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ATD Blog

Discover the Skills L&D Pros Need to Succeed

Tuesday, July 13, 2021

Whether new or tenured with advanced degrees or ones from the school of hard knocks, learning and development professionals must advance their consulting skills. Our industry is unique in that most practicing professionals come into their roles “by accident” and perhaps haven’t worked with leaders on big picture training strategies and their organizational results.

Being an instructional designer, trainer, or education director is often a second or third career for many L&D professionals. This is surely true for me. Prior to serving in various training roles, I was a marketing manager and (after completing my PhD) a professor of educational research and sociology. In the worlds of marketing and academic research, data and analytics are engrained in the everyday work experience. When I stepped into my first L&D role, I was surprised that the learning department wasn’t regularly incorporating key performance indicators (KPIs) and business metrics in its overall training strategy. The reason for this wasn’t due to a limited understanding of KPIs or business metrics. The reason was a department-wide lack of confidence consulting with executive leaders to identify what exact business metrics their training initiatives could or should influence.

It takes courage to ask your supervisor, “Why is this training needed now?” and “What does success look like?” But strategic consulting is the primary skill L&D professionals need in today’s economic climate. Strategic consulting involves connecting the dots between learning initiatives, KPIs, and business results. It is the ability to demonstrate how time and money invested in any learning solution has positively influenced the bottom line.

Three important habits will increase your consulting skills. Work on these habits consistently and in stepwise fashion.


Build Your Knowledge of the Fundamental Theories of Adult Learning

A recent trend discussed by tenured talent development professionals and academic researchers worldwide is the disconnect between learning science, educational theories, and common practices within corporate training and personal development education. This trend suggests there is a serious gap between theory and practice. Learning science and educational theory offer the best frameworks and standards for L&D professionals to follow to ensure training initiatives have the greatest impact. In addition, many of these theories and models (such as Kirkpatrick’s evaluation model, Bloom’s taxonomy, and the 70-20-10 model) offer simple steps and strategies to help you connect the dots between learning initiatives, KPIs, and business metrics. If you are ever unsure of how to improve the impact of training, consult the fundamental theories of education, adult learning, and instructional design. You’ll likely find some inspiration.


Stay Informed of How Adult Learning Theories and Models Are Applied in Diverse Learning Contexts

All good coaches and consultants will tell you that to be successful, you must possess a deep knowledge of best practices and recent trends in your industry. The Greek philosopher Heraclitus once said, “The only constant in life is change.” While we must be fluent in fundamental theories of adult learning and instructional design, we must also be aware of how those theories are applied in different contexts and change over time. To balance your knowledge of fundamentals and trends, set aside time to regularly review research, listen to podcasts, and read books featuring issues in the global economy and within our industry.

Embrace New Technologies While Holding Steadfast to the Fundamentals of What Constitutes Good, Effective, Transformative Learning

To build impactful learning experiences, talent development professionals must integrate technology solutions like learning experience or management platforms, virtual classrooms, and artificial intelligence with learning theories such as the forgetting curve, the 70-20-10 model, and humanistic design. eLearning and the Science of Instruction shares entertaining history of how community leaders once believed the radio and television would transform the way people learn. Grasp, which features the science behind human learning, recalls B.F Skinner’s teaching machines of the early 1950s. These machines were believed to be the tool that would revolutionize education. Neither the radio, television, nor Skinner’s teaching machines were the source of educational revolution because they did not alter the principles of how humans absorb, recall, and apply information to their lives. We must remember these lessons. Technology tools are resources to enhance the experience of learning—not to replace it. A few technology solutions that offer exciting enhancements include:

  • PocketConfidant: An artificial intelligence designed to facilitate self-reflection
  • Arist: A text-based course builder for when mobile phones are the primary training delivery method
  • Howspace: An AI-informed virtual collaboration platform

To advocate for good learning today while preparing to be a successful contributor or leader of the future requires strategic consulting skills. The ability to consult leaders and peers how to incorporate new technologies, positively influence the business bottom line while upholding high-quality learning standards is a skill that will stand the test of time regardless of what role you play in the L&D industry.

About the Author

Academic turned entrepreneur, Alaina Szlachta is the founder of By Design Development Solutions, a boutique learning design firm specializing in data-driven curriculum writing and measuring the results of training by building measurement strategies into the flow of learning. Szlachta has played nearly every role in the knowledge industry during the past 15 years, including professor of higher education, corporate trainer, director of training, instructional designer, researcher, and former competitive public speaker. She has proudly served industry experts in higher education, diversity and inclusion, finance, victim services, real estate, healthcare, and SaaS.

Connect with Alaina on LinkedIn or via her website at

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