As learning professionals, we often get caught up in training delivery from our own perspective. We worry about our metrics, whether or not we can prove ROI for stakeholders and assessment results. While this is obviously important, there’s a crucial audience we often forget about: the learners. Senior learning strategist Lori Niles-Hofmann says that it’s time we considered the learner social contract - that is, our duty to ensure that learners are getting what they need out of the learning we offer as much as we are.
Redundancy or relevance?
As Lori points out, for many employees, workplace learning spells the difference between redundancy and remaining relevant.
“We have a huge responsibility to upskill our employees,” said Lori, “and we should be thinking more critically and respecting our learners’ time and intelligence when we’re designing learning.”
This means not designing huge, sprawling programmes for the sake of it, but instead creating more targeted programmes which are appropriate to the learners’ circumstances. Some employees, such as those working part-time, may need to give up some of their own free time to complete training activities, so it’s up to us to ensure that everything we’re giving them is necessary, designed well and won’t take up more time than it needs to.
The learner burden
In recent years, many employees have found themselves shouldering the burden of workplace learning - if not just a time burden, that may also be a financial burden. Some organisations now expect employees to pay for their own mandatory third-party training programmes, which could be prohibitively expensive for some employees - though regardless of personal financial circumstances, this is a dangerous model to enter into that places far more burden upon employees than is necessary or fair.
In fact, Lori would go so far as to say that it’s our moral duty to upskill our employees and keep them relevant - but to do so in a way that doesn’t disadvantage them. We owe it to our employees to respect their available time, to motivate them and to create data-driven learning programmes that benefit employees just as much as they fulfil our business needs.
Why does it matter?
There is a fantastic post on Lori’s website that explains why this is such an important issue:
“The buzz on the L&D street is all about the skills gap. Every presentation these days has a slide with some snazzy metric on how 83% of people do not have the skills for the jobs of 2025, or half of the jobs will no longer exist in 13 months, according to Wall or Sesame Street. All of these are framed as business and profit issues… and they are.
However, what about the end learner whose very income depends on constantly learning, lest the very real fear of being terminated? Imagine the anxiety for workers who have to rely on the efforts of L&D departments to stay employable? That alone negatively impacts the ability to absorb content.”
Think about it this way: for many employees, their futures not just in our own organisations, but in the wider industry, depend on us and the learning we provide for them. If we get it wrong, it could have a massive impact on their futures. Essentially speaking, we’re all guilty of sometimes prioritising the organisation’s needs over the real people who just want job security and to stay relevant in an increasingly unpredictable labour market.
What can we do for our learners?
“As learning professionals, the best thing we can do for our learners is be brutally efficient. It’s important to remember that we’re not creating a Netflix of learning, and we don’t want to encourage mindless bingeing,” said Lori. “We want people to get in, learn quickly and get out.”
While L&D has an important role to play in any organisation, it is crucial that we don’t ask too much of our employees in terms of spending their own time, money and energy on workplace learning, and just as crucial that we as learning professionals possess the skills to design programmes that serve our employees effectively.
At our first ever EMEA Totara User Conference, taking place in London this May, we are lucky enough to have Lori presenting the keynote on day 1 about the learner social contract. This will delve into why we need to put more thought into what our learners need, why it’s important to consider learner personas, how to craft successful campaigns and how to think outside the course. Lori’s session is a must-attend for anyone looking to design more learner-centred programmes, and you’ll come away understanding just how important your role as a learning professional is.
Register now to secure your space at the EMEA Totara User Conference to hear Lori talk about the top 10 barriers to brutally efficient learning and the actions we must take - for everyone’s sake.
Register for the EMEA Totara User Conference
Get your ticket today to benefit from Lori Niles-Hofmann's fascinating keynote, along with lots of other interesting speakers and useful sessions with the Totara Partners.