Three steps to more innovative L&D

Managing Yourself John Cleese as a Judge

In a changing world, what constitutes ‘appropriate development and support’ is a moving target. As the needs of the business change, trainers have to adapt accordingly. You have to stay agile, yet you can’t afford to slip up as organisations are becoming far less tolerant of mistakes. The challenge for L&D is to constantly provide the right development, in shifting sands, while at the same delivering a return on investment. In other words, you have to innovate without a safety net.”

If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got.


The internet is remarkably unclear about the origin of this quote; various people have attributed it to Mark Twain, Henry Ford and others. Regardless of who said it first, it neatly highlights the danger of playing safe. For many L&D teams, the status quo is not an option. Getting what you’ve ‘always got’ is no longer good enough. Nowadays, you have to get more, ideally for less.

The clear lesson here for L&D is that you can’t sit on your laurels. But when you don’t have the luxuries of free time and infinite resources, you have to prioritise which areas are most likely to yield a benefit. With that in mind, here are three suggestions of where you can try something new:

1. Change your content.

A key role for L&D is choosing the best way to deliver a message to a particular audience. Judging what content will work best for any particular audience is an under-estimated skill. One man’s meat will always be another’s poison. The question here is: is your learning content working?

The Australian psychologist Eve Ash claims that today’s media-saturated generation feel uninspired, unchallenged and bored by traditional training. Her response has been to create harder-hitting learning content, an example of which can be seen here.

If you’re concerned about “getting what you’ve always got” in terms of training impact, having a more hard-hitting option up your sleeve – that could either suit a certain audience or shake people out of their comfort zones – may be worth considering.

2. Change your role.

Clive Shepherd of Onlignment, a consultancy specialising in learning technologies, talks about the emerging role of ‘the trainer as a curator’. In the same way that a museum curator selects and presents items to create a coherent experience for visitors, L&D teams select and present handouts, job aides, reading lists or details of other resources that might help their delegates.

Because today’s employees, who have to constantly reinvent themselves to adapt to changing market needs, want shorter courses, there’s a greater need for L&D to provide a more proactive role in sifting through and passing on information, articles and content that will be useful to people. If you don’t like the word ‘curator’, maybe think of this role as being a ‘personal shopper’ – someone who brings recommended items, to save people the aggravation of rummaging around themselves. Those who can fulfil this role will not only benefit others, they’ll earn appreciation and will be valued as a constructive source.

3. Change the way you use technology.

‘Bring your own device’ (BYOD) is a growing phenomenon that presents a real opportunity for L&D. Today, nearly every employee owns a handheld device, such as a smartphone or a tablet. Not only does this mean your organisation saves money on hardware, desktop support and device training, it also means that you have the potential to deliver convenient, media-rich mobile learning.

Like e-learning, people can go through a mobile learning course at their own pace and they can choose to learn the specific, salient points they need. However, because mobile learning can reach staff on-the-move, it has even more potential for just-in-time skills development or for refresher training. For example, if someone is dreading a difficult appraisal session; having problems with a difficult colleague; is nervous about a presentation or is about to conduct an interview, they can instantly refresh their learning, in a micro-learning format, at the point of need.

According to my dictionary, the word innovate stems from the Latin ‘innovare’ which means ‘to renew’. While the challenge of gaining a return on your investment is something that you’ll always have to face, you may find that renewing your content, renewing your role and renewing your use of technology could help you to hit the moving target of providing ‘appropriate development and support’.

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