4 foundational considerations for evolving L&D


“Learning has changed.”

I hear that assertion all too frequently as a driving reason for the need to reconsider how we do things in L&D. While I completely agree with the need for a long-overdue revolution within the learning and performance ranks, this change has very little to do with “learning.”

The process through which we (humans) learn and progress our existing knowledge has NOT really changed … in a long, long time. By losing sight of this basic reality, we are setting ourselves up for the wrong type of industry revolution – one that can be easily gimmicked and stifled by fads and vendor-based solutions.

During my recent ‘A Practical Approach for Supporting the Modern Learner’ webinar, I outlined 4 foundational considerations I believe are essential for meaningful change to occur within L&D: science, context, enablement, and integration. Here’s a brief summary of each concept based on the prevailing needs and capabilities of the modern employee.

Check out my deck from the Chief Learning Officer (CLO) Magazine presentation below via SlideShare. A recording of the full presentation should come online soon, and I’ll link here when I find it. My friends at Axonify, who sponsored the presentation, also summarized key points in their weekly blog post.



We often talk about putting the “learner” first in our work – but we forget about the PERSON. While we’re all different and possess unique experiences and abilities, we’re still inherently the same in that we’re human. With that label come certain capabilities and limitations. To truly put the person first in our work, we must ground everything we do in the science of being human and become familiar with everything we know (and don’t know) about how the brain works. No, we don’t all have to be neuroscientists, but we do have to gain an operational understanding of the biology that is the basis of everything we do.

I have begun to focus my simple, application-oriented discussions on the science of learning on what I am starting to call the four Cs …

  • Curiosity: we are built to solve problems through exploration and collaboration
  • Capacity: we have established limitations when it comes to memory and require continued reinforcement/application to aid long-term recall
  • Connection: we learn more effectively when we can connect new information to existing knowledge AND we are inherently social, looking for ways to connect and share with one another
  • Confidence: we are more likely to feel empowered and act when we have both knowledge AND confidence in our abilities



Science is our essential foundation because its the biological truth behind what we’re capable of as human beings. However, in the modern workplace, context may be the most important consideration for how we support people as L&D. It’s also the most varied consideration, as it includes EVERYTHING that impacts the employee experience within the organizational ecosystem. After all, L&D is not the only input into an employee’s working life – and we’re almost never the loudest. If we fail to consider everything that an employee regularly experiences as part of their role, we’ll never find the optimal way to provide support and the concept of “just in time” will become “just when we’re available/feel like it.”

A few simple examples of modern contextual considerations …

  • Tasks: the work – what people are being asked to do, how they’re held accountable, and how they’re learning to do it
  • Variety: the ever-evolving mix of tasks that define a single role and the continued individualized learning needs that go along with it
  • Environment: where the work is taking place, whether it be a mobile workforce or an in-house team, and the associated resources and cultural dynamics
  • Flexibility: the constant state of change that organizations push upon their people in the search for continued relevance (aka profit/sustainability)



When it comes to your professional development, where do you feel more enabled: at home or at work? I’m betting you said “home” – but why does it have to be an either/or question? In the “real world,” people are more enabled than ever when it comes to accessing, consuming, and sharing information. Thanks, Internet! However, when we step into the workplace, much of this enablement is wiped away, and we become reliant on hierarchy and the failure of “perceived importance” as dictated by self-appointed information owners (aka people who handle documentation and organizational communication).

To evolve our role and increase our value, L&D must seek ways to restore individual enablement and leverage real-world consumption/sharing behaviors in the workplace. This includes considerations like …

  • Technology: shifting away from vault-like tools (cough LMS cough) to platforms that enable/thrive through user contribution (cough wiki cough)
  • Behaviors: identifying and enabling valuable real-world consumption behaviors, such as search and social sharing
  • Personalization: providing resources that can function independently or be combined by users to create personalized experiences (and trusting people to do it on their own)
  • Scale: seeking economies of scale while balancing the needs of the individual with that of the greater organization



Do you like going to classes to learn, or do you prefer to have options? The data supports the assertion that employees value their self-driven efforts over traditional corporate training. While there is still a place for the formal stuff, L&D must find ways to more effectively integrate itself within the employee’s every day. This starts with a fundamental shift in how we are viewed within our organizations. We must REALLY evolve our reputation from order-takers that only get involved when called upon by management to a valued, constant partners to the individual employee.

Making this change requires that we pay attention to ideas like …

  • Presence: being consistently accessible to individuals through our JIT resources and performance support mechanisms
  • Connection: shifting from creators to connectors who facilitate links between those who know and those who need
  • Community: avoiding attempts to create communities in favor of helping strengthen those that already exist and making it easier for new ones to become established and grow organically
  • Selectivity: continuing to use our traditional L&D tools but in more selective ways that seek maximum impact and value for our organization

What do you think about these 4 foundational ideas for shifting what we currently define as L&D? How can you bring these ideas to life in your teams to create small, iterative changes in focus? 

4 foundational considerations for evolving L&D

by JD Dillon time to read: 4 min