Workplace learning and development practices have rapidly evolved over the past several years, in part due to advances in technology, easy access to content, better data, and most recently, disruptions caused by the global COVID-19 pandemic. Consequently, the needs and expectations of learners have changed; they have come to expect to be able to access learning resources that fit their individual needs in the moments they are needed versus counting on corporate L&D to assign required learning and provide access to static curricula that is calendar-driven versus need- and relevance-driven.
“It is important to implement an audit process to ensure training built by SMEs meets certain quality standards and is instructionally sound”
Responding to this new reality, many organizations are adopting a different approach in terms of the how, who, where, and when of learning and development that helps establish a closer connection between learning and performance. For example, instead of relying on the traditional approach where learning needs are identified and then corresponding solutions created and prescribed – all managed by HR or L&D, approaches like curation, learning in the flow of work, and social learning have become more prominent and efficient, which ultimately means the role of L&D teams needs to change. They should no longer own or manage the entire learning process and ecosystem across domains and functions. Rather, L&D should create strategies and infrastructure for continuous learning and facilitate the adoption of practices and tools and partner with the business to ensure that efforts around building skills are closely linked with the talent agenda and business strategies. In other words, the roles and responsibilities for workplace learning and development should be shared with the broader organization with active participation of leaders and subject-matter experts, versus residing primarily within HR and L&D teams. There is of course always the right time and place for the “formal” L&D-led initiatives and programs, for example in the leadership development area and compliance-based training such as safety.
One reason for sharing learning responsibilities across the organization is that it can be difficult to keep up with what is needed within different parts of the organization, given continually changing skill requirements and new processes, digital transformation, and dynamic organizational structures and strategies. While dedicated internal HR and L&D teams, as well as external partners are typically the ones charged with providing the required learning solutions, those tend to be assume that a large number of employees need exactly the same thing at the same time, which is rarely the case. A typical learning program takes weeks or months to develop and deploy which means that timeliness and relevance of the program is not always optimal – needs may have changed when it is finally time to launch. But there are ways for organizations to improve speed, scale, and relevance of their learning solutions by tapping into a latent force of instructional design and content development: their own subject matter experts (SMEs) and leaders.
At Kellogg Company, we have taken deliberate steps in creating an infrastructure around this type of SME/leader-developed training. What prompted this work was a trend our L&D team was faced with: increased demand for development of a variety of programs and courses on a range of topics, from sales to sanitation, that were truly needed but out of scope or low priority for the L&D team. This included requests to have existing in-person formats converted into self-paced online learning that would allow a broader audience reach in a relatively short amount of time. With the L&D team priorities focused on large, global learning solutions, capacity to support the variety of ad hoc requests was limited. However, not being able to support the requests internally could lead to costly vendor engagements or content developed by employees without the skills and tools to do so effectively, something that typically results in building and sharing of PowerPoint decks that is not necessarily the recipe for high learning engagement.
Therefore, to better support the needs of various leaders and subject-matter experts with creating learning solutions, the L&D team launched a “do-it-yourself” approach by providing subject matter experts with access to an easy to use authoring tool (Easygenerator) and an internal, custom-built online resource portal that provides step-by-step guides and templates for creating a full-blown, interactive e-learning modules. In addition, the central L&D team is available for coaching on this process upon request.
In the span of a few months, a small pilot group of users grew to about 300 non-L&D developers from all parts of the business that have created over 1,200 courses to-date with more SMEs joining every week. We have seen very positive results from these efforts, including substantial cost savings, timeliness and relevance of training (as it’s built and deployed by someone within the business when it’s needed), deployment and tracking at scale, and better user experience. Additionally, the L&D team has freed up time to focus on high-priority work by leaving ad hoc and lower priority requests to the DIY process.
While we have seen clear benefits of this approach, there are a few things to consider. First, this approach may not be well suited for company-wide learning initiatives that require greater rigor, content reviews, and stakeholder alignment. Second, it is important to implement an audit process to ensure training built by SMEs meets certain quality standards and is instructionally sound. Without quality assurance the value of this approach to a learners’ outcomes risks being diminished.
By empowering those who have the expertise, organizational knowledge, and a passion for developing others through learning, adopting a structured employee-generated learning approach, enabled by intuitive technology, can unlock capacity that was previously out of reach for L&D. It ultimately fosters collaboration and sustainable learning practices that can keep up with changes and challenges or the business environment.