The Evolution of the Learning Leader

by Julie Winkle Giulioni | Posted | Learning

The Evolution of the Learning Leader

Over the past few decades, the role of learning professionals has gone through a metamorphosis.

They began as teachers or instructors; but soon that began to feel "old school".

So, they opted to be call trainers; but ultimately, they gave that up as it evoked imagery of their subjects as circus animals.

More recently, the title that many have gravitated to is facilitator, as it suggests an updated understanding of how to enable learning. It also makes explicit that the role of learning professionals is to provide support and guidance while underscoring the expectation that individuals own their learning.

But given the pressures present in today’s workplace, the evolution of the learning leader is continuing. According to Joanne Wells, Manager, Learning Centre of Excellence at Halogen Systems, “Today we need to stand on the sidelines and support people in approaching learning in new and different ways. We must get out of the way of learning and stop trying to force others into an outdated model of what learning should look like.”

How to enable learning

Let’s face it. Information on any topic or skill is literally a click away for an employee with a smart phone. Google searches. Blogs. YouTube videos. Books. Podcasts. Articles. Expert advice. Knowledge management systems. Information is ubiquitous and informal learning is the name of the game.

“As learning professionals, we need to help people navigate through the many resources available to them and help them make the most of the informal learning they’re doing,” says Wells.

Yet, information is not the same as knowledge or competence. And that’s where the expanded role or learning professionals comes into play. Today what’s needed is a learning activator or catalyst who knows how to enable learning by helping others navigate and translate the overwhelming volume of information into knowledge, skills, and focused action that drives results.

3 steps for transforming into a learning activator

So, what does it take to assume the role of learning activator or catalyst? Three (not always so easy) steps.

1. Respect existing knowledge and experience.

Too frequently, learners are viewed and treated as novices who know little or nothing about the job, skill or task to be taught; yet rarely is that the case. It’s considerably more efficient (and respectful) to leverage and build upon the current knowledge or experience learners possess.

Rather than being empty vessels to be filled, most learners are vessels that are already quite full of insights, ideas, solutions, and more. They might benefit from a few extra drops of wisdom; but what will really accelerate employee learning and development is for the activator or catalyst to stir things up, encourage them to make new connections, and put what they know into productive practice.

2. Get real — and get creative.

It’s easy to become stuck in a comfortable groove; and learning professionals are not immune from this dynamic. Old habits and methods die hard. And it’s easy to slip into comfortable solutions.

But learning activators and catalysts challenge themselves. As Wells shares, “The landscape is changing and we must stay abreast of new approaches to accomplishing results. There are so many ways to foster employee learning and development. For instance, blogs and knowledge sharing cost nothing; informal learning and even reading a book can provide just what someone needs just when they need it. Do we always need another one-day course or could it just be a conversation?”

Learning catalysts look at the world with fresh eyes, realizing that sometimes the simpler the solution, the more profound the outcome. They leverage the natural dynamics and cadence of the workplace and help employees continually extract and apply learnings for improved performance.

3. Know your place… and stay there.

Learning activators and catalysts also understand their role. They resist the very human temptation to be the "sage on the stage", dispensing knowledge, sharing war stories and being the expert. Instead, they appreciate the profound value of being the "guide on the side" — a knowledgeable and supportive resource to enable employee learning and development.

The new role of learning professionals

Thriving in today’s workplace requires a commitment to continuous learning. And that learning can be more powerful — and more possible — when learning professionals make the leap from teaching to activating change. It’s just the catalyst required to make the most of talent and ensure sustainable business results.

How to Align Learning with Business Outcomes

Learn how to align employee development to corporate goals and integrate learning into the entire employee lifecycle.


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How to Align Learning with Business Outcomes

Learn how to align employee development to corporate goals and integrate learning into the entire employee lifecycle.


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