Whenever I am networking at a conference or event, a lot of people ask me, “How did you break out into the learning and development (L&D) field?”
I began my career working in food service as an entry-level associate, where the more senior associates trained the new employees. I was quickly promoted to one of these training roles. As someone new to the training business, I learned the basics from a train-the-trainer class, but that was not enough for me. I wanted to learn as much as I could about the operations and training resources that were available. I spent a significant amount of time after work going through the company portal to learn more skills. I had caught the “training bug”—I just wanted to learn as much as I could about the profession, which is what led me to where I am today.
I’m constantly thinking about developing myself professionally because the world of L&D is always changing. As L&D professionals we have to be able to change and learn new skills to provide value to the profession. One of the first things I did was sign up with ASTD and my local ASTD chapter. That alone helped me tremendously because it planted the seed for my ongoing development. I now have so many resources available for developing myself that I have to prioritize when I use the resources.
For instance, I read ASTD’s T+D magazine from cover to cover. It contains many great topics and a lot of useful information that will help me in my career. When I am involved in learning conversations either in person or online, I’m always able to somehow incorporate the information that I have read. Reading is one of the best ways to learn about topics that I know nothing about. I’m even going back to my college habits and taking notes about certain points to reinforce them in my mind. Or, I’ll take a screen shot of an article so I can look at it later, especially if it’s an image with quick, easy points.
There are tons of ways to stay up-to-date in the field. Whether it’s social media, networking, or both mixed together, I always find some way to involve myself in development. The Internet is a powerful tool that can help us develop our skills; we just have to find what we really need. Reading articles, watching videos, or participating in webinars are great ways to engage.
Over the course of these blog posts, I will take a look at many of these avenues and discuss how they can help develop the skills of an L&D professional. There are many resources at our disposal, so selecting the right ones for your development is very important. I recommend putting whatever you learn into practice—because if you don’t practice the skills, you will never fully learn them.
I am interested in instructional design and eventually want to begin building my skills in learning technology. I even have an informal development plan for myself—I’ve figured out what I am going to learn first in order to build the right foundation. For instance before I can start building my e-learning skills, I need to learn about the instructional design process. Once I understand the process, I’ll understand how e-learning fits as a tool for specific learning programs. Simple steps such as these can make anyone a well-rounded professional.
Your peers and the L&D community are another great resource. Not only are you learning from others, but you can also use the group or network as a sounding board for your own development track and guidance. This can be done in person or through an online platform, such as LinkedIn. Conferences are another great way to network with other L&D professionals. Once you really get to know others in your profession, you will have access to tremendous resources that may help you along in your career. Once you have a solid relationship with someone, you can then think about approaching them for a mentoring opportunity! Mentorships are a great way to explore a particular field and receive guidance on how to get there. Depending on the mentorship, it can also provide a safe environment to discuss any concerns you may have about a particular position.
A lot of what is provided here will be examined on a deeper level in upcoming posts. There are many options for developing your skills as a learning professional—you can choose one mentioned here or discover some of your own. I hope this will help you achieve the skills you desire.