Your Guide To Transitioning To Learning And Development

3 Things You Need To Know Before Transitioning To L&D

As a Learning and Development leader for the past decade, I’ve watched the landscape of corporate L&D change several times. Since the pandemic, there has been a sharp increase in the number of professionals transitioning into L&D from various fields, especially traditional classroom education. This influx of talent has had definite benefits, including introducing the rich delivery experiences of teachers.

However, it hasn’t been without its drawbacks, too. Many starry-eyed professionals consume online content and programs to prepare them for their first corporate role, only to find that these programs do not provide full competency in L&D. This leaves many transitioning professionals thinking that a portfolio showing competency in different specialized software is all they need, leaving these same professionals stuck at the resume submission phase.

In perusing various social media sites and groups, I’ve identified a few key focus areas for transitioning professionals. These are the areas that are important considerations for any professional looking to transition into L&D.

Key Areas To Focus On For Professionals Transitioning Into L&D

1. Organizational Structure And Role

Corporate Learning and Development is vast. In the not-too-distant past, L&D was primarily a Human Resources function, supporting the training and development of corporate staff. In more recent years, customer-facing departments, like mine, have been branded L&D. My department definitely supports the training and development of our customers. Although both are L&D, the strategy for these two functions can look very different, and so can the roles. This doesn’t include the training functions that are “product-facing,” meaning that they only provide training on a product, or the training they create is a product in itself. Finally, there are also IT trainers. While the latter two are not typical L&D functions, they are valid landing spots for transitioning professionals.

Have you given thought to what you want out of your first role? Do you want to support customer success? If so, an Operations or Customer Success department may fit best. Do you have an interest in sales enablement? Do you want to focus more on the design of employee development programs, like mentoring and coaching programs? If so, HR may be a good spot. All of these are factors that contribute to long-term satisfaction when you land your first role.

The next thing to consider is your job title. Unfortunately, in L&D, titles are not standardized. But there are still things you can look for that can help make a good professional match, in addition to the job description. Do you only want to develop training materials? If so, can you take a structure/design document someone else has created and translate it into a high-quality learning experience? That’s not as easy as it sounds. Do you instead prefer to chat with Subject Matter Experts to identify training needs? Do you specialize in delivering training content to an audience? What about organizing online training content?

In some organizations, these can be separate roles. But beware, some organizations are looking for a Jack or Jill of all trades; i.e., someone who can design, develop, organize, and deliver training content. These training functions tend to be understaffed, ultimately leading to practitioner burnout. My recommendation is to align with someone in your network who has job responsibilities similar to what you desire. Learn from them and let that inform your search.

2. Problem Solving And Consultation

Many transition prep programs only focus on development, preparing transitioning professionals to be eLearning developers instead of Instructional Designers. It’s not very often that L&D teams can afford to split design and development responsibilities, so chances are, you will have some design responsibilities in your first corporate role.

The most successful L&D practitioners lean into their consultation responsibilities. They provide consultation across the organization to identify when challenges require instructional interventions. They are problem-solvers who recognize that not every challenge is solvable by training, and more specifically, eLearning. Sometimes the solution can look like creating an instructor-led role-play activity or even a mentoring program.

3. Organizational Strategic Alignment

It turns out that the most successful L&D programs are led by individuals who understand the importance of aligning L&D strategy with organizational outcomes. But of course, that’s not the shiny stuff. It’s most fun to stretch your development skills by creating a Storyline interaction with complex JavaScript. However, it’s most effective to learn about the characteristics of your learners, identify knowledge and performance gaps, design full solutions, regardless of modality, to fill those gaps, and map outcomes back to organizational success.

I’m not saying that you should forgo creating that amazing software simulation that you created in Storyline, but include needs assessment and design plan documents that show why you made the design decisions you’ve made, e.g., why will your learners benefit more from a simulation as opposed to a live software demo? Also, how are you assessing your learners? What are the learning objectives? Are these objectives complete and properly formed? Do the objectives map to strategic goals? Most importantly, document how you can measure learning based on this simulation and tell the story of how this simulation helped to improve some organizational outcomes (Kirkpatrick level 4 Evaluation). For example, did this software training lead to an increase in productivity or adoption?


Transitioning to L&D is no easy task, and L&D work can sometimes not be as action-packed as what’s sold to prospective professionals. It also requires a unique combination of cross-disciplinary skills. I think many professionals looking to transition already possess many of these skills. However, it comes down to identifying the role you want to play in the organization and developing the skills for your desired role. This is the best way to prepare for a successful career.

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