Detlef Hold Discusses the Post-COVID-19 State of Learning

Detlef is a speaker participating in CLN’s L&D Leadership in a Time of Great Change




The Corporate Learning Network is preparing for its very first virtual conference: L&D Leadership in a Time of Great Change. The event, scheduled July 14 and 15, promises to engage Chief Learning Officers, learning and development leaders and Chief Strategy Officers in conversation about topics related to thriving in a post-COVID-19 business environment.

Leading up to the event, Corporate Learning Network's Editorial Manager Mason Stevenson will be interviewing speakers about various topics and getting a feel for their perspective on the corporate learning world now and how it will survive in the future.

One such speaker is Detlef Hold, MSc, Organizational Psychologist. He’s currently leading the strategic area Knowledge Cycling & Learning in a large transformation program at Roche.

State of Learning 

The Post-COVID-19 World 


Mason Stevenson:
If you were giving a post COVID-19 “State of Learning” address to a room full of learning leaders, how would you describe the current landscape?

Detlef Hold:
While we don't know yet when Post-COVID will be a reality, the current landscape for corporate learning and education has substantially changed with a speed, magnitude and impact few would have imagined in early 2020.

Within a few months, corporate organizations, educational institutions and learning teams pivoted to planning, designing and delivering digital learning solutions at scale while transforming their L&D portfolio into a more customized enabler for what employees and the business need during times of crisis: tools to collaborate effectively from home, guidance on wellbeing and health, knowledge about leadership during crisis or guidance on ways of working productively, to name a few. 

Learning leaders, schools, universities and business schools are now exploring the tremendous impact the COVID-19 crisis has had on our ways of envisioning the learning eco-systems of the future.

What they realize is that the shift to a–currently–fully digital experience has an impact on building knowledge, skills and behaviors of learners and on the modalities we can use to provide an engaging learner experience.

Many voices say we may never go back to in-person learning; I think that the future will entail a blended and more integrated way of connecting face-to-face with digital, virtual and a mix of self-directed and social learning based on a truly human-centered design of scalable learning opportunities.  

Here are a few thoughts on the state of corporate learning:

Closer to customers and end users. L&D teams were initially struggling to find the right answer to the crisis. By listening well to learners' needs and responding quickly to new business priorities, many learning teams were able to strengthen their position in the organization.

They educated learners on reducing anxiety, provided critical and relevant information to ensure business continuity and helped build new skills for virtual effective collaboration in a short amount of time. These were all seen as valuable contributions for keeping employees engaged and confident.

More human-centered and learner-centered. Before COVID, there was a strong focus on finding the right LxP platforms which would establish a modernized learning eco-system, facilitating a scalable, more customized and more personalized learning experience. While these efforts have proven to be valuable at times, when quickly disseminating the right learning content to the right audience was a real asset for a business in crisis, another trend is emerging.

Influenced by the design thinking mindset and methodology, learning is becoming more human-centered and more learner-centered. Learning teams use design workshops, empathy interviews and ethnographic research to understand learners at the point of work as they try to build skills and knowledge. They identify pain points, generate insights for a better learner experience and build more relevant learning solutions.

The opportunity is that learning teams can play a pivotal role in humanizing the work place by facilitating conversations and education around shared purpose in organizations, collaborative problem solving in distributed teams and networks, and customer experience and connectedness in an ever more digital workplace. They can help employees adjust to new ways of working and new organizational structures. 

More digital, more virtual, more quality? COVID helped our industry pivot to a new normal. It is more digital, more virtual and more scalable. As a consequence, we have the opportunity to fulfill the promise of digital learning we've been discussing in our industry for many years. We can reach more customers faster, and we have the opportunity to develop even better products if we consistently combine our expertise in adult learning with the mindful use of the many new digital tools availble for learning.

I observe that many organizations currently prototype and test new learning technology to find the most effective combination of digital/non-digital and synchronous/asynchronous learning solutions.

More curated and more data driven. One of the biggest shifts inspired by social media user habits is the democratization of learning in organizations. Knowledge has become a commodity, learning opportunities are accessible anywhere, anytime for anyone, almost at no cost...and so corporate learning matures towards a self-organized eco-system of pull and push, federal and networked learning sub-groups where access to content is as easy as getting a ready-made salad in a convenience food store.

The role of learning teams therefore shifts to help learners navigate this "universe of learning opportunities" by providing guidance on what's relevant and what quality learning looks like.

They can also transparently generate and share meaningful data on the impact of learning on work and team productivity. Instead of pushing new content to learners, they become architects of impactful learning experiences which inspire the pull from the right users, at the right time and on business critical content.

Quo vadis corporate learning. As a result, learning is trying to find its place, away from a traditional function which provides training, towards a capability power house than can enable quick upskilling at scale, social expert connectivity and effective transformation towards new ways of thinking, doing and working.

The question for me is, if corporate learning can stay relevant as a distinct unit which focuses on building high quality and effective learner experiences, guiding learners' curiosity and stimulating continuous improvement through data insights...or if it will be replaced by pockets of Subject Matter Experts who self-curate and scale critical knowledge and skills through self-organized communities in distributed networks.

Clearly, learning can play a huge role in shaping the future of work and organizations. While our industry seems to continue to embrace the operational discussions about design approaches and the scalability of the latest digital tools, it has the unique opportunity to pivot–and to become the strategic partner of choice for business critical transformation and strategically upskilling our workforce for the future of work.

Mason Stevenson:
Number one challenge facing learning leaders right now? What’s the solution(s)?

Detlef Hold:
Ensuring business continuity during times of crisis while trying to pivot to a new normal. Business is complex and fluid. There are higher demands on workers, collaboration and productivity. Learning teams need to continuously adjust to these quickly changing business priorities in organizations. We need to deliver faster and provide higher quality, contextualized and relevant solutions which differentiate corporate learning as a key asset for competitiveness. 

If we listen, mindfully observe our business environment and join crucial conversations on transformation with our stakeholders, we'll be able to better respond to current business challenges. To do so, learning teams today should bring expertise in L&D, marketing, innovation, data analytics, knowledge management and change management, and they should be able to work consultatively as strategic partners to solve problems with the business.

Mason Stevenson:
Number one strategy all learning leaders must apply? Why?

Detlef Hold:
Use of visualized and well-articulated qualitative and quantitative data to understand the business and its environment, ongoing changes in the work practices, learner experiences and the impact and quality of our solutions. 

Data driven approaches enable personalization, alignment, more effective curation and focus on the right things. They help to build credibility, inform decision-making and provide evidence of the value of our work for the business.

Mason Stevenson:
From your perspective, what are the top three learning technologies?

Detlef Hold:

  1. Learning Experience platforms (LxP): most companies are exploring add-ons to their LMS and LxP as used by companies like IBM, Google, and Visa to provide scalable opportunities to personalize the learning experience while providing better data driven design options. 
  2. Learning data tools: any reasonably robust learning data analytics technology e.g. even as simple as smart sheets combined with tableau or as sophisticated as some of the new digital psychomeric technologies for leadership development.
  3. Video production tools: video-based learning is not new, yet it's not yet fully explored; it is convenient, affordable, scalable, simple to use and offers lots of creative space for learning.

Those are not the fanciest technologies, but I think augmented/virtual reality learning technologies and other AI driven enablers have yet to mature. Despite the hype around LxP, big companies in a regulated environment still use improved versions of LMS platforms. And, due to COVID-19, I guess currently the top three most used learning technologies might actually be: Zoom, Mural/Miro and MS Teams. 

Mason Stevenson:
From your perspective, what does the future of learning look like for companies/organizations?

Detlef Hold:
The future of learning might look very different. L&D teams, if they continue to exist, become more agile strategists, advisors, architects, catalysts and coaches for learning. They might consist of consultants, content experts from the business, marketing/social media experts, data analysts, curators and business process specialists to enable an integrated approach to learning aligned with business needs.

Performance consultancy will continue to thrive to ensure that learning solutions are lean, targeted, relevant, impactful and integrated into other business processes, end-to-end (e.g. Talent Acquisition, Talent Development, Leadership Development, Change, OD, Transformations, etc.).

Curation, contextualized and personalized learning eco-systems will foster a convenience mentality for learning–consume what you need when you need it, at the point of need. Learners may become the main actor in this type of technology-enabled eco-system and learning then really becomes a commodity. 

If the trend to self-directed learning continues to expand, it might be that learning as a function becomes obsolete and all core processes are integrated into the ways of working of an organization. It's then the learners' responsibility to upskill if changes occur, build employability for the next gig in other parts of the same or another organization and embrace a growth mindset to stay on top of demands in a volatile market. 

Mason Stevenson:
How should learning leaders transform now to meet the needs of the future of learning and the future workforce it will support?

Detlef Hold:

  • Pivot to digital, but based on a human-centered holistic strategy e.g. use design/UX thinking and experiment to master data architectures and align strategically with transformation efforts
  • Foster a strong customer/learner centricity in all you do beyond boundaries; across functions, sites, sub cultures in an organization and even beyond organizations into society and the eco-system of an organization. Establish new partnerships with external partners, customers and stakeholders to innovate, co-create, build, test and deploy solutions in faster cycles
  • Work in more agile ways instead of continuing to use the waterfall methodology only; experiment, co-create with customers, partners, senior leaders deploy MVPs and accelerate iterations
  • Focus on the learner experience, similar to what social media and the consumer market has done 
  • Build new capabilities in learning teams and hire differently–look for expertise in data analytics, curation, UX, digital learning, marketing/social media, business process management, strategy and innovation/transformation but ensure you keep strong adult learning expertise in your team
  • Explore and leverage emerging technologies aligned with a maturity model and readiness of the organization to enable scalability, adoption and sustainment of technology-enabled learning solutions. Not fancy, but well architected, robust, data driven, appealing and convenient for end users.

Mason Stevenson:
What’s the role of innovation in corporate learning now and in the future?

Detlef Hold:
It’s business critical, strategically and operationally. A strong learning strategy can be a key enabler for organizational transformation and successful change. It can ensure new capabilities are established and the workforce is well equipped for future challenges. Operationally, it is important to innovate to gain efficiencies which help to focus capacity of learning teams on what's essential for the business.

Corporate learning has to innovate to stay current as the business is changing, adapting and re-inventing itself at lightning speed into a data driven, digital, agile and networked collaborative system. And so we respond by enabling learning in multiple ways; we curate to reach larger numbers of employees, we try to personalize solutions to make learning relevant, and we prototype new technologies to respond to evolving learning habits (e.g. virtual coaching, digital leadership development and use of VR for interpersonal skills training). Fortunately learning new things is in our DNA and so we are open to experimentation! 

Mason Stevenson:
Number one corporate learning thought leader every learning professional should follow?

Detlef Hold:
Could it be more than one maybe?

Not corporate learning: Sir Ken Robinson and John Seely Brown are both brilliant thought leaders in education and in (adult) learning. Seely Brown has influenced corporate learning in many ways.

Corporate: probably Nick van Dam who combines life-long experience with scientific rigor and the ability to connect his corporate experience with research and practical application in organizations.

Dave Ulrich & Josh Bersin have both influenced the way we think about people growth in organizations. And when it comes to peers, here are a few learning leaders worth mentioning: Arun Pradhan, Will Thalheimer, Laura Overton, Nick Shakleton Jones, Christopher Lind, David Blake and Simon Brown.

L&D Leadership in a Time of Great Change

Most seasoned learning and development executives have been through economic crises before. They know the agony before the organization adapts and bounces back.

Yet in the shadow of the coronavirus pandemic, the collapse in business activity is far more severe than in previous recessions. That's the reality.

That’s the focus of our first virtual conference: L&D Leadership in a Time of Great Change. The event itself and accompanying webinars are designed to help learning leaders navigate through uncharted waters. To learn from the best. To avoid expensive trial-and-error learning.

Why attend this virtual conference? You'll hear case studies, winning strategies and evidence-based results from strategic management leaders & learning executives charged with the awesome responsibility of managing L&D in today's new business climate.

The virtual conference is free-to-attend and is open for registration. It begins at 12pm Eastern Time on July 14 and 15. To learn more about the event, see the premiere speaking faculty, access pre-event content and to register for the event, click here.

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