7 Steps to Becoming a Learning & Development Professional
As someone who has spent the last 12 years in the Learning & Development (L&D) field, I can tell you that it's both a rewarding and challenging career. But if you've ever thought that maybe L&D is for you and aren't sure how to start moving in this direction, here are seven easy steps for turning your dream job into a reality:
Table of contents:
Step 1: Build foundational L&D knowledge
As a learning and development professional, your job is to help employees learn and develop. This means that you need a good understanding of learning and development, why it's important for companies success, and what you should be doing to support that learning.
The first step in becoming a Learning & Development professional is building foundational knowledge—i.e., the basic concepts that underlie all learning programs. These concepts include things like "knowledge acquisition" (the process by which people acquire new information), "learning theory" (the study of how we learn), and "behavioral change" (changing people's behavior).
And for more in-depth knowledge, we suggest you take a look at our course "Learning & Development Fundamentals: Practitioner's Guide".
Step 2: Improve your technology expertise
Let's face it: you can't be an effective L&D professional if you don't know how to use technology. This includes staple programs like M.S. Powerpoint, Excel, and Word, but also more specific technologies, like eLearning and video creation software, as well as Learning Management Systems (LMS).
There are many ways to learn about new technologies and apply them to your work. Which ones will be critical for you to know depends on the type of L&D role you are in. It is a good idea to seek ways to improve your technical expertise constantly. Here are some ways to do that:
Read books and blogs about learning technologies. (You can review a curated list by EdTech Books here)
Attend conferences where people discuss new technology in the field of L&D. (For example, several conferences focus on learning technologies: by Learning Technologies and eLearning Industry, to name a few)
Join online communities dedicated to specific types of technology or other topics related to your work as an L&D professional (e.g., LinkedIn groups or communities).
Participate in conversations with other professionals who specialize in similar areas (e.g., through Facebook Messenger chats or groups).
Step 3: Get some practice
It's cliche, but practice makes perfect. You can only become an expert if you spend time doing the work. To learn the ropes, you need to get some practice under your belt by gaining experience through internships or training programs. If that's not an option for you, find someone who has done what you want to do and ask them for advice on how they got started. I sometimes get approached by aspiring L&D practitioners on LinkedIn, and I'm always happy to share some advice from my personal experience.
Another option is volunteering for a relevant organization; many companies look for volunteers with skills that could be helpful for their cause. Think of youth organizations or the Red Cross. If there aren't any volunteer opportunities available in your area, consider offering a completely free digital or in-person presentation or class on a topic of your choice and promote it through Facebook or other social media platforms. Even if just 5 people show up, it's still a great experience and will teach you a lot.
Step 4: Develop soft skills
Soft skills are the competencies that help you work with other people. They include things like communication, teamwork, leadership and more. In L&D, we often emphasize soft skills because they're important for our day-to-day functioning and foster a culture of learning in our organizations.
But guess what? Soft skills are important for all jobs! You can't be successful at your job if you don't have good interpersonal competencies —and it doesn't matter if you're an accountant or an aerospace engineer; you’d still need to work well with others, or you won't get far on the career ladder.
So how do we develop these essential soft skills? The first step is realizing that developing them will take time. Not everything comes naturally—you'll need practice and get feedback from others. There are plenty of courses online, many even free, so pick up a topic and start learning.
Another great way to learn is through books, but remember that it's not enough to just read about something - you also need to carve out time to practice that skill.
Step 5: Join an L&D community
An L&D community is a group of people with similar interests in the field of learning. These communities come in all shapes and sizes, from informal Slack channels to more formal LinkedIn groups. Joining one can be a great way to learn new things, connect with other professionals in your field, and get your foot in the door. Some L&D communities even help their members land jobs!
Joining an L&D community is easy: look for one online or ask around at conferences or meetups to find out which ones are active in your area.
Here are some of the groups I'm part of:
P.S. The L&D Academy has its own private community on LinkedIn. Make sure to check it out!
Step 6: Get an entry-level job in L&D
If you're going to make it into L&D, you need to start somewhere. But before you apply for L&D positions left and right, make sure you're clear on what type of role you want. Yes, surprise, surprise! There is more than one L&D role! And each role may require a different set of competencies. So, if you'd like to be prepared for that first interview, make sure you first spend some time learning about your desired role and career path and develop a few of the critical competencies required for it.
Once you feel you've done all the prep you need, start applying. LinkedIn is a great place to search for L&D jobs, stay up-to-date with industry news, and make meaningful work relationships. Some other places you can look up:
Step 7: Keep learning!
You might be thinking, "Gee, that's a lot of work—and how am I going to fit it all in?" The good news is that you don't have to do all this at once; you can spread out the learning and development process over time.
The important thing is to keep learning new skills and acquiring knowledge to continue progressing in your career. Here are some ways:
Keep up with technology changes—Learn about new tech products, software programs, and devices as they come out and what they mean for your industry or team. For example: What does augmented reality mean for H.R. professionals? How could VR/AR help training programs?
Learn from others—Listen to podcasts like The eLearning Coach and L&D+ for Learning and Development topics. Also, check out TED Talks, with more than 2 million talks on topics ranging from science & technology to design & architecture. These are great resources full of valuable information!
Becoming a Learning & Development professional can be challenging, but it's also a great career opportunity. Take it one step at a time, and don't overwhelm yourself. As an aspiring L&D professional, you should know that learning doesn't happen overnight. 😉