L&D in the Fast Lane

How to reduce friction and design quality learning against the clock.
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Introduction

In learning and development, our work is never done. There’s always more you can do. But right now, performing at your best can prove a challenge given tight timelines, tricky stakeholder relations and mismatched objectives.

Over the past year, we’ve had hundreds of conversations with learning professionals. Alongside this, I ran a survey to uncover the big challenges facing L&D today when it comes to designing and delivering learning.  

In this deep-dive article, I share my insights, the primary challenges and practical recommendations to overcome them.

Stella Collins

A picture of Stella Collins

Stella is co-founder and CLO at Stellar Labs, author of ‘Neuroscience for Learning and Development’, keynote speaker and host of the Mind the Skills Gap podcast.  

With 20+ years' of experience consulting, designing and delivering training – Stella knows how to apply neuroscience principles in the real world to deliver ROI.

Why are L&D under pressure?

Lack of time is a primary issue for L&D teams everywhere. But we need to dig into the root cause. Only then can we start to address it properly.  We identified five key themes that impact the pace at which L&D teams work.  

We identified five key themes that impact the pace at which L&D teams work.

Dynamic business environments

We live in a fast-paced world and businesses must continually adapt to thrive. In L&D, you are key to driving business transformation, but keeping up with changing business demands carries a hefty load.

What can you do?  

Change is a constant. We can’t do much about that aside from being ready for it.

L&D leaders need a seat at the table, to see new business initiatives coming before they land on their desks as a last-minute training demand.  

What helps gain influence? Data.  

Use data to uncover training needs in your business, and demonstrate the potential impact on performance with hard data. Speak in the language of your business leaders, and tie learning directly to the metrics that matter to them (e.g. productivity and revenue).

 

L&D need to get on the front foot so that you’re the ones suggesting learning initiatives. This will help to pre-empt some of the issues we discuss below...

Don't align with the business, integrate with the business.Alignment is always adjacent to, not part of. Stop using learning jargon and use the language of the business when working through support, e.g. avoid talking about learning objectives and discuss business expectations.

andrew jacobs llarn learning

Andrew Jacobs

CEO

Llarn Learning Services

Tight deadlines

Timescales in learning design are very much context dependent. Sometimes a year will feel tight for a huge programme, at other times you have only a few weeks to turn something around.

“Usually, we would want to allow about 6 months for full programme design, but we were squeezed into about 3/4 months which put a lot of pressure on”. - Performance and Talent Development Coach in a Law Firm.  

Driven by the changing business environment, deadlines are set by senior stakeholders and L&D are under pressure to turn learning solutions around faster than they’re comfortable with. With existing processes, quality often falls by the wayside (more on that later).

Why are deadlines so tight?

Holes in planning from other areas of the business seems to be a common cause of these shorter deadlines, with learning coming as an afterthought rather than a core part of a business strategy.This is exacerbated by a lack of understanding about what it traditionally takes to design and develop quality learning journeys that impact the desired outcomes. “All must be done immediately. We have to start working on new trainings, programs, and technology, even when the previous ones are not ready yet. Because of this and lack of planning hardly any programmes really get delivered.” - Learning Technology Specialist at a large Logistics business.

What can you do?

Again, get a seat at the table. If as L&D, you are part of strategic conversations in the business, and can influence at this level you'll be able to:

  • Have visibility of major learning requirements on the horizon (likely before the stakeholders realise them).
  • Educate stakeholders on the importance of quality learning alongside agility and speed of production – there's no point creating a half-baked learning programme as it will have minimal impact on performance. For this you need data.  
  • Push back on stakeholders when it comes to competing priorities so they can see the consequences of certain decisions.

Regardless of the influence of L&D in your organisation, there will always be last minute training demands.  We only need to think back to covid to know we can't see everything that’s coming. The arrival of ChatGPT and a plethora of AI tools is a recent example where businesses have had to adapt rapidly to a new environment, leading to training demands.  This is where your learning design processes and tools come into play.  With the right tools and processes, you can design and launch impactful learning journeys in weeks, not months.  Contrary to popular belief, you don’t need to wait months for an elearning agency to turn something around for you. And, you don’t need to spend months crafting more elearning content full of bells and whistles.  

3 tips to speed up your learning design process

Align stakeholders

Align stakeholders on business and behavioural objectives from the outset to avoid frustrating hold-ups part-way through a project.

Use an evidence-based framework

A good framework will give you a clear structure to work within and will ensure every learning journey is maximised for impact. Our GEAR model for learning design is tried and tested. We use GEAR on every single learning project we do and have developed our platform around it. It works.

Get AI to do the heavy lifting

Get AI to do the heavy liftingWhen AI takes care of the mundane elements of the design process, you can focus L&D time on personalising to your context and including additional elements into the learning journey to support learning transfer.
⚠️ Remember: Not all AI-powered learning tools are made equal! Check they use an evidence-based framework, produce content aligned with objectives and go beyond creating content to design learning that works.

Stakeholder management

Buckle up and pay attention. This section is a possibly the most important one for reducing the friction for learning design!

Stakeholders can make or break a learning project and can be a major cause of frustration and stress on L&D teams. There are several reasons for this:

  1. Perception of learning - “More often than not stakeholders believe it is the delivery of a training course, whereas meaningful learning experiences take longer to formulate.” - Head of L&D at Global Logistics Firm - “SMEs have no time or many other priorities, so it is difficult to have their support as planned. It usually means a lot of time trying to process the content without their help and of course rework.” - Instructional Designer at a large NGO.
  2. Lack of clarity and alignment on objectives - “We commonly encounter senior leaders, or their delegates, who will argue vehemently for training courses.  This is currently happening with one course, which has been running for some time.  The instructor-led course was never the right fit based on needs and the wider dynamics, and there is now a strong case to ask previous cohorts to help coach and guide new employees. - Head of L&D at Global Organisation.
  3. Too many cooks - “It involves different areas, specialist and Director approval. Every democratic process can be slower that an autocratic decision. The drawback is that time runs out and we struggle to produce quality learning within a short time”. - Training Coordinator in the Food Industry.  
  4. Subject matter experts don’t have the time to support - “SMEs have no time or many other priorities, so it is difficult to have their support as planned. It usually means a lot of time trying to process the content without their help and of course rework.” - Instructional Designer at a large NGO.

What can you do?

  • Involve stakeholders early. Engage stakeholders, such as managers, subject matter experts and learners, from the outset. Understand their expectations, incorporate their feedback during the design process and agree who gets a say, when (keep these people to a minimum). Early involvement can prevent major revisions later.
  • Align on objectives straight off. Get to the heart of the business problem so you are crystal clear on the business objectives and the desired behavioural outcomes. Get your stakeholders to sign off on these before you start designing a solution. You can use these objectives to push back on well-intentioned but misaligned ideas that may be coming from various parties!  
  • Share a prototype - Use AI to help structure and draft your learning journey, so SMEs and stakeholders have a prototype to feedback on and add their expertise to.

How to align with the C-Suite

How do you get to the heart of what success looks like for business leaders? Paul Matthews shares a great tip in this clip from the Mind the Skills Gap podcast.

Define objectives in record time

Fast-track objective creation with recommended behavioural outcomes in Stellar Labs, and align stakeholders with ease. Powered by AI.

business objectives examples

Quality vs Speed

L&D professionals talk of “soul-sucking compromises”, being told “not to be creative or innovative”, being called in at the last minute to “fix it quickly”.  

These were shocking and demoralising tales to hear.  

Stakeholders are demanding speed, at the expense of quality. This smacks of tick-box exercises without regard for whether there will be any return on investment. Commercial madness.  

Depending on your context and organisational culture, you may or may not be able to exert significant influence on senior stakeholders who themselves are under extreme pressure.  

If you can, take the time to educate people about the utter waste of time from poor learning programmes  

Changing stakeholder mindsets is often a long (perhaps never ending) road. We recommend you focus on what you can control.  You don’t have to give up quality for speed.  You may just need to shift your mindset about what quality is...

Quality learning is not:

Whizzy looking e-learning with tons of interactions

More shiny new content

Completely self-directed journeys

Quality learning journeys

Meet specific behavioural outcomes

Include more than content (think spaced repetition, work-based actions and support from mentors)

Guide and support learners

You can have quality, and deliver it at speed. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again...you just need the right processes and tools.  Process - we mentioned our GEAR model earlier – this is based on the evidence about what it takes to build new skills and behaviours in the workplace.  Tools – the right AI-powered tools can fast-track learning design. They will free you up from laborious content creation, so you can include the other elements needed to make skills and knowledge stick. AI is here to stay, to stay up to date in the L&D professional you’ll need to start embracing them or risk getting left behind.  

85%

of learning investment is wasted.

Shockingly often, training does not get transferred into skills and behaviours in the workplace – why? Because these learning programmes simply dump content on learners and expect it to make a difference.  What’s needed beyond learning content? Support to make knowledge stick, the opportunity to practice skills in the workplace and gain feedback and support from mentors or managers.  Are these elements included in your learning programmes?

First understand the edges of what AI can do for you - and what it can’t. Producing good quality output with it isn’t straightforward. If you don’t know exactly what AI can realistically achieve for you and how, you will likely face multiple ad hoc revisions that will slow you down instead.

 Egle Vinauskaite - learning strategist at nodes

Egle Vinauskaite

Learning Strategist & Director

Nodes

How and why to get started using AI

Stella and Donald Clark talk about how AI will let L&D get back to their roots - and challenge listeners to get started.

Are you too focused on content?

Mirjam Neelen shares her thoughts on the over reliance on content, and what L&D can do to be more impactful.

Resource limitations

Lack of time, lack of people, lack of budget. A general lack of resource in L&D is a common headache.  

Everything outlined above can help tackle this:

  • Gain influence at the strategic level with data to demonstrate ROI (and why you may need additional investment)

  • Re-frame ‘quality’ to focus on what has the greatest impact and use a design framework that will help you design more efficiently.

  • Question your spending. Do you need to spend tens of thousands of Euros/Pounds/Dollars on agencies to create more learning content for you?  

What will you do next?

If you’ve read this far, you’ve taken in a lot of information. But the research tells us that you’ll probably forget it all quickly 🫣.  To beat the forgetting curve, you need spaced repetition to actively recall key information. This could be as simple as scheduling some emails to yourself! But remembering isn’t enough.  

  1. Perception of learning - “More often than not stakeholders believe it is the delivery of a training course, whereas meaningful learning experiences take longer to formulate.” - Head of L&D at Global Logistics Firm - “SMEs have no time or many other priorities, so it is difficult to have their support as planned. It usually means a lot of time trying to process the content without their help and of course rework.” - Instructional Designer at a large NGO.
  2. Lack of clarity and alignment on objectives - “We commonly encounter senior leaders, or their delegates, who will argue vehemently for training courses.  This is currently happening with one course, which has been running for some time.  The instructor-led course was never the right fit based on needs and the wider dynamics, and there is now a strong case to ask previous cohorts to help coach and guide new employees. - Head of L&D at Global Organisation.
  3. Too many cooks - “It involves different areas, specialist and Director approval. Every democratic process can be slower that an autocratic decision. The drawback is that time runs out and we struggle to produce quality learning within a short time”. - Training Coordinator in the Food Industry.  
  4. Subject matter experts don’t have the time to support - “SMEs have no time or many other priorities, so it is difficult to have their support as planned. It usually means a lot of time trying to process the content without their help and of course rework.” - Instructional Designer at a large NGO.

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