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Three Critical Skills Learning Professionals Need Now

— by Bill Cushard

News flash: The organizations that training professionals serve are moving faster than ever to respond to customer needs. Big shock, right? What will be a huge shock is that training directors, trainers, and instructional designers must develop new skills in order to stay relevant in 21st century business.

You may have seen this quote many times, but it's one of my favorites:

“If you don't like change, you're going to like irrelevance even less.”
— General Eric Shinseki, former U.S. Army Chief of Staff.

You should print that out and hang it conspicuously on your desk, as a haunting reminder of what awaits if you do not keep learning. It is ironic that as learning professionals our job is to help others learn new skills, but we often forget about ourselves? I suggest you get out of your shell, and learn these new skills. Start with these three: social media, collaboration, and rapid learning development.

  • Bone up on social media — now. The American Society for Training and Development (ASTD) has recently updated its competency model to include the use of social media. It is remarkable how fast ASTD updated its model; it's a testament for how quickly things are moving. As popular as social media is, there are plenty of skeptics out there who think social media is a fad. Nothing could be further from the truth. Facebook book does not direct more traffic online than Google because it is a waste of time. Connecting is the way people learn most of what they know. So one of your jobs must be to use social media in your organization to increase the connections between people. Your first assignment is to learn how to use social media in your job. (I dare you to try that right now: Report what you learned here by commenting on this post.)
  • Start using collaboration tools — of any kind. The second skill you need to learn is implementing collaboration to enable learning in organizations. This is a broad category, but learning professionals need to enable collaboration in the enterprise. Since 80% of learning occurs outside formal training programs, learning professionals should recognize that spending most of our time developing formal training is not where the action is. A learning leader must reduce the barriers in the organization to people working together, thus enabling learning through collaborating.
  • Speed up the instructional design process — by several orders of magnitude. The third skill you need to learn now is how to speed up the learning design process. It is time for instructional designers to kill the six-month instructional design cycle. The instructional designer must be able to quickly design learning experiences that support business performance whether it is a job aid, a wiki, or a self-paced e-learning module. Read the preface to the Accelerated Learning Handbook and tell me you cannot rapidly speed up how you design learning experiences. Attend Webinars around these topics and ask yourself if you could design a full-day leadership development workshop in one weekend. Hint: you can. You must.

How will you learn these new skills? The same way everyone else learns how to do their job…informally. Read books, blogs, articles, ask colleagues, and follow learning professionals on Twitter to find out what they are doing. The more you learn, the more willing you are to change and the more relevant your skills will be.

Bill Cushard, Chief Learning Officer at The Knowland Group, is a learning leader with more than 12 years experience in training and performance improvement at well-known companies like E*TRADE Financial, Accenture, and Time Warner Cable. In his leadership role at Knowland University, Bill focuses on helping clients get the most out of the products and services provided through a combination of guided and self-paced learning opportunities. He believes all learning experiences should be grounded in real-world application and designed to improve sales performance.

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