How learning can promote innovation

by L&D16 Nov 2016
Michael Noble, CLO and executive vice president at Allen Communication, told Chief Learning Officer that few industries can keep theory and practice as proximate and immediate as learning.
He pointed out that “treating everyday needs as an opportunity to experiment” can lead to better results and innovation.

“The biggest challenges may not be cost, time or talent, but corporate preference for transactional rather than consultative support,” he said.

“With some initiative and determination, both leaders and learning practitioners can move from being learning producers/providers to strategic advisors.”

Below, Noble invites us to consider 10 ideas on how to build a performance lab within a learning and development organisation:
Stay current with the industry

All professionals need inspiration — even a mad or highly creative scientist. The organic approach to staying current doesn’t work very well, however. Instead, use a systematic approach with a combination of push-and-pull resources, some that come automatically, as well as a select few requiring initiative. Be sure to follow the industry marketplace, professional organisations, conferences, blogs, Twitter feeds, etc.

Keep a running list of ideas to try out

Some experiments will have to go into an annual plan and budget. These are the bigger ideas, and usually only one or two of these is feasible each year. But smaller ideas also can provide opportunities for innovation..

Track something now, and plan how to track more 

lab without measurement isn’t a very good Begin by working with what already exists. Metrics on completion and self-reported, learner satisfaction are better than nothing, but they are only a start.

Leverage technologies — what already exists and what is easily available

Sometimes, the technology itself becomes the innovation. Focusing on objectives highlights measurement rather than fulfilment and helps establish whether the technical innovation is worthwhile and cost effective. And, if new tech isn’t part of the annual budget, ingenuity with existing in-house tech may be required. More than 70% of LMS features are rarely, if ever, used, and many are designed to support strategies like mobile, gamification and social learning.

Be wary of standards and long-term commitments 

It always seems like a good idea to put standards and policies in place. It is more efficient and can help with quality. It also can become an obstacle to innovation. If the standards dictate specific tools, UX guidelines and other parameters, designers and developers will play it safe and follow the guidelines.

Find a good lab partner 

Identify a stakeholder with similar goals, someone who is willing to try something different. A good lab partner has lots of needs and is savvy enough to know that a conventional solution may have no advantage over a newer one.

Market the work and build a brand 

Without marketing and communication, the momentum from success can be quickly lost. What sort of brand does learning have in the organisation? Changing the brand and talking about creating a lab environment focused on outcomes may disrupt the status quo enough to make it easier to find future champions.

Get out of the content business

Being in the content business will bog down a lab; content updates don’t equate with innovation. Finding the right balance between supporting business units and enabling them to offload content responsibility can be difficult. By working toward a model where learning and development owns instructional strategy and approach while the business units own content expertise, the learning leader can set expectations.

Combine research with lab testing

A lot of research already has been done — individual research almost always benefits from contextualization. For example, there is no need to reinvent a UX for mobile learning when there is already excellent UX data available. That said, lab testing can promote a good mix of book smarts and street smarts.

Participate in the discussion

Research and thought work is rarely done in isolation. Imagine a novice arriving late for discussion that started long ago. The novice sits down and listens for a short while to better understand the context of the ongoing discussion. Before long, they realize they will get more out of the discussion by participating and contributing their own.