Meaningful Change for L&D in 2018 – According to the Experts

Many writers start their year by exploring the big trends that will dominate the conversation for the next 12 months. That’s exactly what we did just in our first post for 2017. This year, folks like Bryan Jones from eLearning Art have this topic more than covered. Check out his post and summary video.


Trends can certainly show us what’s coming down the pike for our profession, but they don’t always align to where you are as an organization and as a professional. That’s why I wanted to do something a bit more practical for our curated January blog post. To that end, I contacted some of the smartest people I know and asked them three simple questions. My goal is to provide specific, achievable ideas you can use this year to evolve your L&D (learning and development) practices for the better.

Before we get started, I’d like to thank the 10 contributors to this post. You should add them to your professional networks immediately and read everything they ever write—seriously!

Josh Bersin, Principal and Founder, Bersin by Deloitte

Josh Bersin
Principal and Founder,
Bersin by Deloitte

Jane Hart, Founder, Centre for Learning & Performance Technologies

Jane Hart
Founder, Centre for Learning
& Performance Technologies

Karl Kapp, Professor, Bloomsburg University

Karl Kapp
Professor, Bloomsburg University

David Kelly, Executive Vice-President, eLearning Guild

David Kelly
Executive Vice-President, eLearning Guild

Lori Niles-Hoffmann, Senior Learning Strategist

Lori Niles-Hoffmann
Senior Learning Strategist

Arun Pradhan, Learning & Performance Strategist, DeakinCo

Arun Pradhan
Learning & Performance Strategist, DeakinCo

Clark Quinn, Executive Director, Quinnovation

Clark Quinn
Executive Director, Quinnovation

Marc Rosenberg, Principal, Marc Rosenberg and Associates

Marc Rosenberg
Principal, Marc Rosenberg and Associates

Will Thalheimer, President, Work-Learning Research, Inc.

Will Thalheimer
President, Work-Learning Research, Inc.

Megan Torrance, Chief Energy Officer, TorranceLearning

Megan Torrance
Chief Energy Officer, TorranceLearning

Now, let’s take a look at what they had to say about how L&D can take a meaningful step forward in 2018. I’ll present each of the three questions, followed by a summary of their shared insights, along with a few highlighted quotes.

1. Do you believe workplace learning practices overall will be noticeably different in 2018 as compared to recent years? Why or why not?

No. At least not noticeably for most organizations. While the group showed clear reasons to be optimistic about workplace learning, we shouldn’t expect monumental leaps in the next year. Rather, organizations will continue to make incremental changes based on the foundations they’ve established over the past several years. The shift to continuous learning will progress while requiring a fundamental mindset shift from both L&D as well as business stakeholders.

Here are a few standout quotes from the group:

Josh Bersin: “With the broad introduction of microlearning tools and a wide variety of new tools for on-demand learning and the xAPI, I think more and more ‘training programs’ will turn into continuous learning or ‘learning in the flow of work.’”

Marc Rosenberg: “Any organization can have significant progress (or reversals, unfortunately), but it depends on the culture of the organization and the support of senior management, rather than what the training/learning function does.”

Arun Pradhan: “Given the speed of external factors and greater pressures on organizations to innovate and deliver outcomes, I honestly think our profession has to continue our own transformation, or we risk being yet another casualty of our brave new world.”

Jane Hart: “Whilst some individuals, and indeed some organizations, are beginning to recognize the fact that workplace learning is actually more than that (and is a much more complex picture of how someone learns at, through, and for work), L&D teams still focus on the things that they can organize and manage themselves.”

2. What is the single most important thing an L&D team can do to make an impact on their business this year? Why?

Impact. The group was clearly aligned in expressing the need for L&D get closer to the businesses we support in order to better understand their needs and measure the impact we have on the bottom line. To do so, we need to reframe our questions and address business problems rather than focusing on just learning. This will require L&D to evolve our mindset and introduce a new set of tactics, including design thinking, curation, and data analysis.

To quote the group:

Clark Quinn: “Start measuring your impact. Not your efficiency; not cost/hour, or people served per L&D employee. I mean, start measuring your improvement as a result of your interventions. Otherwise, you’re just operating on hope, and that’s not a sound business basis.”

David Kelly: “It means understanding what your business does and how it operates, and looking at how the work we do in L&D can be best positioned to support the business. That’s what creates value through L&D, and that’s the lens through which we need to be viewing our work. What problem are you solving for your organization?”

Lori Niles-Hoffmann: “Look at the data lake around an organization before designing any content or curriculum.”

3. What one topic or skill should an L&D professional (regardless of role) focus on, in order to deliver the best possible support experience for their audiences this year? Why?

While the answers to the second question were quite consistent, the third question created a pretty long list of topics on which L&D professionals should focus on in order to improve their practices to meet the needs of today’s employees. Overall, the group agreed that an expanded toolkit is essential. The science of learning, including principles such as spaced repetition, was highlighted several times as a critical consideration so we can support people in ways that align to how our brains really function. The group also highlighted consulting skills, including critical thinking, design thinking and data analysis. Finally, there was a clear emphasis on the need for L&D professionals to become better learners ourselves and leverage a variety of resources, including peer networks, to improve our own capabilities.

One more set of quotes:

Karl Kapp: “The more we learn how to apply critical thinking skills like the ability to predict outcomes of an activity, the ability to critically evaluate a potential solution, knowing what questions to ask and what information is missing in order to develop a solution, logically working through inputs and outputs of systems and the ability to ‘connect the dots’ between seemingly unrelated events.”

Will Thalheimer: “Study, absorb, and integrate SCIENCE OF LEARNING wisdom into your learning designs and your learning evaluations. You’ll stop wasting money and time on myth-based learning and learning-evaluation ideas—and you’ll create more effective learning!”

Megan Torrance: “We can learn more about the business, do the job, get as close as we can to the people who are on the front line performing these skills every day—that can only improve our ability to make all the other facets of our role (design, development, analytics, etc.) more effective.”


Again, thank you to our awesome group of contributors. I hope these curated insights from people who are working hard to move the workplace learning industry forward every day will help you make a small but meaningful changes in your work.

To borrow one last quote from Karl Kapp: “I see workplace learning and support practices on an evolutionary path, not a revolutionary path.”

What do YOU think? Where is your focus this year? How can you move the needle on solving business problems through learning?

JD Dillon became an expert on frontline training and enablement over two decades working in operations and talent development with dynamic organizations, including Disney, Kaplan and AMC. A respected author and speaker in the workplace learning community, JD also continues to apply his passion for helping frontline employees around the world do their best work every day in his role as Axonify's Chief Learning Architect.

Let’s work together to drive frontline performance in all the right ways.