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How To Run A One-Person L&D Department With Collaborative Learning


How To Single-Handedly Drive Better L&D Outcomes

“We need you to build learning programs that serve 1000 employees,” says the CHRO.

“But how? I’m only one person!” says the L&D leader.

If you work alone or you’re part of a small L&D team, this scenario probably sounds familiar. Now, more than ever, L&D departments have limited resources, headcount, and budget—even in large organizations. It’s not uncommon for a one-person department to be tasked with creating training programs for hundreds—if not thousands—of people.

So, when you’re rolling solo and your mission to support many learners seems unachievable, what do you do? How do you know what to prioritize, and how will you make an impact?

In this article, we delve into the 6 top ways L&D leaders can successfully run a one-person department with the help of collaborative learning. From shifting your mindset to performance-driven L&D and leveraging the creator economy, we’ll show you how you can single-handedly help your organization achieve success over time.

Read on to hear how the collaborative learning model helps teams learn fast, stay people-centric, and distribute ownership.

1. Make The Shift To A Collaborative Learning Model

Collaborative learning is a training methodology where employees share their knowledge and expertise, teaching and learning from one another and solving problems together. Group learning enhances the training experience by capitalizing on each employee’s skills, ideas, and institutional knowledge.

But this is part of a larger trend toward interdependence in learning. Organizations are moving away from more hierarchical top-down management styles and toward low-authority, high-accountability models.

Most traditional corporate training is top-down, meaning management or L&D leaders determine training needs and then create or buy learning materials to meet those needs. But this method just doesn’t work—it’s too slow and irrelevant. By shifting to the collaborative learning model, anyone in an organization can make a request or create a learning need.

This allows everyone to contribute to the learning process. Not only does this make employees feel more engaged and focused, but it also reduces the amount of work that L&D teams need to do to create training programs.

So, how does a collaborative learning model actually work? By building a creator culture to leverage collective subject matter expertise.

2. Build A Learning Culture That Celebrates Creators

Fostering a creator economy culture is about creating an environment where employees are encouraged to think beyond conventional patterns and share any insights they may have.

Most teams typically have employees who are exceptionally great at their jobs or specific skillsets due to passion, experience, or specialized training. This collective subject matter expertise is the most effective method to scale L&D efforts.

When employees suggest training needs, and other Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) use their unique skillsets to create content that fulfills those needs, organizations enable a democratized culture of learning. This provides room for L&D departments to assist others in completing courses, running quality control, and making sure learners have what they need to succeed through continuous feedback.

With this focus on SMEs, L&D leaders can dedicate themselves to completing more strategic tasks and coaching experts rather than spending their time creating content—something which is not scalable, particularly if you’re a team of one.

To foster a culture of democratized learning, L&D departments should:

  • Encourage SMEs to create content, including self-serve resources, knowledge bases, and directories. This approach ensures that courses are timely, relevant, and at the same time it frees up L&D leaders’ time and resources.
  • Provide training and resources to help SMEs create quality content. This includes tips on how to structure and design practical courses, as well as ways to collaborate with learners.
  • Incorporate a sense of community into the learning experience. This can help foster a sense of camaraderie among learners and encourage them to support and help each other.
  • Encourage feedback and collaboration. By sharing feedback and ideas with others, L&D departments can improve the quality and relevance of training courses.
  • Create a culture of continuous learning. By emphasizing the importance of learning and collaboration, L&D leaders can help promote a lifelong passion for learning and growth, and encourage potential SMEs to share their valuable insights with the rest of the organization.

So, what’s the third method for running a one-person L&D department? Effective project prioritization.

3. Prioritize Your Most Impactful Learning Projects

Traditionally, L&D teams have serviced their organization: the business requests a training solution and the L&D department fulfills it. Today, L&D teams, particularly small ones, need to challenge the status quo. When resources are sparse, L&D leaders need to focus on delivering impact quickly, ideally with the least possible effort required.

But when you have requests coming in left, right, and center, this is easier said than done. So, how can a one-person L&D department manage it all? And how do you prioritize projects with the most impact relative to the required effort?

Here are three steps to help you get started:

  • Conduct An Analysis Of The Organization

Start by identifying where the most pressing problems lie within the business. Common challenges are revenue, skill gaps, and employee or customer retention. For example, if revenue targets are suffering, can you provide sales training created by the best-performing salespeople to help close more deals?

  • Consider The Impact Of Each Project

Is one project worth taking on if it will take a whole year to execute? Instead, find projects that can be delivered quickly so you can start to see results straight away—this is especially critical if you’re new to your role. Don’t be afraid to also run cost-benefit analyses to determine minimum effort and maximum reward projects.

Once you’ve successfully deployed a project and you’ve seen some good results, do more of what works to move the needle. Don’t forget to showcase the success to your senior leadership team—highlighting the impact you’ve had on the business is what will land you more resources and budget in the end.

4. Take A Consultative Approach To Requests From Stakeholders

As an L&D leader, you might feel there is a mismatch between the actual L&D needs of the organization and what stakeholders want you to work on. In some cases, it may seem inappropriate to call out the disparity.

Still, if you’re keen on achieving results, you should consider shifting from merely taking training requests to actively engaging key stakeholders about what it is they are actually trying to achieve and where the problem stems from in the first place.

Empathy is vital here. Listen to the stakeholder’s pain points and communicate how you would effectively address their concerns. For one, you’ll be able to pinpoint Learning and Development gaps based on stakeholders’ concerns, ensuring better prioritization of resources that would otherwise be wasted on redundant or irrelevant learning material.

For instance, stakeholders may request a new employee onboarding training program. Conventionally, you might embark on creating this new training. But by taking a consultative approach, you would instead look to understand the exact concern or gap first.

In most cases, this process can bring to light what actually needs to be done—not just what people say needs to be done. Often, this results in simply repurposing existing content instead of starting afresh, saving you time and money, which is critical when you’re a team of one.

This consultative approach perfectly aligns with a product management and agile method of working—and that’s why it’s our fifth way of successfully running a one-person L&D department.

5. Adopt A Product Management And Agile Mindset

When it comes to Learning and Development, too much of our ideation of training courses is based solely on what department heads think their teams need. In reality, their hypotheses are not always accurate.

So, when programs fail, new learning requests arrive on your desk. Unfortunately, this cycle has proved time again to be ineffective in supporting employees and fulfilling organizational needs. So, how can L&D leaders break the cycle?

Adopting a product management and agile mindset is an effective method. While these two approaches are primarily used in developing customer-faced solutions and products, they can be deployed within L&D departments to achieve impressive results.

At its core, product management focuses on identifying user needs and validating existing assumptions through extensive market research before developing a prototype and the final product. This can be translated into an L&D strategy by first identifying what learners themselves need to improve to do their jobs better before creating training programs.

On the other hand, an agile mindset is focused on creating L&D solutions that are quickly delivered, improved with each iteration, and can be changed or discarded as needed. This approach contrasts with traditional L&D methods, which are often slow and learning needs planned out far in advance.

Adopting an agile mindset as part of your L&D strategy can help to improve the following:

  • Speed: By focusing on quick iterations and constantly testing new ideas, L&D leaders can move faster and create more effective training solutions.
  • Competitiveness: By constantly adapting L&D solutions to industry dynamics and learning needs, an organization can stay ahead of the competition.
  • Creativity: Frequent experimentation can foster creativity and develop new ideas that wouldn’t have been considered otherwise.

These top ways to successfully run a one-person L&D department are essential—but they’re even more effective when they’re combined with the right technology.

6. Invest In The Right Technology

To effectively manage training programs and enable collaboration amongst teams in hybrid work environments, L&D leaders need to leverage the right technology.

Here are the necessary tools and platforms you need as a team of one.

A Learning Management System (LMS)

A Learning Management System is critical to developing and storing learning content. It’s even more important if you’re the only person in the L&D team because it allows you to scale content creation easily.

When you’re shopping around for LMS options, be sure to consider:

  • An LMS with a built-in course authoring tool, allowing anyone within the organization to create timely and relevant courses. This is fundamental because you’ll be relying on your SMEs to create courses, so it needs to be easy to use and not require much training in the beginning.
  • A solution with a feedback mechanism to enable learners to give their views about the courses while pointing out any updates or errors that need to be made.
  • A solution that supports collaborative learning. Look for features like discussion forums and the ability to collaborate on course creation. Your SMEs need to be able to communicate effectively with both learners and L&D admins.
  • Compatibility. Choose solutions that can seamlessly integrate with your existing workflows and automate admin tasks to save you time and effort.
  • The ROI of implementing an LMS. You can use an ROI training calculator to measure the return on your investment.

A Webinar Platform

Webinars give you the flexibility to carry out cost-effective training for both small and large audiences. Having a platform to conduct webinars is crucial in enabling collaboration as part of a blended learning program.

Platforms like Zoom and Livestorm are great for boosting engagement, particularly as they have features such as chat and poll functions, pre-and post-surveys, and break-out rooms which allow smaller groups of people to collaborate and share knowledge.

A Project Management Tool

As a team of one that engages with many people in the organization to create training programs can be challenging. With lots of tasks, deadlines, and documentation to manage, keeping track of progress can become difficult.

Project management tools such as Trello can lead to more manageable and defined processes, allowing smoother progress on a project. In addition, a reliable project management tool offers the team quick access to documents, data, or other information and allows for transparency.

Collaborative Learning Is Key To Achieving An Outsized Impact

Running a one-person Learning and Development department can be a daunting task. But with the right tools and support, mindset, and strategies, you can achieve greater impact than many bigger teams can.

Remember, leveraging collective subject matter expertise and enabling collaboration amongst teams is the most effective method to scale L&D efforts and grow your organization.

We developed this article in collaboration with a range of L&D leaders through the L&D Collective. If you’re looking for a place to share learning ideas, insights, and expertise, come and join us!

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Additional Resources:

eBook Release: 360Learning

360Learning

360Learning is the LMS for collaborative learning. We enable companies to upskill from within by turning their experts into champions for employee, customer, and partner growth.



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Andy Neal

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