How can L&D use technology to become more strategic?

Debbie Carter reports on a learning exchange where Laura Overton and Andy Hurren explain how technology can make L&D more strategic

The Learning Technologies show was busy this year with 100s of suppliers of technology solutions, alongside traditional L&D providers, all vying for the attention of passing visitors. But despite the hype and extravagance on show many visitors expressed doubts about the relationship between what they do as L&D professionals and the technology being showcased. While all accept that technology is here to stay, the plethora of solutions on show do a pretty poor job of showing what they do to improve workforce capability and add to organisations’ bottom line results.  The ‘shiny’ things in themselves do not tell a compelling story of what they offer to the average L&D professional.

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On Day 2 of LT17 at the Towards Maturity’s (TM) stand a group of L&D professionals met to discuss the strategic benefits offered by technology. Led by CEO of TM, Laura Overton whose work in benchmarking L&D activity is globally recognised, she was ably supported by Andy Hurren, head of learning at RWE npower who informed the group that he “covers all aspects of training except leadership”; a pretty tall order for an organisation of their size.

So, how can technology support practitioners in achieving strategic goals? Hurren quickly reminded the group that technology is just a tool and as such has a place within the mix of solutions available to us in our practice. He prefers not to talk about digital learning but uses the term blended to show that solutions are the deployment of a variety of tools.

“Fifty per cent of L&D people are order takers and do nothing to analyse the problem before offering a solution.”

Overton reminded us that it is always crucial to start with the business goals in mind and to then decide what you have to do to make the goals a reality. She pointed out a major problem as to why L&D people were viewed less favourably in their organisations “Fifty per cent of L&D people are order takers and do nothing to analyse the problem before offering a solution.”

Hurren’s suggestion was to “take control of what we have, that is the methodology, and then work differently to deliver business goals.” As part of their development all Hurren’s training team are qualified Kirkpatrick users, not that he is hung up on evaluation but, he sees the model as providing his people with the skills required to consult with the business and gain trust and credibility. L&D are capability builders who fix disconnect between business aims and the skills of the workforce and this requires a complex set of skills.

It was seen as important for L&D people is the ability to establish early engagement with managers. Overton emphasised the importance of reliable research data to give authority in discussions to win trust, which is the first step in being able to challenge the business on what they really need to achieve their objectives. Hurren said that the skills from a model like Kirkpatrick gave his team the confidence to reframe conversations, question managers on what they needed and provide goal-orientated solutions. Once a clearer picture of the required outcome and a possible solution was available the technology provided a reach and speed that enabled faster implementation. He emphasised that there has to a compelling reason to use technology and L&D has to ensure it has the data and case studies to support their recommendations.                    

Again and again the discussion centred on the need to determine what the organisation needed and the unspoken permission to share and collaborate. Those organisation that foster such a culture are among the top performers in the Towards Maturity’s reports year on year.

There has to a compelling reason to use technology and L&D has to ensure it has the data and case studies to support their recommendations.                    

Some clear actions emerged from the hour-long discussion.

Talk to the right people
L&D need to win the trust of managers and they need to be visible within their organisations and seen to be trusted advisers who support line managers to achieve their goals. Make sure key stakeholders are always part of your original discussions and keep them advised on progress.

Use data and research
To build trust and credibility make sure you have reputable external data to support your ideas. Keep abreast of trends and build a portfolio of success stories that illustrate how success has been achieved in other departments, organisations and sectors.  

View technology as part of your kitbag
Clearly technology on its own cannot provide the full strategic L&D solution for any organisation, but when deployed with intelligence it can provide reach and speed that ensures targets are met across international boundaries within shorter time frames.

In summary

As with much in our world the best results come from collaboration, accepting and learning from mistakes and reliable networks to provide data and feedback. Technology can favourably impact on all these factors when combined with other important skills such as trouble-shooting, problem-solving and consulting, and it is possible that as machine learning progresses the first two elements can be replicated by artificial intelligence. However as people are central to organisational output, our relationships with others are going to be the factors that will make or break our strategic goals.

Find out more about Laura Overton and Towards Maturity by visiting their website or follow @lauraoverton @TowardsMaturity or on LinkedIn:

Follow Andy Hurren @andy_andyhurren or visit LInkedIn at

About the exchange programme:

The LT Exchange is a free opportunity to have round table discussions with some of the world’s most influential learning sector thought-leaders – and is available to all L&D practitioners visiting the Learning Technologies exhibition.

A collaboration between Learning Technologies and Towards Maturity, the Exchanges programme was launched in 2011 with the aim to share effective practice, thought leadership and stimulate innovation in L&D.

This year, the Learning Technologies Exchanges was co-hosted with Training Journal and tackled the practical issues facing today’s L&D leaders: supporting change, leveraging networks, mobile learning, micro learning and how to get ahead with technology in 2017. 

Debbie Carter

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