There’s No Single Path to the Learning Leader Role

abstract concept of multiple paths to learning leader role

abstract concept of multiple paths to learning leader roleThe article, No Status Quo for the CLO, on the Chief Learning Officer magazine website describes what those of us in this profession have known for quite some time: There’s no single path to the learning leader role. Learning leaders are a diverse bunch and the story of how we all arrived in this profession varies from person to person.

Most of Us Followed Non-Traditional Career Paths

The article notes a survey conducted by Chief Learning Officer that asked CLOs to share their career path. Close to half of those surveyed rose up in their field through the L&D function, but most learned the ropes of our business outside the domain of education. Many worked in management or other business-facing jobs before transitioning to L&D.

The article doesn’t mention roles beyond CLO, but this career trajectory is common in our profession. From my experience training other learning leaders, I would say the percentage of those that followed a non-traditional career path is even higher in other L&D roles. Many L&D practitioners landed in this field because they proved to be subject matter experts (SMEs) in areas where others needed to learn.

Own Your SME Status, But Extend Your Expertise

Businesses often draft SMEs to teach others. It’s a common and even logical reaction when a training need arises around a specialized topic. In fact, this is often how learning departments are born. They form around a group of SMEs who know a topic well and often enjoy teaching others. As learning departments grow, and the need to scale arises, organizations move beyond using the SME to teach and instead, programs are created by learning professionals using SME content knowledge and trained facilitators to teach the classes.

There is nothing wrong with taking different paths into the learning leader role. Often past experience in other business disciplines is helpful when running a learning department. But excitement, passion, and even subject expertise cannot guarantee success. It is important to embrace your status as an SME. However, to build your career in learning on a firmer foundation, you need to extend your skill set beyond your subject area. Commit to match your subject expertise with the expertise needed to be successful in the learning profession. Buttress your SME knowledge with instructional design (ID) skills.

Success in the Learning Leader Role Depends on ID Skills

Why does securing instructional design skill matter for the learning leader? The results from programs are determined by the way a learning program is designed. Without these skills you cannot understand the methods that lead to results or prove the effectiveness of your learning programs. The design of the program clarifies the learning targets. The end goal of all learning is behavior change. Those changes provide the clearest evidence of learning program success. Without proper design, job behavior outcomes are not targeted and the means to measure learning is not created. It’s not enough to simply deliver content or pass on knowledge. If you master ID, then you’ll know how to create measurable, quantifiable learning. These skills give you the hard evidence that your bosses and peers demand to see.

What defines instructional design skill? Designers are able to do the following:

  • Incorporate intended outcomes in learning analysis and design
  • Connect learning outcomes to job changes and organizational improvements
  • Design learning targeted to job behavior and corresponding organizational metrics
  • Identify effective instructional methods
  • Identify barriers to application of learning
  • Diagnose and repair design strategies/methods
  • Diagnose and repair learning “points of failure” as it progresses through the organization
  • Measure learning outcomes in terms of behavior changes and metric changes
  • Evaluate the changes to the learner, their job, and the organization due to the learning program

When you read that list of ID skills, how many do you possess? eParamus offers Measurable Instructional Design® Certification where you can gain those skills. How necessary is ID knowledge to success in the learning leader role? I would argue it’s essential. If you had a non-traditional career path, but would like to learn the mechanics of instructional design, contact us here at eParamus. We can teach you the valuable tools needed to design measurable, repeatable, effective learning programs.

Please follow eParamus on LinkedIn and feel free to connect with me, Laura Paramoure, PhD to discuss your specific learning challenges.

Photo copyright: Viktoriya Malova / 123RF Stock Photo


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