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The new frontier for L&D: from DevOps to LearnOps

by Susan Dumas - August 11, 2016

This blog is about why L&D professionals find it so hard to achieve progress, and how to offer them practical support so that they can make the changes that will truly transform how they work. We had a fascinating conversation with Laura Overton and Jo Cook during a Training Journal Webinar last month, and this has prompted some new reflections. Peter Carlin, Logicearth’s co-founder, and Laura have been supporting L&D professionals for the best part of 20 years. Each has a particular perspective on what is holding L&D back:

 

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What could be holding L&D back from progress?

Laura said:
“L&D loves a ‘model’, whether that’s 70-20-10, gamification, or social learning. We seem to be continually searching for a silver bullet.”  

Peter said:

“The vendor market, both in terms of technology and digital content options, has underserved L&D for years. In many other industries, such as IT, there has been an explosion of low-cost, high-impact solutions to help support and drive business change. We are lagging behind in how we provide support for L&D to do their jobs effectively and deliver for the business.”

Learning from the IT industry

Peter and I both come from an IT background, and we’ve been keenly following the transformation in the IT industry. Cloud computing, in particular, has added agility, flexibility and efficiency to the way IT provides services and supports business. How often have we heard the plea for L&D to be more agile, flexible and efficient? Peter and I have been asking ourselves, ‘What is the cloud-computing equivalent for L&D?’ And we’ve concluded that it lies in a movement called DevOps.

DevOps is a combination of the words ‘development’ and ‘operations’. In older software development models, the process of designing software and subsequently implementing it were carried out separately and by two different teams. DevOps has put an end to that, and has also changed the process of software development. The old ‘waterfall’ method whereby a complete software system was designed, built, and implemented – often before it was tested or used by the business – has been replaced by a more short-burst, rapid prototyping process. This gives two main advantages:

(1) Quicker delivery of solutions

(2) Constant feedback from users, so the solutions are always fit for purpose

Preparing for digital transformation infographic 

Another gain is that it has melded the talents of multiple types of staff. Talk to anyone who works in IT operations or software engineering, and you’ll hear the saying ‘never the twain shall meet’. IT staff are network specialists – hardware folks who roll up their sleeves and make things work. Software engineers are often seen as the more specialist talent, in greater need of support. But to get a software system to work, you need both of these talents to work together.

Such has been the rapid explosion in the pace of business and IT innovation in the last few years that software teams just had to produce code faster. DevOps in particular has contributed to innovation in this area. Integrated teams of IT operational staff and software engineers plan solutions, spot problems quickly, and make sure the user is always considered early on in the development process. Solutions are produced efficiently and iteratively, and there are fewer long-waits and long system rollouts.

Introducing ‘LearnOps’

So, what if we could apply this sort of approach to L&D? Well, it would mean that we’d no longer think of L&D as a separate part of the business. We’d be combining ‘learning’ specialists with ‘operational’ specialists, and starting to think specifically about solving business challenges. And L&D teams would seek out other staff to ascertain if their solutions were actually needed. Everything would be focused on the business and the end user. L&D would also have the support needed to truly make an impact on the business.

Our thoughts on ‘LearnOps’ are only at a formative stage at the moment, and we’ll blog more about it again. For now, we’d welcome your thoughts. We aren’t advocating this as a model like gamification or social learning – instead, we see it more as a framework that L&D and the business can start to use together to drive the change that is needed. We'd welcome your comments.

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