I previously argued for clarity in L&D job postings, where I reasoned that it would make the hiring and interviewing process a touch easier for both candidates and the organization. I also wrote about organizations having to recruit generalists because of their L&D department being a small team or due to budgetary constraints.
Now I’d like to address the team composition of said L&D team.
I realize that most L&D departments grow organically over time, so it’s not always possible to do a complete overhaul and restructure the team on a whim. Also, every organization is different, and its people and its needs are different, so there’s no one-size-fits-all team structure that will work for everyone. Therefore, let’s look at the key skills and roles that are needed. Depending on the requirements and constraints of a particular team, the skills can be mixed and matched so that:
- You either have just a few people, each performing one or more roles, or
- You have several people performing the same role (for larger teams), or
- A combination of the above
So, here are the key roles that I think are needed:
- Learning Consultant
- Learning Designer
- Graphic Designer
- E-Learning Developer
- Content Curator
- Marketing & Communications Specialist
- Data Analyst
- Learning Technologist
- Trainer / Facilitator
- Chief Learning Officer (CLO)
A consultant is perhaps the most crucial member of your team, working with various stakeholders to understand business goals and employee needs. They’re experts in learning theory and instructional design, and thus are able to lead the creation of engaging and effective learning solutions.
They are up to date with the latest trends and developments in the field, and are able to adapt their strategies as business goals and employee needs evolve. They’re also able to evaluate the effectiveness of learning programs and make data-driven decisions to optimize their performance.
As the main point of contact for any learning initiative, they bridge the gap between the L&D team and the rest of the organization.
Other terms used to describe the role include learning strategist, performance consultant, solutioning expert, etc.
Learning / Instructional Designer
Instructional designers are responsible for creating effective training solutions that are informative and engaging, and meet the learning and performance objectives. They’re experts in developing learning content and assessments.
At first glance, it might seem that this role overlaps with that of a consultant. In many cases it does, and the same person is often able to perform both roles. However, it’s important to understand the distinction. In a nutshell: An instructional designer creates learning solutions, whereas a consultant, among other things, works to determine whether learning is the solution or not.
In some organizations, an instructional designer is also required to make the content look pretty, and to develop the materials using an authoring tool. This is not necessarily a bad thing. However, it’s helpful to understand that an instructional designer’s core expertise lies in employing strategies to enable learning towards changing behavior and improving performance. Secondary skills could include graphic design, authoring tools and so on.
Other terms used to describe the role include learning designer or learning experience designer, curriculum designer, etc.
A graphic designer creates visually engaging materials that enhance the learning experience. They work with instructional designers to develop graphics, illustrations, and other visual aids that can help the audience better understand complex concepts or processes. They also help design the layout and format of training materials to ensure that they are easy to follow and visually appealing, and are consistent across programs.
Graphic designers are experts in design principles, color theory, UI and UX, branding, typography and font selection, and the like. They’re well versed in design software such as Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator. Many are also artists whereby they can illustrate and / or animate using specialized tools.
As mentioned above, some organizations expect instructional designers to possess (or develop) the graphic skills needed to make their courses look visually appealing and consistent. This is not a bad idea, though it helps to understand what a graphic design specialist can bring to the table.
Other terms used to describe the role include visual designer, e-learning designer, graphic artist, etc.
An e-learning developer is proficient in using authoring tools such as Articulate Storyline, Adobe Captivate, Lectora, etc. They design and develop interactive course modules that can be delivered through a learning management system (LMS) or other platforms. They are familiar with standards such as SCORM and xAPI.
Where necessary, they are also responsible for ensuring that the e-learning content is accessible to all learners, including those with disabilities. Therefore, in addition to the authoring tools, they’re well versed with web accessibility standards such as WCAG 2.0 and Section 508.
As mentioned above, instructional designers sometimes double up to perform the role of a developer. As in, they’re able to use authoring tools and produce the finished e-learning courses that can be uploaded to LMSs or other platforms. However, it would be good to remember that a developer can bring in unique skills that an instructional designer may not have the bandwidth to learn. For instance, the ability to create advanced custom interactions or gamified experiences.
A curator is responsible for identifying, selecting, and organizing learning materials from various sources to create a comprehensive learning experience for the audience. The role of a content curator has become increasingly important as organizations look to provide personalized and on-demand learning experiences that align with the needs and interests of their employees, without having to reinvent the wheel.
The curator has strong research skills to identify the most relevant and up-to-date learning materials that align with the objectives. They organize and present the material in a way that is engaging and easy to navigate for learners. This involves creating learning pathways or playlists that guide learners through the content, sometimes even incorporating custom-made elements such as videos and infographics to enhance the learning experience.
Marketing Communications Specialist
A marketing communications specialist (sometimes abbreviated as a marcom specialist) develops and executes strategies that promote the organization’s learning programs to employees. They understand the unique features and benefits of each program so as to communicate them effectively to employees to increase engagement and participation. To do so, they adopt a behavior-based approach in developing messaging, designing promotional materials, and leveraging various communication channels to reach employees.
Additionally, they evaluate the effectiveness of their marketing and communication strategies and make data-driven decisions to optimize their performance. They’re able to track and analyze metrics such as engagement rates, open rates, etc. to identify areas for improvement and refine their strategies.
This could well be a dedicated role in L&D, although instructional designers would do well to learn some of the principles used in marketing and communication. These include building solutions based on a deep understanding of the audience, targeting a change in behavior (rather than just building awareness), and so on.
The data analyst is responsible for analyzing and interpreting data related to learning and development initiatives. Their tasks include identifying areas for improvement in learning solutions, creating dashboards or reports to communicate insights, and collaborating with the team to develop data-driven strategies.
Their role is crucial in helping the organization make informed decisions about employee development to drive business results. They are experts in analyzing L&D data, and play a significant part in ensuring that the organization’s learning programs are effective and efficient.
Although this would likely be a dedicated role, the others on the L&D team (especially instructional designers) would benefit from having a data-oriented approach to their work. Therefore, it would be helpful for everyone to be trained on data awareness (and how to use it in L&D work), while the specialists could focus on the more advanced activities.
The role of a learning technologist is to develop and implement technology-based solutions that support the organization’s learning and development goals. By staying up to date with the latest learning technologies and providing technical support to the L&D team and to learners, these technologists help ensure that the organization’s learning solutions are effective, efficient, and aligned with the needs of the organization and employees.
Technology, again, is another area that the others on the L&D team should be aware of. They don’t all have to be technology experts, but they need to have an overall understanding of how the different tools and technologies work, and what each can and cannot do. For instance, you cannot implement social learning with the 19th century discussion board on your LMS. Or capture learning data if you are hosting courses on an intranet server, and sharing the link with learners.
Trainer / Facilitator
A facilitator is responsible for planning and designing training programs, conducting engaging training sessions, facilitating group discussions and activities, providing feedback and coaching, and evaluating training effectiveness. Within the context of an online or offline classroom, their role is to create an effective learning environment that helps employees acquire the skills and knowledge necessary to succeed in their roles.
Chief Learning Officer (CLO)
Finally, we can’t forget the leader of the pack – the Chief Learning Officer or the CLO.
The CLO is responsible for developing and executing L&D strategies, ensuring employee development, managing budgets, evaluating training effectiveness, and fostering a culture of learning within the organization. Their role is to create an effective and efficient L&D system that aligns with the organization’s goals and objectives.
While the others on the team are working towards the same goal, the CLO has a bird’s eye view of the entire organization as well as the L&D team. They proactively track how well the team’s deliverables meet the needs of the organization, and are able to make adjustments accordingly.
As you’ve seen above, there are overlaps between the responsibilities and capabilities of each role.
There are organizations with large L&D teams where you have dedicated individuals performing each of the above roles. In others, there’s probably less than a handful of people (perhaps even just one or two) doing all of the above jobs at once.
Understanding the core skills of each role, and what they bring to the table, is key to putting together a winning team – one that is primed to support the organization and its employees in reaching their goals.
Written by Srividya Kumar, Co-Founder @ Learnnovators