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L&D’s Playbook for the Digital Age

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L&D’s Playbook for the Digital Age


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Future-proof your workforce for the digital age. 

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Sweeping technological change has the potential to spark an employment crisis, explains learning expert Brandon Carson. Can your business develop its workforce to keep pace? To answer “yes,” you must generate new approaches to corporate learning – and reimagine the nature of work itself. 


  • Technological convergence requires rethinking L&D.
  • Rapid urbanization and technological advancements are driving business change.
  • Integrate L&D into your strategic plan.
  • Empower your workers to take responsibility and work collaboratively.
  • You must reskill your workers en masse to avoid an existential business crisis.
  • Create a learning strategy that fully embraces the digital age.
  • Rethink what it means to be an employee.
  • Prepare for an unpredictable future with a pliable L&D strategy.


Technological convergence requires rethinking L&D.

In less than half a century, technological developments helped connect nearly every person on the planet – a massive convergence that dramatically alters the human experience and the future of work. The digital age requires rapid acceleration and increased complexity from businesses. To thrive, organizations must radically redefine how they view work and how they engage with talent.

Despite increases in data, declining computation costs, and the rapid pace of technological innovation and evolution, organizations often rely on outdated approaches to corporate learning. Your new L&D strategy should enable your business to adapt to technological changes. Start by identifying your company’s purpose – which informs your mission statement – and draft a document outlining your vision for long-term success. 

Rapid urbanization and technological advancements are driving business change.

Three factors trigger the need for widespread changes to L&D strategies:

  1. Globalization and migration – How people work and live together is changing dramatically, with rapid urbanization occurring on a global scale as megacities flourish. For example, in China, around a million people move to urban areas weekly – a fifth of people living in urban centers worldwide will live in China by 2030. Africa is likely to have 17 megacities, each of over five million people, by 2030. India will have over 400 million urban inhabitants by 2050. Historically, cities grow during periods of rapid technological innovation. COVID-19 may inspire some people to relocate to the suburbs, but urbanization will remain an unstoppable force, with city dwellers benefiting most from technological advances, and cities serving as a hotbed for diverse talent that drives innovation.
  2. Technological evolution – L&D must accommodate the human and economic impacts of technological innovation. Data is more available than ever, due to falling hardware costs and advances in computing power, data storage, processing and transmission. View your company’s data as economic data, because if you develop the tools to analyze it, you can leverage it to generate profit. McKinsey estimates AI’s contributions across industries will surpass $13 trillion by 2030. AI’s rise will be fueled by migrating your data and resources to the cloud.
  3. New models of work – Future workers will perform most tasks alongside machines; companies must prepare employees for this new model. Businesses must find effective ways to link the work done by humans with that performed by robots, intelligent machines and software. Create workplace cultures that respect workers’ humanity. Show employees appreciation, provide feedback and offer growth opportunities. Respect their work-life balance and create inclusive cultures. 

Integrate L&D into your strategic plan.

The exponential pace of technological development may make you uncomfortable. Embrace new practices to accommodate the speed of change. Address skills shortages by fostering a culture that values and supports continuous learning. Derive greater value from your L&D approach by increasing investment in upskilling and training – on par with investments in your business technology. Integrate L&D into your strategic plan, creating direct communication channels between your company’s CEO and L&D to generate accountability. 

“Business requires more and more high-quality work from high-performing humans. How L&D helps them achieve that performance is where its value now lies.”

The 2020 pandemic demonstrates the importance of creating strategies that embrace uncertainty, while creating value in fast, scalable ways. As you assess and redesign your approach to L&D, keep the following necessities in mind:

  • View innovation as inseparable from strategy.
  • Meet shifting customer expectations by cultivating understanding of the problems they need solving.
  • Create a positive, supportive work environment.
  • Consider multiple perspectives before forming opinions and taking action. 

Empower your workers to take responsibility and work collaboratively.

Workers today thrive when employers adopt the TRAC (Teams, Responsibility, Autonomy, Creativity) work archetype: 

  • Leverage the power of teamwork and collaboration. 
  • Help workers take responsibility for their efforts by directly connecting them to the impacts of their work. 
  • Empower workers to shape their own careers.
  • Encourage employees to approach problems creatively. 
“The art of work-team design is assembling complementary skills to foster shared vision and a collective capability to rely on each other’s skills to get the work done.”

Relationship-building within small teams helps create conditions for scalable learning. Don’t simply focus on individual skills, such as the ability to work with a specific technology. Your employees should possess the social skills to work collaboratively. 

The World Economic Forum says workers should build the following capabilities to thrive in the future: analytical and innovative thinking; active learning; technological proficiency; emotional intelligence; social influence; leadership; flexibility, stress-tolerance; resilience; service orientation; negotiation; persuasion; complex problem-solving; reasoning and ideation.

You must reskill your workers en masse to avoid an existential business crisis.

Businesses are in the midst of switching from traditional modes of learning to more personalized digital learning experiences. Inventory your existing capabilities, assessing whether you have the right people, knowledge and skills in place for this transition. Examine your infrastructure: Do you have the processes, technologies, rules and staff in place to realize your digital strategies? Decide whether to replace all of your existing systems with digital systems. If you don’t, it’s likely workers will adopt the new systems more slowly, as they will continue to rely, primarily, on the ones they already know. 

“Change will not come as incremental alterations to which businesses can easily adapt, but rather as fundamental, potentially destabilizing transitions that will require substantial investment, agility and new strategic thinking.”

Businesses are facing a crisis, as they need millions of workers to migrate to new skillsets. You must reskill cognitive and physical workers – taking the growing schism between the two forms of labor into account, while considering whether opportunities remain for workers you can’t reskill. Focus on developing worker literacies in technology, data and the human dimensions of work. Consider how human workers can then perform in ways machines cannot. Identify potential leaders who have the charisma, intelligence, strategic thinking, flexibility and agility to inspire people to follow them. 

Your chief learning officer (CLO) should possess three competencies:

  • Understand how your business operations and strategy can drive alignment and transformational change. 
  • Digital expertise and the ability to identify technology’s potential value. 
  • Knowledge of the most powerful strategies to support people’s learning, boost performance and create needed behavioral changes.

Create a learning strategy that fully embraces the digital age.

Develop a learning analytics strategy to harness the value of L&D at your company. Write playbook transition strategies to help you move from outdated practices to a digitally literate, data-driven future. 

Expand your capabilities in L&D by ensuring you have the following team members:

  • A performance consultant – who creates alignment between your business needs and workplace realities.
  • A data analyst – who leverages the power of data analytics to support informed L&D decision-making.
  • A learning engineer – who combines the science of learning with human-centric engineering methods and data analytics. 
  • An instructional designer – who synthesizes knowledge to create learning experiences. 

Create a learning ecosystem by combining systems, resources and people to support individualized learning and career pathways, accessible via a digital platform called an LMS (learning management system).

“Learning is the result of interaction, and the design of the learning experience dictates how robust that interaction is and how successful it is at closing performance gaps and changing behavior.”

Future-proof your business; reshape its function to drive more value by creating a section in your playbook that addresses each of the following:

  • Your specific transformation journey – Be specific about what you leave behind, your intended outcome and the tactical steps necessary to reach that outcome. 
  • Change your mind-set – Shift toward a business-focused culture of continuous learning and development, ensuring your playbook is flexible and amendable.
  • Assess your team’s capabilities – Document this assessment, as well as the tools you need to upskill and develop your workforce.
  • Create a data strategy – Consider how to measure the effectiveness of L&D and the tools, processes and resources required. Make sure your entire team has the data literacy to harvest the analytics and metrics you need to build a cohesive narrative about the business outcomes of your new approach to L&D.
  • Create a governance framework – Clarify how governance will create alignment between L&D at your company and its stakeholders. Strengthen partnerships by defining learning in terms of Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) and core competencies.

Rethink what it means to be an employee.

Employers who attract and retain high-quality talent in the future will consider employees’ holistic well-being, while, at the same time, rethinking the paradigm of what it means to be an employee. The notion of an employees’ physical presence in an office building as a KPI is obsolete – focus instead on productivity and output. Hire employees whose strengths lie in critical thinking and innovation, and shape environments that support worker autonomy and agile problem-solving. Create a strong employee brand that resonates with the talent you hope to attract and that differentiates you from your competition.

“Employee engagement manifests itself through the work people do. If people find their work meaningful, rewarding and supported, they will find satisfaction in what they’re doing.”

Engage employees by helping your people find meaning and value in their work. Focus on developing leadership skills. Celebrate accomplishments. Offer individualized coaching and learning opportunities, and help people create goals that stretch them. Connect business outcomes to individual contributions, while still creating a sense of team belonging and inclusion. Consider integrating lifelong learning programs into L&D, and welcome the contributions workers can make at their various life stages.

Prepare for an unpredictable future with a pliable L&D strategy.

It’s impossible to precisely predict your company’s future, so your L&D strategy must be pliable. It must consider multiple possible scenarios and draw on past lessons to prepare for future challenges. Plan for multiple scenarios by considering these factors:

  • Probable acquisition activity and mergers. 
  • The effects of transitioning from individual to team-based performance metrics. 
  • Any shifts in key KPIs. 
  • Technological changes, such as increased automation. 
  • The effects of remote work on collaboration and innovation.

Update your L&D playbook frequently. Every company faces massive disruption, but this tumult provides opportunities to re-imagine your L&D strategy.

About the Author

Innovative learning strategist Brandon Carson also wrote Learning in the Age of Immediacy: 5 Factors for How We Connect, Communicate, and Get Work Done.

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