Donald H Taylor on “Raising the Level of the Learning Profession”

This post is part of 3 covering my review of the Stimulearning L+D talks of October 2013. The full article was published in Dutch in the Stimulearning magazine, December 2013.


According to Donald H Taylor, there have been a lot of changes in learning in the last 5 to 7 years. Many of these are due to the arrival of new technologies that allow learners to serve themselves. Taylor says it is time to raise the level of the learning profession.


In the latest survey of “Top 100 Learning Tools” published by the Centre for Learning and Performance Technologies, nearly everything is electronic. Social media tools feature high on the list (Twitter is number 1) and Donald H Taylor says this is an indication of how learning will continue to evolve in the future. Even if “nothing beats a pen and paper and a little conversation”, we have moved on considerably in the past few years with regard to acquisition of knowledge and skills. But Taylor is not so sure we have moved on with our culture as learning professionals.


In the 1980s, before Tim Berners-Lee’s revolutionary work, there was no World Wide Web. We had books and training. If you wanted to know something at work, you went to the library or you asked for training. The trainer would tell you what was in the book and control the way you read it (“we’ll be looking at pages 20 to 64 on day 2”). If you had questions, you were told “it’s in the book”. The trainer had probably even written the book.


But today, everyone is writing and reading in his own way. As the Ruder Finn Intent Index states, the top reason to go to the internet is learning. We have blogs, micro-blogs, YouTube, Wikipedia and a multitude of other media, which we can access from any device immediately. “Frictionless information handling” is the new norm. So trainers (and the whole learning profession) need to evolve. But for some reason, the learning profession doesn’t believe it’s true. They think of self-learning as “a nice start, but not 100% reliable”. They still want to control things.


And today’s working environment is very different to the 1980s. At the end of the last century, we saw a switch in the value of companies from tangible to intangible assets. Asking the L+D Talks audience what else had changed in the last 5 years, we heard that people expect things to happen faster, learning has to be more adaptive, better linked to strategy and focusing on lean investment and more return. CEOs of the Big Four all same the same thing: human capital, talent or knowledge is the top 1 or 2 concern; they recognise the need for good learning strategies, but they don’t believe that HR and Learning is agile enough to deal with it.


According to Donald H Taylor, these changes will continue evolving in the same way. Executives want more skills to deal with more problems, with less cash and less time. So the challenge for the learning profession is to find ways to deal with that, getting out of the training ghetto and helping the organisation and its people to change.


Taylor talked about how environments and people might change: Fast or slow. The people moving faster than the environment are considered as “pathfinders”. Like “Instagram” and “Facebook”, they create new ways of doing things that are ready to go when the environment catches up; they pave the way for the future. At the other end of the spectrum are those who don’t change in line with the environment. Like Kodak and the short-hand typists of the 1940s, they will end up out of work. So the goal of learning is to be fast and agile enough to keep up with an ever changing environment.


One major area in which Donald H Taylor says we need to improve is in our general business skills – performance improvement, analysis + strategy, interpretation of information and business acumen. According to the Learning and Performance Institute’s Capability Map (27 skills in 9 groups), the learning industry itself accepts that it is good at design and delivery, getting better at social learning, but still lacking in business intelligence, communication and marketing of learning solutions.


To better engage with the future, we need to focus on getting ourselves to a professional level with these skills in this new environment.



Published by Dan Steer

For the last 17 years, I have been helping businesses and individuals to achieve their goals through delivery of tailor-made learning and development initiatives. Most of the time, I deliver training, coach individuals, facilitate brainstorming sessions, round-table meetings and workshops. As a consultant, I help my clients to promote and profit from the infinite learning opportunities within and without their own organisation, drawing on my L+D management experience, strategic approach and creativity, As a speaker, I inspire through story, humour and pertinent little bits of theory. I believe that the world would be a better place if people were happily working on their mission with competence and alignment to personal values. As a freelance worker since 2008, I have helped more than 11000 individuals to improve their presentation, communication, commercial, leadership and negotiation skills. I confront people with their own behaviour and convictions, facilitating and giving pertinent feedback and clear ideas on where to continue good work and improve. I seek to satisfy my clients with creative and to-the-point solutions… …and I make music, but no-one pays me much for it yet :-) First single here:

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