The world of work is constantly changing and only the most alert and prepared organizations can stay afloat. We can see this change in the recent uptick in work-from-home mandates, major digital transformations and the rise of the gig economy. What do you do when new technologies are arising and disrupting the status quo? When new skill gaps and dwindling capabilities among employees become apparent? You call on L&D to close those gaps.

One of the marks of a strong organization is an L&D team that is constantly evolving and stays future-ready. The role of L&D has now majorly evolved into engineering a learning ecosystem that will adapt to, and take on these new workplace disruptions. Any L&D team that stays stagnant cannot hold an organization up in this ever-changing workplace.

Workplace disruption is expected and your L&D team can either choose to be disrupted or become disruptors. If you decide on the latter, here are four skills your team needs to master to stay future-ready:

1. Data-driven analysis and decision-making
Businesses are heavily reliant on data-driven decision-making. Data is used to evaluate most of their functions and see their return on investment in every operational aspect. Sales and marketing departments spend time dutifully collecting data that paints a clear picture of their impact. While this task is comparatively easier for these departments, the same cannot be easily attributed to learning. Learning activity data such as learner uptake, assessment and feedback can be easily collected and analyzed but when it comes to concepts like general value to business, it becomes more of a guessing game.

In evolving L&D and improving its accountability, there needs to be more of an emphasis and investment on the data analysis front. Not only is the skill to crunch and analyze data expertly required to emerge within the L&D team, but there also needs to be a mastery of business intelligence data and how to merge both to present data-driven conclusions on learning impact. L&D needs this to establish itself as invaluable to organizational performance. Luckily, technologies and models are available to counter this lack in the department.

The Kirkpatrick model, developed in the 1950s has been the most widely used system for analyzing the value of training to business. Most of the newer training data evaluation systems have the Kirkpatrick as their basis. It assesses training data in four levels starting with initial reaction to new training, followed by learning impact (i.e. new skills and expertise) then behavioral change (i.e. is learning being employed?) and finally, organizational performance. Data is collected at each level and each subsequent level is measured with foundational data provided by its predecessor.

2. Learning about learning
Learning professionals should be focusing on learner-centric approaches in their strategy. There needs to be a better understanding of learner engagement and the best methods for ensuring learning transfer. These professionals can start by relying on neuroscience and social sciences. A background in these sciences puts you at a better advantage of understanding human behavior in learning processes. These areas should not be skimped on when training the trainer. A strong grasp of learning models that have proven successful such as microlearning, visual learning, contextual learning and blended learning should also be prioritized.

Trainers should learn all they can about learner personas and put them to good use. Employing learner personas helps in uncovering your learners’ layers. You get a clearer understanding of their motivations and their pain points. Being able to use these personas to see things from their perspective can influence instructional design and produce better training results.

L&D professionals should be doing all they can to support a continuous learning culture. By immersing themselves in the learning process, they will have a better understanding of what changes need to be made to make learning more prolific. You will see more learning professionals swapping in microlearning and social learning for the older, more tedious forms of learning. You will also see them substituting personalized learning for the one size fits all method and interactive learning and competitive learning activities for long classroom lectures. There will be a better understanding of encouraging continuous learning without interrupting the flow of work.

3. Mastery of technology
New technologies are emerging all the time as digitalization keeps growing at a rapid speed. A lot of these new technologies make their way into the learning space where they can fulfil a learning need or two. If your L&D team is agile and can master them at a quick pace, then your organization stays competitive and ahead of the game.

These days, AI and automation, virtual reality, and augmented reality are at the forefront, breaking grounds in interactive and contextual learning. Learning technologists are tasked with mastering these technologies and staying up to date on the evolving trends. There are also mobile platforms, new LMSs and content curation platforms that emerge periodically that they need to keep track of and update accordingly.

By acquainting themselves with all of these technologies, learning technologists will be well equipped to make informed decisions on the best investments for the company. These decisions will be made based on the organization’s needs, budget, goals and culture. Having inhouse technologists who are well acquainted with the organization’s ins and outs definitely beat outsourcing the responsibility to vendors.

4. Consultancy
One of the soft skills that L&D professionals need to get a handle on is consultancy. This encompasses communication, influencing, engagement, decision-making and even business awareness. Consultancy is important for networking both physically and virtually, fitting into sub-cultures within organizations and for managing communities. It is most of all important for influencing stakeholder decisions with L&D policies that are designed to align with the business goals.

L&D as consultants need to develop an understanding of the intricacies and needs of the business and how to spin L&D policies that meet all of them. The communication and influencing aspects come in handy when it’s time to break these policies down to leaders and stakeholders. The team needs to communicate in business language and display an understanding of organizational culture in breaking down how these L&D policies will address individual and wider company goals.

Company leaders are waiting to see how you tackle the big questions such as: what are the best adult learning methods? How does the changing business environment affect learning? What is the learning impact and how do you measure it? They need to see careful planning, informed decision-making and promised results in your proposed policies. This is how L&D gains stakeholders’ trust and how the team can secure their seat at the table and elevate to business partners.

With all the constant changes in the workplace and more that are yet to come, skill gaps are being exposed and some organizations are being caught off-guard. Employees are the lifeblood of organizations and their development lies in the hands of L&D. Therefore, the L&D team needs to be constantly evolving to keep up with changing training demands.

Even though changes are unpredictable, an L&D team that is always future-thinking will evolve and set-up contingency plans to stay ahead and keep their organization afloat. We see this in practice as new platforms, technologies and learning methodologies are cropping up here and there to address training needs. Equipping your L&D team with the necessary skills to embrace these new changes will do a world of good. Your level of investment in future-proofing the L&D team will be the determinant of employees’ quality of work and employer satisfaction.