L&D innovation in 2016: virtual reality and beyond

A man wearing a blue virtual reality headset.

There are always things we can do to be more effective in our jobs, and that often means that we have to innovate – for L&D practitioners, this is one of the biggest hurdles to overcome, because it represents a significant professional risk. As learning and development’s wide-ranging benefits are still not completely accepted in many organisations, attempting to change a formula or programme that had been viewed as working successfully up to that point could potentially derail L&D and irreversibly damage it in the eyes of stakeholders.

However, every industry is constantly changing and developing, and there is an ever-present worry that your business will be left behind if your competitors take the initiative and offer something you haven’t even thought about exploring.

L&D practitioners around the world are getting very excited about the potential of virtual reality, for example. As a means of training employees to work in dangerous locations or situations, it is a fantastic potential solution because it allows employees to be trained in a completely safe environment. It is also relatively cost-effective because the same equipment can be utilised to build up a library of training programmes – once the initial outlay has been spent, it has the potential to pay for itself again and again.

However, innovation in L&D doesn’t just mean bringing in new technology – getting excited about the next new toy that might or might not make a positive difference to your work isn’t the only thing you should be focusing on as far as L&D is concerned. Innovation relates to any new way of doing something that hadn’t previously been considered or wasn’t previously available, not just new technology.

How can we drive innovation in the learning and development sphere, though?

Ask questions

We need to ensure that we’re constantly questioning ourselves and the learning and development sphere as a whole in order to identify challenges and hurdles to be overcome. By asking more questions we can allow for a wider range of perspectives to be considered. This will help lead to greater innovation in terms of revealing previously hidden issues and ideas, which will consequently require different ways of addressing them.

For instance, being able to demonstrate a return on investment is something that L&D has always struggled with – by asking questions about the issue, a greater understanding can be had and new ideas generated to resolve it. If you ensure that your work is aligned as much as possible to the business’s goals, opportunities for innovation should present themselves rather than you having to look for them.

Make observations and analyse

However, that’s not to say that you shouldn’t remain vigilant – by staying alert to internal operations and processes, you may be able to observe challenges that have previously been unidentified. For larger learning and development departments, one form of innovation might be to create a small analytics team tasked with measuring processes and identifying the most critical issues that L&D can help resolve.

This will ensure that the department is working independently while still within the context of the larger business need, and providing insight into opportunities to improve learning development and delivery. Analytics is something that fewer than one in five L&D teams are currently doing, so it could make all the difference to your effectiveness and ability to demonstrate worth as a department.

Examine other industries’ challenges

An assumption that a lot of people tend to have, whether consciously or unconsciously, is that different industries have different problems, but in reality many of them are the same.  It may therefore be helpful to look at companies in other industries that have had similar problems to the ones you’re currently facing and see whether their solutions could be incorporated into your business. You can then facilitate the training and work with other departments such as HR and senior management to implement those solutions.

Experiment with different solutions

While the budget is often limited in L&D departments and you might not feel as though it is best utilised through experimentation, this is often the only way that you can ascertain whether a certain initiative or programme will work. You can talk about doing something forever, but until you make the leap and actually test it, you’ll never know if it’s worth doing.

Could you employ gamification or other e-learning solutions to improve outcomes for sales teams by encouraging competition on an open leader-board, for example? Alternatively, could you use data and figures you’re not already using to help you prove L&D’s positive impact? Experimentation can lead to quick breakthroughs, ensuring better performance, higher levels of customer satisfaction and more revenue and, while not everything will work as expected or desired, you will undoubtedly find some suitable options that can be refined until you get them working the way you intended.

When we think about innovation, we all too often get swept up in thinking about new technology, and while this is a part of innovation, it shouldn’t be the only area of focus. Any new way of thinking about the way we develop our processes and achieve goals can be classed as innovation, so experimentation, questioning and observing are all valid, important parts of the process that we should be implemented on a daily basis to identify new opportunities.

You can read more about virtual reality in the L&D sphere here.