This week we hear the thoughts and opinions of Mark Ryan Director of Talent Development at global academic publisher John Wiley & Sons.  Mark & his team  are responsible for management and leadership development, talent development, performance, organizational development and  change and transformation across Wiley globally.

In your opinion what is the biggest anxiety within the world of learning and development at the moment?

I think one of the anxieties in learning and development, though not necessarily the biggest, is the pressure to stay current and relevant when it comes to your development offering particularly given higher learner expectations, the speed which new practices emerge and ever shifting demands. Often your learners are ahead of you when it comes to the latest trend or development practice, having done their own research and analysis. When you are publishing content in the talent and development space, as my current  organization does, it becomes a little more intense when your employees perhaps have greater insights (or in-depth knowledge) in to specific areas than you have. Whilst you need to be innovative and experimental in your approaches, it isn’t to say that you should necessarily be taken in by the new fad, model or practice as they go away as quickly as they came and are typically as rehash or something that exists already. Your learners will quickly see through it too. But learners do want content and learning to be available in different ways, the option to learn with others, to learn alone, to be guided by another or to be left to explore. Fundamentally the focus has to be on what makes the individual and organization more effective, but delivered in a way that engages challenges and inspires your audience. Did I mention the continued challenge of investment in development and the ability to measure its impact? I probably should.

Who or what is informing your thinking around L&D?

My networks and learning partners have been incredibly value to me. Having done quite a bit of work with development partners in the innovation, change and transformation space, it has been great to pull on them, but also their networks too. In the innovation space, I have noticed how willing people are to share their thinking or ideas and work with me to continue to share that knowledge or apply that knowledge in different ways. Perhaps I have been lucky. There are also people within my organization who have a real desire to make a difference and share their learnings and again through collective effort we have been able to create or provide platforms for them to present ideas and run experimental sessions based on latest thinking or areas of interest.

Having come across the work of Jane Hart recently I can absolutely relate to her view of Modern Workplace Learning and the recognition that learning happens in many different ways; much more than training and e-learning.  American Express’ approach to raising employee awareness of what learning is and where it happens also strikes a chord. Their Learning Path programs to teach learners “how”— not just “what”—to learn.

Rita McGrath’s work on Transient Advantage is worth a read, especially in the context of both alignment of L&D strategy with organisational strategy and the ever changing environment. I certainly recommend it.

What is the most exciting innovation on the horizon for learning?

Not an original answer, but technology has an obvious role. However I would add that it is how this technology is used to foster learning,  that is key. I think we are starting to move beyond traditional approaches to learning, whether face to face or e-learning and looking at how we can present content in different ways and create spaces for individuals to learn. We know individuals learn from their peers, so there is real opportunity to embrace online social collaboration tools and communities and give them the means to share thoughts but connect learners to other content that exists.  There is a space for online courses, but short mini sessions or learning  ‘objects’  and video can be equally powerful.  Gamification is something I have yet to delve into but if a huge amount of learning comes from experience, perhaps there is real opportunity in creating virtual spaces where colleagues are applying learning directly.

What “game changers” would you like to see and why?

I believe a real mind- shift is needed in how we look at learning and development, not just in organisations, but within the L&D Community itself.  There is a need to challenge traditional perceptions of development, beyond the classroom. We need to get organsiations to see that learning and development is not the sole responsibility of the L&D function, but both managers and individuals have a role. Having recently read about Gen Y, it is clear that new generations of employees want to experience things quickly, they want to collaborate, they want support in identifying what skills they need, but they also want a mentor relationship with their manager.  If organisations are serious about developing talent, then this requires resources; both time and financial.

L&D professionals also need to shift their thinking and not apply traditional approaches to opportunities that new technologies bring. We have seen how class room presentation style training has transferred into e-learning courses, but sometimes with little imagination on how the technology can be harnessed.  Knowing that individuals can easily turn to the web to solve their problems, we need to be seen to offering some ‘value’ in the learning we provide (or perhaps enable) and responsive to individual needs and preferences. As with American Express, we have to support individuals in how to learn, so they get the most out of an activity or opportunity.

What do you think the world of L&D will look like by 2020?

I think given the context above, the role of L&D has to become broader.  I think the L&D professional will need to be a jack of all trades, one minute, an expert facilitator, the next an instructional designer, the next an online community manager and the next a change agent and so on. As a result we should be looking at recruiting/attracting individuals in technology, communication, marketing and design into the learning space or developing these capabilities within.

I would add that thee appears to be a growing commitment by organisations to the  management and development of talent and I am hopeful that organisations are beginning to recognize the value of investing in this area – and that when times are difficult we don’t automatically look at what we can cut from the ‘Training budget’

What advice would you give your 21 year old self?

It’s okay to experiment, and by which I mean it is okay if some ideas just don’t translate or fail. It sounds cliché but I have found through failures and errors there is real learning. Sometimes I have knowingly set something up that will cause irritation or allow criticism, just to get a debate going. People are quick to critique, but then they offer thoughts/alternatives which prove really valuable and challenge your own assumptions.  Also, you can never please everyone, although that’s the challenge!

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