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Disruption or distraction? Technology change is outpacing our ability to update skills quickly enough to keep up. In legal, the skills conversation typically focuses on lawyers and legal workflows. However, no one working today is immune. Every department in your firm is facing deep changes within their areas of expertise.

It is time to elevate the conversation and talk about the critical need to place more emphasis on talent development and enhance learning skills for all legal professionals. Some experts suggest the impact of technology is creating a massive restructuring of our economy. To thrive, firms must develop the ability to learn hard things quickly. This will be a challenge when lawyers face the constant distraction of email and instant messages and support staff job descriptions include skills like “multitasking” and “ability to manage constant disruptions.”

But the challenge is worth it. The latest research from Towards Maturity, a UK-based nonprofit research organization with a focus on the impact of learning technologies, reports 70 percent of workers think learning has a positive impact on job performance.

To face the challenge, firms must embrace learning as a highly valued skill and consciously make time for it beyond today’s continuing legal education programs (CLE). The responsibility to create a learning culture should not rest on the shoulders of HR, professional development, or technology training departments. It is the responsibility of everyone at every level. Here are several ways to meet the challenge.

Get to know the real business

The first step in building a learning culture is understanding the business. The goals and objectives of the business should not stop at the management level. Organizations that support learning share information about the business, and people at all levels understand the current business vision. Of course, organizations that have strong learning cultures include talent development objectives as strategic business goals.

Get to know your users

Regardless of the role you play, you provide services to others. As a matter of routine, most of us consider roles, practice areas, and geographical regions as we evaluate our users. I’m challenging you to look deeper. Talk to people and ask probing questions to find out how their work might be unique or different.

Back in my consulting days, while meeting different teams from a firm’s litigation practice group, I stumbled on a team that had a very specialized practice. The primary client used WordPerfect, and the lawyers were on the road most of the time. The team’s workflows were unique among their litigation peers. Had I not considered each of them as an individual versus part of a high-level practice group and asked probing questions, I would not have realized the patterns I had already started to recognize wouldn’t fit this team.

Learn to share knowledge instead of train

Josh Bersin, an expert on business-driving learning, describes a learning culture as business-relevant and not at all academic; it enables successful organizations to identify problems and fix them quickly. Changes to technology are not necessarily problems. Although they can create momentary challenges while we adjust and relearn how to use them, we must learn to adapt more quickly.

In fact, the Association of Talent Development has conducted research and concluded that there is a connection between knowledge and learning, and both should work together to reduce time to competency.

While the classroom and formal learning definitely has a place, learning is more than classroom events. In the course of the workday, our users encounter specific moments when they need specialized knowledge. One could argue that many of our classroom events miss the mark of sharing knowledge. Often, we rely on subject experts who have a limited amount of time to convey their knowledge. The instinct is to cram as much as possible into the allotted time, which results in oversharing.

But that isn’t how adults learn. Adults want to have some level of control in how and what they learn. They must experience a mixture of knowledge-sharing and teaching approaches, including considerable interactivity: role-play, scenarios, discussions, assessments, and even project work.

Understand the adult learning perspective

Learning has an emotional base. There are a variety of characteristics that make adult learners who they are as individuals. Generally, we share some common themes.

Adults learn for the here and now. They want to learn skills that apply to work they are doing today and will be most interested in learning subjects that have immediate relevance to their jobs.

Adult learners come with experience and unique skills. Experience is vital because new knowledge builds on previous experiences. Respect their experiences, varied backgrounds, and motivations.

Training topics must be relevant to what they do. Adults make connections to memories of things that are familiar to them in the learning process. Strong connections to real situations embed new memories in the brain, making them easier to retrieve when needed.

Embed learning into everyday work

As our users are working, they will encounter times when they need access to knowledge or instructional content to help them perform at their best. The challenge is finding the right mix of knowledge-sharing and teaching approaches we referred to earlier. Learning experts Bob Mosher and Conrad Gottfredson have identified five moments of need. Consider these moments when developing resources that you can embed into everyday work:

  1. Learning about something for the first time
  2. Wanting to learn more about a topic
  3. Trying to remember and apply knowledge or skills
  4. Dealing with change
  5. Encountering something going wrong

Build skills and confirm knowledge

Assessment has a place in adult learning and plays a critical role in building skills and changing behavior. People need to understand where they are now and where they need to be to see the gaps in their skills and give them goals. A true assessment places learners in a place where they have to use their knowledge to solve problems. It is a transfer of knowledge from WHAT? to action. Because skills build over time, having to remember when you are responding to an assessment makes the memories stronger in the brain. The stronger the memory, the easier it is to recall it when you need it.

To meet the challenges of the complex technology changes ahead, firms must adapt and create time for deep learning across all disciplines. A firm’s leadership and its legal professionals must share a commitment to this. Adult learners like to control their learning experiences, and most are curious and want to learn new skills. But they don’t always make time to learn. To break old habits and anxiety around lack of time, firms must allocate specific time and goals for learning. Technology change doesn’t have to be a disruption or even a major distraction. It can be an opportunity to improve the way we learn and create smarter law firms.

Tami Schiller, Social Media and Research Specialist at TutorPro Ltd, has focused on legal technology training for more than 15 years. She possesses a strong commitment to seeing individual achieve their potential for technical competency and is always looking for innovative ways to deliver learning opportunities to busy legal professional. By recognizing emerging trends and willingly sharing with others, Tami supports the legal community as it navigates through rapid changes to business practices and technology innovation. Contact here at [email protected]

Barry Keno

Author Barry Keno

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