L&D – No Longer Child’s Play

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(NOTE: To be clear, I am using a metaphor in this post. I have a deep understanding and respect for the work we do in L&D.  But we need to grow.)

While reading a lively discussion on LinkedIn today regarding L&D’s role, reputation, and the ongoing disruption of organizational learning, I realized that L&D finds itself today much like a group of children sitting in the corner playing with their toys while the adults converse on topics that matter – the economy, their investments, strategies for saving for college educations, etc.

The children are completely engrossed in their “projects”.  The adults are happy the children are quietly busy and aren’t nagging them to “play with me.”  The children collaborate, argue, and critique each other’s creations.  This arrangement works for the adults so they are happy to regularly by new toys for the children.

Occasionally, one of the children will gather up the result of their efforts venture over to the adults and exclaims look what I made.  The adults, not quite sure what it’s supposed to be, smile, pat the child on the head, and say, “That’s nice dear, why don’t you go make another one. This time blue (and micro).”  Happy with the affirmation of their good work and knowledge that making a blue one will be relatively easy after having made the green one, the child returns to the play group to report their success.

Am I very far off?

Eventually, the children realize that they want to be a part of the adult conversation, but they don’t have the knowledge, language, skills, and relationships to fully participate.

Through adolescence and into young adulthood most of us “decide what we want to be when we grow up”, we get our formal education, we identify mentors, allies, partners, and heroines.  We form coalitions and groups of friends. We try things and fail.  We earn necessary credentials. We apprentice and mimic.

It’s the same for L&D, both individual practitioners and the industry as a whole.  As the discussion On LinkedIn discusses there is worked to be done on industry standards and credentialing. We need to change our focus from order taking to solving business problems. We need to use data in showing our value to the organization and in our decision-making.

But we also to forge new partnerships throughout the organization.  Just like we did in real life, we need to seek out mentors, coaches, and gurus to guide us, heroes we can aspire to become. Allies who will have our backs as we learn and sometimes stumble.  Friends who will be honest with us on how we are performing.  We need to expand out networks throughout the organization.

An example addressed in the LinkedIn discussion is around Learning Analytics. The traditional way of thinking is L&D needs to add a Learning Analyst to their team.  But the reality in mind to large sized organizations is they already have a data analysis function/department in place. L&D should be partnering with that group to build capacity around learning analytics.  L&D still needs to be literate in the inputs and outputs involved, but leave the bulk of the work to the data scientists who have the expertise. It will also remove some of the barriers to access non-learning data for our efforts to show business impact.

As is adolescence, this transition for L&D will often be difficult.  But by seeking out partners we can ease the journey.

What do you thinking of my metaphor?  Is it accurate or inappropriate?  What challenges do you feel the transformation of L&D will present to us? Are we prepared?  Please add your thoughts in the comments below.


  1. I can’t judge the metaphor but you got a point on the use of analytics. When I was working on x_PI, it was the main justification of tracking everything; Everything will be measurable, Afterward, I realized few people know how to use the data. If you really want to use it, you have to connect it with other apps to make sense of identities, objects because they don’t lie in L&D perimeter. So this tendency to look only inward and generalize from it leads to non-convincing conclusions for outsiders. Hence the need to start from a broader view.


    1. Thanks, Bruno. While I’m a big fan of xAPI, I agree that the fact that “everything will be measured” is rendered someone useless if we don’t figure out how we will use the data. On the other hand, if the data is not generated, there is no use in learning how to use it – which has been the state of L&D to date.


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