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Five questions...for Lynn Johnston

By Lisa Neal / June 2007

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Lynn Johnston is president of the Canadian Society for Training and Development (CSTD). This innovative professional association helps practitioners bring effective e-learning to a population that is diverse in language, culture, and geography.

Lisa Neal: What are the unique challenges CSTD faces as e-learning expands in corporate training programs?

Lynn Johnston: I don't think our challenges are unique by any means, but the introduction and expansion of e-learning has led to the examination of whether or not e-learning is its own industry. I think we have all come to the conclusion that it is not—that it is in effect another medium, albeit an important one, for training delivery.

We have also faced an interesting challenge of trying to find the practitioners involved in e-learning. They have not necessarily been aligned with WLP [Workplace Learning and Performance] professionals, but rather with IT professionals.

LN: What are the needs within Canada that differ from the U.S., Europe, and other regions? In particular, are there language and cultural issues unique to Canada or to provinces in Canada?

LJ: I sometimes say that Canada is conducting a great social experiment. We are no doubt the most multicultural place on earth. One of our food processing members reports that when they release a new job aid into their various plants, they simultaneously release it in 8 languages. I love being in Toronto during the world cup of soccer—every day some part of the city is celebrating!

As a result, I believe Canadians are leaders in thinking about diversity issues and looking at how we accommodate the differences we experience in our workplaces. The skills shortage has hit, especially in our western provinces, which are seeing rapid growth through major energy projects. So the ramp-up time has accelerated and talent retention is a huge issue. But we are seeing more focus on the value of learning, not only to the employer but as a retention tool for the employee.

LN: What is your vision for how CSTD can improve e-learning from the perspectives of training managers, instructional designers, and students?

LJ: We have just signed a contract with our federal government to perform 12 impact studies of training in the workplace. The intent is to do these studies in the same way, share the tools to do them, and share the results. We will be in a position to demonstrate the impact and value of training to Canadian business, indicating when and how they should invest in training of their own. If we can convince employers of how to measure that return on investment, then we will see a greater focus on training that is aligned with business goals that makes a difference. That focus will ensure greater emphasis on the quality of our learning programs and we will see the bar raised across the board!

LN: How does CSTD partner with ASTD and other national and international organizations?

LJ: CSTD is an ASTD Global Partner. Essentially we have an agreement with ASTD whereby we offer Canadians membership in both organizations at a bit of a discount through CSTD—a one-stop shopping concept. Our relationship with ASTD has been a good one for us-many senior staff and board members have come to our annual conference to either speak or participate, and the Canadians who have joined benefit greatly from ASTD's services, especially research in the industry. We are also a member of IFTDO [International Federation of Training and Development Organisations] and will be hosting their annual conference in Toronto in 2009.

LN: How does CSTD deal with specific regional needs?

LJ: We have only been a national organization since 2003. Prior to that, we were a provincial organization, headquartered in Ontario. In 2003, our insightful board offered WLP practitioners across the country to get involved if they wished, and we very quickly went from three to 19 chapters, which is where we are today. So we try to meet regional needs through the chapters, and by holding one major event in a new region of the country each year. In May 2007, we held a symposium on Assessment, Measurement and Evaluation in Montreal and next year we will be in Vancouver. Watch our site for details.


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    Lisa Neal
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