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L&D Skills for 2024 and Beyond

Thursday, February 22, 2024

Whether you’re job searching or already working in the L&D field, professional development is likely top-of-mind. L&D practitioners are lifelong learners by nature; we tend to have insatiable curiosity and never-ending stacks of books to be read. But conversations in our industry are often dominated by emerging fads and buzzwords, which may not have long-term significance. It can be difficult to cut through the noise, and for new professionals entering the industry without experience to guide them, the challenge of focusing on what matters is multiplied.

In my experience as an L&D leader, there are a few specific skills that make candidates stand out. Applicants who show proficiency in these skills catch my attention during the hiring process, because I’ve seen that employees who demonstrate these skills have what it takes to succeed.

As you plan your development goals for 2024 and beyond, consider brushing up in the following areas:

Knowledge and application of learning theories

The ability to create effective and engaging learning experiences based on research-based theories and models is the function of all L&D roles. This is the foundation of our profession. Many L&D professionals come into this work through other professions (such as gravitating naturally toward training others in a role you excelled in) but lack formal education in adult learning. As L&D professionals, the unique value we provide our organizations is subject matter expertise in designing and delivering educational content. Being knowledgeable in this area is essential.


A significant portion of an L&D professional’s work relies on strong communication skills. Whether facilitating workshops, converting dry content into exciting learning experiences, or transforming a lengthy slide deck into a concise job aid, communication is at the core of everything we do. Effective communication ensures the appropriate message is delivered to the audience and that the audience is equipped to take action based on the message.


Managing relationships

Having strong, trusting relationships across the organization can make the difference between our projects succeeding or failing. L&D interacts with all other parts of the business, from senior leaders to early talent, as we work in tandem with colleagues throughout the organization and leverage relationships with subject matter experts. A common challenge is that our business partners may not always understand the value L&D brings or the methods we employ, and we may sometimes find ourselves needing to explain our work.

Performance consulting

Many L&D professionals began their career in K–12 or higher education, and while they possess transferrable skills that allow them to succeed in the corporate space, one notable difference is that corporate L&D work is driven by business goals and objectives. Performance consulting is the practice of identifying the root causes of performance gaps and then recommending the most appropriate solution(s) to close those gaps, which may or may not include training. This process ensures an organization’s resources, such as time, budget, and work hours, are used appropriately to drive results. Becoming skilled in performance consulting requires a thorough understanding of how the organization operates, and doing this work successfully elevates the L&D practitioner from order taker to trusted partner.

Data-driven design practices

Measuring results is critical in today’s resource-limited and data-driven organizations. With budgets and resources on the line, it’s incumbent on you to prove that your team and your work are worthy of the company’s investment. Conversations about data and performance happen in all industries where L&D operates, although traditionally L&D has not led this conversation. Today’s highly effective L&D practitioners collect and share data that demonstrates how the learning offerings they create affect learners’ performance on the job. This enables them to show the impact of their work by bringing more than just anecdotal evidence or “smile sheets” to conversations with leaders and decision makers.


Tech savviness

New technologies can be as distracting as they are effective. In recent years, conversations in the L&D industry have been dominated by rapid authoring tools, microlearning platforms, augmented reality, and now artificial intelligence (AI). However, the use of these tools and systems varies widely from company to company. Whether interviewing for a new role or launching a new technology at your current company, consider how the organization should best use various technologies based on their industry or other specific needs. Furthermore, while it can be beneficial to have a working knowledge of how new technologies can be used in L&D, it’s important to not lose focus of why we work in L&D. Be careful to not let techy bells and whistles distract you from the core purpose of your work of creating educational experiences. Fun technologies won’t cover the gap if you’re missing the skills previously mentioned.

Putting it all together

Even though responsibilities and expectations for instructional designers and others in L&D vary widely from organization to organization, gaining proficiency in the areas listed here will guide you in doing more effective work and may distinguish you as a top candidate for new roles. You can do this via formal pursuits like degrees and certificates or informal activities such as joining professional organizations and attending conferences. Additional professional development opportunities include mentorship, job shadowing, and informational interviews with experienced practitioners. Once you have acquired new skills, there are numerous ways to demonstrate proficiency, such as creating a portfolio of work samples and preparing stories to share during interviews.

As lifelong learners whose employers operate in all industries, L&D professionals recognize that there is no shortage of things to learn and areas in which to develop, but the skills listed here will help you to remain relevant and sought after in 2024 and beyond.

About the Author

Laurel Schulert is the senior director of learning experience at SAP Concur. She is an ATD Master Performance Consultant and the past president of the Ann Arbor ATD chapter. She presented at DevLearn 2021 as well as the ATD International Conference & EXPO in 2022 and 2023.

1 Comment
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Laura - Well written and said; as L&OD professionals, lifelong learners should be part of one's bio. We have the capability and do work across all industries sharing and helping others to learn and transfer knowledge and grow.
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