Decentralizing L&D to support a successful learning culture: 5 key takeaways (Ep4)

How can you demonstrate business value early on to control groups? How do you identify the right business problems to solve? How do you decentralize learning and development to support a more scalable learning culture? Lars Hyland, Chief Learning Officer at Totara Learning answers these questions and more – check out our 5 key takeaways below!

Lars Hyland decentralizing L&D

About Lars

Lars supports over 16 million learners and 1,700 organizations through technology solutions. Lars brings over 27 years of experience in the design and implementation of large-scale learning programs and performance improvement solutions. He has worked with a wide range of international organizations across most sectors. Lars has seen trends come and go, but like Simon, he has always been an advocate of people-centered learning.

Hear what Lars had to say on the Learning at Large Podcast

Subscribe to Learning at Large:

apple badge podcast google badge podcast spotify badge podcast
Or search for “Learning at Large” on your podcast player of choice.

Here are our 5 key takeaways from the episode

1. Learning technology should balance built-in project cycles with “just in time” performance support for the greatest impact.

“I think through to those who are in the business and are fulfilling particular functions for them, for that business—there’s a shift from just being case training abstracted away from your everyday work and swinging that much more towards “just in time” performance support built into the workflow. Having learning opportunities or support pop up for you as and when you need. And that could pop up in the form of colleagues being aware of things alongside you, and it can also be some automated hints, tips, and direction to more formal learning requirements that might be out in the “elsewhere” across the ecosystem that you have, the learning infrastructure that you have.”

“So, the learning platform that you choose has to be multifaceted. You have the ability to really plug in or shape it around those needs—and not just shape it once, but reshape it constantly. And I think that’s quite a shift in thinking for many people, because we’re always locked in a project cycle. And if you talk to any learning technology services company or software company, they often are responding to projects. They’re not really necessarily brought in to participate properly as part of a deeper strategic rethink.”

2. More complex technology doesn’t always fit the bill when looking for learning that makes an impact. Take advantage of smaller, less complex features to help build experiences.

“That comes back to thinking about the architecture of both the tools that you make available, both to your own, sort of, expert team. So, I think an L&D team, as it might be called now, they need to be populated by true learning professionals—people who have actually recognized the range of skills that are needed in being able to advise and then design and coach and support people in creating a meaningful learning experience.”

“But the other end of the scale—when it’s about identifying the knowledge gap and identifying a small sort of shift in behavior, and being able to meaningfully put some assets together and an experience together—that will shift that. A lot of it’s down to some fundamental skills, like being able to write or communicate with clarity. And you can do that effectively, or you can do it really poorly, with very simple tools—you know, a document, a PowerPoint slide. etc. So, it’s not about having fancy technology to be able to make that benefit. “Garbage in, garbage out” still applies. So, it’s about those root skills of being able to articulate the right gap, and then being able to support it with the right mix of activities or assets.”

3. Identifying a problem to solve is a collective effort among a learning team, company, and the learners it will impact.

“It’s a joint collective process, isn’t it? So, a learning team may be spread out across the organization, but they are a team. They too often are order takers, so someone else is making the decision that they need some training and support. So, someone else is making a decision that new systems are going in or a new process is being put in place or new product is being launched. What the learning teams should be doing is ensuring that learning is built into that thinking more, or fundamentally rather than seen as an afterthought. Because in the process of actually trying to design something, you actually can unpick and improve what the actual workflow is or the product is or how the system works.”

4. Personalizing learning involves making it more adaptable with people’s experiences, so no one individual is left on their own.

“And then, it’s down to your decisions around those tools you’re using, the technology, and the platforms that you have as to how you can share that data and will use that data to help nudge people in the right direction, support people who are flagging, allow people to race ahead. If you can personalize, make it more adaptable with some type of experience that they have, so that no one individual person is left on their own, you’re enabling people to deliver the value that they can to the organization, at the pace and the level that they can.”

“Any organization has goals and objectives and missions that are independent of any one individual person. So, there is a formality around that. You can’t get away from it, and it’s a formal learning directive. That said, at the other end of the spectrum is the fact that when we think about learning—well actually, learning is a very individual experience, and people learn in different ways at different paces. Well, they think they’ve learned in different ways.”

“We have different preferences, which is different than actually a deep, deep thing or saying, “Well, you actually learn differently to me.” Providing you understand that learning doesn’t happen in an instant—that it happens over time, that repetition is critical to repeated exposure, repeated practice—deliberate practice is a critical part of any learning experience. If you start to understand those things, then what you build and design—actually, it’s quite difficult to do it in a way that it sits on its own in isolation from what everybody, an individual, is doing in their job. You sort of have to include the manager. You have to include their peers. You have to include the tools that they’re going to use on a day-to-day basis, and you start to realize that what you’re building, is more holistic—that there will be formal elements. And then, this is the way to push all the buttons. But we’re not just going to do it abstractly. This is built into the tools that you’re going to use anyway. So, you can pull it up anytime you need, through to reinforcement at later points after any of these interventions.”

5. Demonstrate learning’s value by holistically reframing your definition of technology to include not only up-and-coming gadgets, but older forms like books, films, or videos.

“A chief learning officer type of role—it’s not ubiquitous. Not everybody has that type of role. And if you are in that type of role, hopefully there’s already recognition in that organization of the strategic importance of learning. So, my advice really is that technology is a fundamental pillar in the learning experience that we’re trying to design and build, and that is not one thing—it’s multiple things. And reframe your definition of technology from being AI chat bots and VR and the sort of things which are emerging in really exciting directions, but think also in terms of a book as a piece of technology, or a film or a video, or even environments in which people are working. If you think about it holistically, then I think the chances are much higher that you’re going to be nurturing and building and rebuilding learning experiences that are going to be effective, not just efficient.”

“…it’s about thinking holistically—and it’s challenging, but it’s important as learning professionals that we keep on top of all of these things. So, there’s all the new stuff that a lot of vendors will be excitedly promoting—you know, around AI and automation of things, chat bots, and other stuff. And there’s some good things there. However, there’s still nascent immersive technologies, and you need to have the critical faculties to decide which and where and how to use them. And they all have a role, and then are part of your palette. The other part of it is recognizing that—actually, focus on the basics. Make sure that everyone in your team communicates effectively, can write with clarity, can use even just basic tools and authoring tools—good authoring tools—use interactivity in sensible ways that add things and don’t hinder. That’s what you need.”

Lars’ book recommendations

The Diamond Age, Neal Stephenson

Its subtitle is A young girl’s primer. What that actually refers to is that whole thread in the story is about how a young girl learns, and how that experience is described there. It’s set in what felt like 10 years ago, quite futuristic. But if you read it now and look at what’s happening around us right now in terms of the debates around the impact of AI and automation, interacting through voice immersive technologies, all of these things are coalescing around something that looks increasingly like the way that is described in that book. And it brings out lots of social impacts. So, if you want to have a bit of inspiration that will make you think more deeply about what we’re all about here, about designing effective learning experiences, I’d check that book out.”

Brave New Work, Aaron Dignan

  He is someone who’s worked with quite a range of organizations to think more deeply about the structure of organizations. So, this is not just about thinking in isolation about learning—which is actually, when you think about it, it’s quite nebulous. This is about organizational structure and thinking about organizations; he terms it an operating system. How does your organization operate, and what are the systems inside it that define the operating system? That extends to the culture that evolved from that, because that system creates behaviors—it’s influenced by behaviors. It has I.T. systems in it, it has workflows and processes and interactions.”

Find out more about Lars

Thank you to Lars for sharing so much today. If you want to find out more about Lars or join the Totara Learning community of 7,000 learning professionals, please do follow the links in this podcast.

Join the conversation!

You can join us on Twitter @Learn_at_Large to keep the conversation going using the hashtag #LearningatLarge, or email me at with thoughts, suggestions, and questions. We’d love to hear from you so don’t hesitate to get in touch. And finally, don’t forget to subscribe to “Learning at Large” in your favorite podcast app and subscribe to our newsletter for updates on new episodes.

Learning at large podcast newsletter