Courtney Vital, vice president of learning at the Association for Talent Development, describes herself as a learning leader for learning leaders—and for good reason. ATD is the largest association for professionals who develop others in the workplace, and its membership reflects individuals from all over the world, in all industries and sectors. ATD is focused on advancing talent development, convening a community of people who do talent development work, and supporting them with the necessary knowledge and resources.
In this episode of the Leading Learning Podcast, co-host Celisa Steele talks with Courtney about how the pandemic forced us to rethink in-person learning as the default, the need for equitable experiences in hybrid learning, and the role of credentials in elevating the learning and development industry. They also discuss ATD’s Talent Development Capability Model, a future-focus for the learning profession, and the skyrocketing importance of intentionality in learning design.
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[00:00] – Intro
COVID’s Impact on ATD
[01:57] – How has COVID impacted ATD’s work and the work of those you’re serving?
The physical workplace and the needs of employees and organizations have massively shifted. COVID has impacted just about everything that learning and development professionals have to respond to. They have to ensure the workers they serve have the skills they need in order to maintain business continuity and be ready for the post-pandemic future.
While it feels odd to say, COVID was beneficial—it solidified learning and development’s essential role in ensuring business continuity and maintaining day-to-day operations as people had to shift to a remote work environment. ATD lost the ability to bring learners together physically, but it also sped up work they were already doing in developing digital solutions.
The Future of Hybrid, Blended, and In-Person Learning
Pre-COVID, in-person was really seen many times as the default or as the preferred option, where it were to be available. And I think what we’re seeing now is a planned kind of intentionality around how format or modality can be used…. [O]ftentimes that leads to a blended learning experience because it’s really about what are the learning outcomes I’m trying to deliver for the participant, and then figuring out the most effective way to do that. And, if you’re coming with that perspective, inevitably, you’re going to be making recommendations or decisions around an integrated kind of solutions approach.Courtney Vital
It’s also about intentionality in figuring out how to elevate the learning experience itself. If we’re going to compel individuals who may be working at home to come back to an in-person classroom, organizations need to be thinking about new ways to offer the types of experience people will look for when coming together. It’s about ensuring that, when you are together as a community, what’s happening is the most appropriate experience to drive larger learning outcomes.
[08:09] – Where are we headed with hybrid learning?
One of the biggest challenges with hybrid learning is delivering an equitable and consistent experience for both audiences—particularly when in-person is seen as the preferred place for learning to happen.
One risk of hybrid is if the people who are there physically drive the experience, which can create a sense of disconnect for the learners who are not there physically. To be successful with hybrid learning, we need to be intentional and make we design effective ways for the learning outcomes to be achieved for all learners. We need to consider assessment and how the learners will demonstrate skills or knowledge and receive feedback.
All the things that are core to a successful learning opportunity have to be planned equally for both the in-person and the online learners. If that’s not possible, then hybrid may not be an appropriate option.
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The Role of Certifications and Other Credentials in Learning and Talent Development
[11:53] – What role do you see certifications and other kinds of credentials playing in learning and talent development?
Today learners have so many ways to acquire the knowledge and get the information the need. Certifications and credentials establish a standard and then give people an opportunity to validate that they’ve met that standard. Credentials represent a different level of consideration a learner has taken.
There’s an aspirational element or a growth element to that and really setting that bar of where we want a particular industry to be. It’s about professionalization or where an individual wants to go, depending on their role or goal, and providing an opportunity for them to learn what they need to learn, oftentimes convening with a community of people, whether that’s through a formal learning event or going through the certification process. Oftentimes we hear that that’s one of the most valuable parts of getting a certification is building that community of people who are going through the same process. It has that element of really bringing up a professional or an entire industry.Courtney Vital
See our related episode “Generational Shifts and Alternative Credentials with Jim Fong of UPCEA.”
[14:12] – Are there any recent shifts or trends in credentials or certifications worth taking note of?
With LinkedIn and other sources of information showcasing what skills or experiences an individual has, people want to not only learn what they need to learn and achieve their professional goals, but they want to have validation and share that validation. This is driving the shift towards digital badging.
Currently many people are reconsidering what they want out of their work, which has led to the Great Resignation. Those job and career changes will necessitate people learning new skills and then having an opportunity to show and share those skills so those skills are seen by prospective employers or other individuals who help those individuals achieve their professional goals.
The latest iteration of the Talent Development Capability Model was launched in 2020, and it answers the question, “What do talent development professionals need to know and do in order to be successful?” It represents a major research effort on ATD’s part to ask the professionals it serves what they do, what skills they need in order to be effective, and think about how that will evolve in the coming years.
Over 3,000 people participated in the study behind the capability model. ATD, working with experts, volunteers, and practitioners, then analyzed and synthesized the gathered information into a visual representation of the knowledge and skills that talent development professionals need not only today but in the future. The Talent Development Capability Model helps ATD look intentionally at where the field is going and how competency requirements are changing.
Listen to Morgean Hirt, director of credentialing at ATD, provide an overview of the Talent Development Capability Model.
[18:34] – An earlier iteration of the Talent Development Capability Model was called a competency model. What is the distinction between competency and capability?
By definition, competence is about having the knowledge and skills to perform a job. Capability is more growth-oriented and aspirational. Capability implies a desire to achieve a new future state.
When ATD went through the process of building the latest model, it got feedback that competence suggests a minimum requirement while capability felt in line with the model’s focus on the skills talent development professionals need today in order to be successful in the future.
Competency Models and Competency-Based Learning
[20:15] – What’s the current state of competency models and competency-based learning?
Competency models are becoming more known about and widely understood, which Courtney views as a positive development. Models are beneficial in that they can help us take complex information and make it easier to understand—though that’s not always the case with competency models. Sometimes they are complex and can be hard to digest.
Digital tools and technology offer an opportunity to create models and frameworks that are more than static resources, things that can be put to use and drilled into. (This is something ATD has done with its Talent Development Capability Model.) Technology can enable competency models to be more focused on application.
For many learning businesses, competency models are frameworks for product development, for standard setting, or to align certification programs with. Courtney sees those uses increasing but also a greater understanding of the practical value the competency models can bring. There’s more intent on making a competency model useful and prioritizing the ability for somebody who’s engaging with it to get maximum value. With technology, people are able to figure out the best ways to personalize and make the competency model most relevant for them.
Trends in Learning and Talent Development
[22:48] – Are there broad trends or developments in learning or talent development that you see as significant and worth attention?
Courtney notes that there will always be a revolving set of emerging trends in learning—and learning technology and learning science tend to be fertile ground for emerging trends.
Courtney loves the increased focus on understanding how the brain takes in information, makes sense of it, and performs the cognitive processes associated with learning. She thinks it’s tremendously beneficial for anyone in a learning business to have a basic understanding of learning science so they can draw on that understanding in developing experiences that help learners do something differently as a result of those experiences.
If you’re looking for a practical, concrete way to help your presenters to deliver more effective, impactful learning experiences rooted in learning science, check out our course “Presenting For Impact.”
Another trend, and one that may not typically be thought of, is change management. The ATD Talent Development Capability Model offers people the opportunity to assess their proficiency in all areas of the model, and ATD consistently sees that change management is an area of opportunity for talent development professionals.
It is interesting if you consider that we have been in the VUCA world—volatile, uncertain, complex, ambiguous…. I think what we’re seeing with change management now is it’s not just about thinking about and planning for these bigger changes in society or the workplace landscape. It’s about how are we going to use our effective change management skills to keep the day-to-day moving while also ensuring that our organizations and our people continue to thrive. And that’s a really challenging balance. And I think being able to plan for, facilitate, communicate, and navigate that change is just increasingly critical for talent development.Courtney Vital
Key Components of an Effective Learning Ecosystem
[25:43] – What do you see as the key components of or factors that contribute to an effective learning ecosystem?
An effective learning ecosystem is concerned with planning and thinking about how you can make your offering as diverse as possible, realizing that it’s not a one-size-fits-all. Learning in the moment of need is critical. There is a huge spectrum when ATD considers the types of learning opportunities or experiences that any one of its constituents might be looking for.
Effective Partnerships and Collaborations
[27:48] – What are your thoughts on what goes into making effective partnerships or collaborations?
With the very beneficial increased emphasis on diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI), it becomes essential to think about ways to reach out and get access to information, people, content, insights, and thought processes that are outside of our typical.
ATD is doing some work on DEI and trying to help equip talent development professionals with what they need in that area. Partnerships offer untapped potential, and we need to consider how to leverage partnerships to gain access to new insights, content, and learning experiences that audiences are looking for.
For ATD, this often shows up in their global work. With the disruptions driven by the pandemic, they’re seeing a lot of the barriers to entry lowered. For example, the ability for people to convene or come together to learn in a virtual environment has fewer barriers than when people come together in person. Online learning offers a tremendous opportunity to reach more people than ever before.
Advice for Learning Businesses
[30:23] – What advice do you have for organizations that are in this business of lifelong learning, continuing education, and professional development to help ensure that they’re going to thrive in the future?
Courtney suggests focusing on data and technology and figuring out how to harness both of those to achieve your strategy.
So much of where we often are is time- and resource-challenged. And it can be very difficult to plan our efforts around how do we ensure that we have the right customer insights or member insights or audience insights in order to not just plan for today but really make sure that we’re thinking years into the future. It’s challenging. It takes a lot of expertise and time and planning to make sure that we’re getting access to that data in a way that is aligned to the realities of the workday.Courtney Vital
From a technology perspective, the need for increased technology acumen in the people who are designing, developing, delivering, and managing learning products and experiences has grown. The most successful learning businesses will figure out how to create get that technology acumen in the people who are driving the strategy so they can then build the right learning technology infrastructure.
[33:25] – Wrap-up
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