology have to have an awareness of multiple skill traits; from an understanding of UX to Business Analysis to learning technologies expertise. With this mix across these skillsets, the performance consultant will be able to imagine the magic that will help transform our industry away from course centric ideals, to help create successful learning organisations.
Think of these individuals as akin to the people that create the experience in a hotel or a theme park. Their role is to create a joyous and engaging experience that makes their audience want to come back but at the same time, they know there is a direct correlation between the engagement of that experience and measurable business outcomes e.g. people choosing to return and becoming advocates of the design and therefore attracting others.
What is really exciting about this role is the canvas they now must paint on. In the old world of eLearning, the canvas was limited to what you could put inside a SCORM course and the limited rules that it allowed for, now those chains have been truly broken by the performance consultant, modern technology and the capability to track and measure outside of SCORM, whether that is via xAPI or next generation tools like fuse and others that track this within their systems, it means we are now all free to design experiences limited by our own imagination and not limiting outdated standards.
Once we move away from legacy standards that have held us back then we could utilise and integrate all old, new and non-learning technology as part of the palette to design with. Moving from black and white to a palette with a myriad of colours which fits the role as this role is as much about art as science and technology and APIs mean we can keep finding and adding new colours easily.
In practical terms, the experience designer is the person that takes the brief from the performance consultant around the tools that are needed to deliver each business outcome and they create the flow with the learner in mind. A great experience designer would consider how the content (if content is part of the solution) is accessed in the most frictionless way, how each tool, conversation and content can be accessed in the fastest & simplest way. In larger teams, I see the experience designer as a separate role but in smaller teams, they would likely also have to be responsible for content design as well.
I have a strong negative belief around the effectiveness of SCORM content from my experience of running a first-generation eLearning company for 10 years. So much so, that 5 years ago I stopped my new company from building flash-based e-learning SCORM courses and invested all our R&D budget on understanding how we should be utilising native video as the preferred medium for distributing content. We now have a team of 5 storytelling videographers who have been trained in film and video, whose role is to bottle the greatness of our customers’ experts. This has grown from the one person we recruited directly out of film school a number of years ago – the magnificent Ryan McBride, into a team that he now runs and that continues to expand year on year.
I’ve seen some instructional designers taking this path rather than the Learning Experience Designer path – like Luke Geach from Carpetright. Luke has been amazing at recording experts from across Carpetright and bottling their greatness into bite-sized videos that the whole organisation consumes at a level of 10,000 content views a day, every day. Learners can not only gain access to structured learning at their own pace but also search for any concept or procedure within seconds – invaluable at keeping the knowledge alive. The levels of learner engagement that Luke helps create for Carpetright is around 100 times greater than the best success statistics given by most LMS companies who deliver the more traditional view of content.
The big difference in the Videographer role compared to a current Instructional Designer role is agility. Videographers are capturing greatness and outputting it on the same day or in the same week. Luke captures around 8 videos a day and spends 2 days animating them to increase their stickiness levels. The role is now in part journalist (as it’s all about capturing the magic of your expert live), in part technical video filming skills, in part narration (understanding who to tell and capture an engaging message and story) and in part post production editing skills.
In many smaller companies, this role will be merged into those mentioned above, but, in bigger teams, it will become a specialist role in and of itself. At Fuse, we have grown our Animator team from a handful of people 5 years ago to over 30 people today, and I see this doubling again by the end of the year. Studies have shown that adding animation not only increases attention levels by 80% but retention levels by 15% (the two go hand to hand).
There is a real craft to the Animator/Visualiser role in the digital learning world. A great Learning Animator understands that it is the underlying message that needs to be visualised more than just picturing the words. When an Animator or Digital Media Designer, as we call them at Fuse, is a master of their craft, they are able to take a great narrative that the Videographer has captured, and use visuals that allow every learner to process their understanding of the message with visuals as well as audio, therefore increasing the capacity to understand and allow the memory to be stored deeper and accessed easier.
Every learning programme should have a social element designed into it as it allows the recently understood knowledge to be kept alive. User generated content shows practical stories of how learning content has been applied successfully. The conversation around content is invaluable in allowing learners to reflect and internalise, but for the flicker of social learning to happen the flame needs to be created and nurtured. It is also impossible to create consistent levels of social learning engagement by throwing the best technology at an audience with the expectation that they will work it out by themselves. It is the role of the L&D department to support social learning both as a standalone concept but, far more importantly, as a critical tool for the overall learning experience or Programme. A great Community Engagement Manager will work with their demographic and be the facilitator that understands where great knowledge and stories exist and take responsibility for getting these stories to the wider audience – from 10 to 15-minute recording sessions to 2 to 3 minutes worth of media for watching or reading. They will also take responsibility to ensure that, when great questions are asked within a community, the subject matter experts are able to answer, gain visibility and make certain that the right piece of content exists to help give the answers for the whole community.
This role also includes elements of skills normally considered with digital and social media marketing. Community Engagement Managers like Dub Lee at Harris & Hoole will come to rely on data analysts to provide answers to key questions such as who in the organisation has the most influence to create engagement, and if they are the author of content, who are the greatest influencers on sharing content and at what time should content be shared for best impact. These are simple questions for the data analyst to answer for the Community Engagement Managers.
The Learning Data Analyst is a really interesting role and we have seen this role become standard within industries such as recruitment (this is now an established role at LinkedIn). Before Customer Success Managers meet their clients, they speak to the Data Analyst who gives them insights on how they are using LinkedIn recruitment technology and the benefits they are reaching from it.
Now that we are evolving learning from measuring outputs to tracking everything, we need a similar skill that digital advertisers and LinkedIn utilise. Working in conjunction with Fuse, Radu Ciato and Ivana Drobnjak from the Neuroscience Department at University College London (UCL), is at present working with a number of our clients to take the Big Data that tracking micro activity allows, to develop actionable insights. They are asking intelligent questions of it to understand the correlation between learning data and business intelligence. We want to know if the most valuable insights George Aitken and his team were able to discover with Vodafone last year, proving that the high levels of engagement that Mike Booth & Lee Parsons had created, had not only helped create a learning organisation but had proved that line manager involvement resulted in a 10% increase in engagement – As their teams and the teams that were engaged in learning performed over 13% better on their key business metric of tNPS. This level of insight is critical not only for the Performance Consultant to tweak their experiences but also for the Heads of Learning to give these insights to their business stakeholders.
Although not a new role, we do see management responsibility continue to evolve as it has with industry giants like Vodafone UK, Google and others. Stephan Thoma led Google to a place where 80% of the learning that happened there is peer to peer. It was developed by the L&D department evolving to become facilitators and partners to the line managers as explained by Stephan.
The Vodafone statistics regarding Line Manager involvement really does indicate that not only do we need coaching and mentoring skills to be a key skill of a Line Manager, but that we need to continue to create ultra simple tools to enable Line Managers to record the output of coaching sessions, to give self-reflection quizzes to their teams, observational assessments to give laser-focused performance feedback and easy to understand dashboards to understand their teams.
So are these roles the future or are they ours now? The answer is both. Progressive companies like Carpetright, PA Consulting, Vodafone, Google and others already have people doing part or all of these roles. They are also partnering with the business and Line Managers to drive and measure performance, but like all stories of innovation, we will get an army of laggards trying to block the inevitable change, not just to our industry but the roles, skills and development of all the amazing people within it.
About the author – Steve Dineen:
Steve’s goal as CEO of Fuse, is to help transform its customers into learning organisations through technology which its learners choose to use every day. Customers of Fuse have achieved unparalleled levels of learning engagement which has been translated into business value. Fuse currently lead the market in the area of next generation learning technology and is the only viable end to end alternative to an LMS.