Readers of my monthly musings are well aware I’ve been an avid sports fan since childhood. Even in random conversations and totally unrelated contexts, I frequently turn to the athletic field when looking for an apt metaphor or story.
It happened again recently when a colleague called my attention to a magazine article in, of all places, Computer, the IEEE Computer Society journal. It was a column by education editor Ann E.K. Sobel, an associate professor at Miami University of Ohio, titled “The Modern Educator.”
“Today’s educators,” she said, “must wear multiple hats — entertainer, personal coach, emergency responder, gizmo wizard and social media guru — to be judged as informed and effective.”
When I read her description, the old gridiron phrase “triple-threat man” immediately came to mind. In the early days of pro football, a triple-threat man could do it all. He possessed all the skills to excel at passing, running and kicking. George Blanda is one of the best examples.
Blanda played pro football for 26 seasons — longer than any other player — and set more than two dozen records as a quarterback and kicker for the Chicago Bears, Houston Oilers and Oakland Raiders. He was riveting to watch because he was so versatile. If it was fourth down and the obvious choice was to go for the field goal, no one could be sure if he would actually kick the ball, run with it or roll out and throw.
Blanda’s gridiron performance makes a great metaphor for the kind of multitasking Sobel said is demanded of modern educators. Though she addresses the issue from the perspective of an overworked professor facing the mounting pressures of contemporary academia, many of the hats she said are required fit similar realities for enterprise learning leaders. Her assessment that the instructional milieu has “morphed into a new reality filled with high-level, cutting-edge student interaction, engagement and learning” could just as easily apply to workforce development.
Not only do today’s learners expect engaging, versatile instructional experiences that rival what’s available on their laptops and smartphones, they also expect customized content, flexible delivery methods and 24/7 accessibility. In addition, they want an obvious and transparent connection between what they’re learning and what’s expected of them on the job, as well as a whole new level of collaboration and feedback.
At the same time, learning leaders have to juggle more than just the agile design, delivery and deployment of high-quality employee development methods that live up to learners’ expectations. Shifts in the economic and competitive landscape have not only brought about an evolution in the way the world does business, but also they are changing and intensifying the business of workforce development.
Learning executives must have the business acumen to convincingly articulate their vision, justify development initiatives to the decision-makers who handle the corporate purse strings and demonstrate accountability for resource stewardship. And they must be able to provide compelling evidence of the efficacy of enterprise education, its effect on business results and its effectiveness as a competitive advantage.
Delivering everything that’s demanded would be the equivalent of a football player being an outstanding passer, runner and kicker — plus sacking the other team’s quarterback. Technology such as sophisticated learning management systems and mobile devices can support efforts to meet many modern workforce development needs, but it only goes so far.
Achieving triple-threat status as a senior learning leader takes more than just core knowledge of the industry and training expertise. Learning leaders need to know how to pass on their vision to the entire organization. They need to have the leadership and acumen to run with the ball and execute efficiently. And they need to turn learning into a strategic force that kicks employee performance into high gear and returns a positive impact on the bottom line.
As you don the many hats — or helmets — required of you as a chief learning officer, we’re here to help provide the professional insights, tools, tactics, ideas and solutions you need to be a champion of learning in your organization. Let us know how we can help you and your learning team succeed.
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