Brad Zomick

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L&D Buzzwords Explained — from Learning Experience Platform to Self-Planning Workforce


Is your learning ecosystem failing to achieve talent agility due to lack of personalization?  Is your social learning supporting a self-planning workforce?

The Learning & Development field is filled with an alphabet soup of buzzwords and acronyms. Here is your handy guide to understanding them.

Learning experience platform

The traditional Learning Management System (LMS) is giving way to something new. A learning experience platform pulls together everything a company uses for training and development into one cohesive whole, allowing employees and employers to strategize ways forward like never before.

A learning experience platform, such as Pathgather, is an open digital network. It communicates with the rest of a company’s talent and learning stack, including the LMS, HRIS (Human Resources Management System), Applicant Tracking System (ATS) and more. This allows disparate processes to share crucial information. And it allows employees a wide variety of Learning & Development options. They can add any content they wish, whether from the web or courses they create themselves.

Talent agility

Talent agility is a company’s ability to change the composition of its talent quickly and cost-effectively. It takes into account all the levers that are needed to build and develop talent, including Learning & Development, acquiring and retaining talent, and engagement.

Technology is changing the business landscape at a faster pace than ever before. To succeed and last, businesses need workforces that can keep adapting, quickly, over time. On the individual level, it means that being a good learner is the most important skill of all.

So talent agility is the single most important factor that determines whether your business will succeed or get wiped out by competition in the future.

Personalization in learning (aka personalized learning)

It’s not about having a welcome screen that says “Hello, Marie.” It’s about a fundamental shift in how learning is done.

Think of Pandora, or any other app that gets to know you — your likes, dislikes, interests and behaviors. Personalized learning experiences do the same thing for workplace training. They allow individuals lots of choices, track those choices, and develop recommendations for you.

Companies are discovering that the more personalized a learning experience is, the more their employees participate — and the more they learn information useful to their jobs.

Machine learning

Machine learning is the “field of study that gives computers the ability to learn without being explicitly programmed.” That definition comes from Arthur Samuel, a pioneer in the field, back in 1959. These days, Wired gives the term an updated definition, based on the same concept: “The modern science of finding patterns and making predictions from data based on work in multivariate statistics, data mining, pattern recognition, and advanced/predictive analytics.”

The core idea remains the same: Machines can “learn,” improving themselves and their results over time without human involvement.

Machine learning is helping personalization flourish. It also plays an important role in building talent agility.

Artificial intelligence (AI)

The simplest definition comes from Merriam-Webster: “the capability of a machine to imitate intelligent human behavior.”

How is it different from machine learning? The way many experts put it, machine learning is what enables artificial intelligence — much the way humans learn in order to be smart. In slightly more complex terms, “AI is basically the intelligence — how we make machines intelligent, while machine learning is the implementation of the compute methods that support it,” Intel’s director of machine learning, Nidhi Chappell, told Wired.

For L&D practitioners, artificial intelligence brings huge questions about the future. As the “trainer’s trainer” Elaine Biech asks, “How are you going to respond to a boss that is a computer or a robot?

Digital HR Strategy

In this era, “HR has the opportunity to revolutionize the entire employee experience by transforming HR processes, systems, and the HR organization via new digital platforms, apps, and ways of delivering HR services,” Deloitte says. It takes a strategy to put this opportunity to best use.

It’s paramount to succeed and build longevity. “By not digitizing fast enough, organizations risk being left out in the race to attract and retain the best talent,” Capgemini Consulting says. “Digital technologies offer a host of innovative ways to enhance employee experience and organizations that have realized this, have reaped rich rewards. For the others, it is time to take swift action towards envisioning, defining and implementing a comprehensive digital HR strategy.”

Part of making this shift is taking on new talent technology.


Gamification is all about adding elements to something that turn it into a game. In learning, that has at times involved “badges” people can earn. And teams of people sometimes compete to outlearn other teams.

But quite often, gamification doesn’t work. And interest has waned. Each year Donald Taylor, chairman of the Learning and Performance Institute, asks L&D professionals about which trends are “hottest.” In 2015, gamification came in at No. 5. In 2016, it fell to No. 6. And last year, it dropped to No. 10.

Companies find that people care much more about the practical and career consequences of engagement with Learning & Development, whether they’ve spent time learning to develop a skill or shared their expertise via the learning experience platform.


Inside every organization, subject matter experts (SMEs) possess the skills and knowledge that make your workforce competitive.  The key is to unlock their knowledge and create opportunities for them to share it.

Traditionally, businesses have used a top-down approach. Executives select employees to serve as SMEs, having them do some teaching and training as part of their responsibilities. But today’s successful businesses are starting to follow a new model.  They’re making it possible for anyone to teach skills at any time by creating and sharing their own content.

Companies are also taking new steps to attract, retain and reward these SMEs.

Social learning

“The whole concept of social learning is peer to peer,” says Matt Peters, director of technical learning and development for Visa Inc.

It’s a big shift from the traditional top-down approach in which the only development programs available came from company-approved and company-designed instruction is a thing of the past.

Now, workers want to learn from and teach each other.

Businesses find that when they make social learning available, people share knowledge about emerging and edge technologies. Then, when those technologies suddenly became important drivers for business, there are already workers in their midst who know how to use them.

So companies such as Qualcomm are embracing technologies that allow social learning to thrive.  These tools allow for social collaboration, and give people the chance to connect and learn whenever and wherever works best for them.

Skills gap

With new technologies changing the business landscape quickly, businesses constantly need workers with expertise in new and emerging skills. The gap is the difference between what the business needs at any moment and what it currently has.

Various economists use the term “skills gap” to mean different things, which has led to debate over whether it has been exaggerated or even doesn’t exist.  But a survey found 80% of employers believe that the skills gap is real.

Joe Fuller, a Pathgather adviser and Harvard Business School professor, says the gap stems from both employers and educators. And numerous experts say an increased focus on workplace training could go a long way toward filling the gap.


The days of most workplace learning taking place in classrooms, across days or blocks of several hours are in the past. Now, workplaces do best when they allow employees to learn in brief blocks of time when it suits their schedules.

That’s why microlearning is key. As the U.S. government defines it, microlearning is about “delivering content to learners in small, specific bursts over time or just when needed.”

This includes making learning available on mobile devices. When employees have easy-to-use applications in the palms of their hands, learning vastly increases.

“Build your learning apps,” says Tamar Elkeles, a Pathgather adviser who led Qualcomm to be named Learning & Development Organization of the Year in 2015 by Chief Learning Officer magazine.

Microlearning is part of the “writing on the social, cultural and professional wall” — one of the “trends in evidence everywhere,” says Robert Koehler, the lead consultant for AT&T University, the company’s flagship development program.

Learning engagement

Learning engagement refers to the time an employee spends learning via company-supplied tools and content. Typically, it’s been measured in launches and completions. LMSs track these metrics, but typically leave out all the learning employees are doing outside of what’s offered in the LMS — myriad other options. A learning experience platform, meanwhile, tracks engagement with all forms of learning.

In the past, L&D successes were judged by how many people attended an in-person class or how many courses were offered. Those days are long gone.

Learning engagement in and of itself doesn’t mean much.  The key is to track its correlation with employee retention and internal mobility.

Learning path

A learning path is a collection of resources on a shared topic. With a learning experience platform, a learning path can be created by anyone in the organization. Paths are often composed of content from different places and compiled by employees who have recently discovered and used the content.  Today’s employees often want to record their journeys so others can benefit.

Paths are meant to be continually updated and collaboratively owned, enabling participants to easily swap out outdated components and add new sections.

A learning path often focuses on building a single skill, but larger paths can be aimed at teaching multiple skills.

Career path

The linear system that once dictated most careers is no more. In previous generations, entering a company or field at a low level and working your way up an established ladder was the norm. But as PricewaterhouseCoopers puts it, that typical path has ceased to exist — and “radically different career paths” are taking over.

Now, workers do best when they constantly learn new skills that allow them to move in different directions of their own choosing. To future-proof a workforce, HR teams need to ensure training opportunities exist that will enable employees to self-select career paths within the business.

This is also why college is no longer the time that most people establish their career paths for the future, as Pathgather CEO Eric Duffy explains in Forbes.

Self-planning workforce

In a self-planning workforce, employees are empowered to make choices about their futures.  They have sufficient transparency into where their opportunities for development and career growth exist, and they have access to the learning tools needed to move in the directions that interest them.

There continues to be a role for the traditional model of top-down workforce planning as well, with companies determining the skills it needs in its workforce. That will always be an essential part of steering the company toward the future. However, for talent agility to thrive, businesses must also support sure self-planning.

The two complement each other. As a company determines to move in a strategic direction, its employees can see and understand that and make choices about how they may want to fit in.

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