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“Workplace Learning” in 10 Years?

March 2, 2009

This post is in response to Learning Circuits “Big Question.” This month it’s about the future of learning.

I’ve already chimed in pretty extensively on Jay and Harold’s post about the future of learning. The main thrust of my previous post was that the future they describe is already beginning among industry-leading companies like Ace Hardware, Cisco, Best Buy, Scottrade, Intel, and British Airways to name just a few. I think though what’s being asked this time around is “what will this future look like?” So here’s my quick take on this:

  1. The more things change, the more they stay the same.
  2. We will see a lot of laggards who still don’t “get it.”
  3. For some companies, “Workplace Learning” as a term and a concept will seem quaint and antiquated, a relic of a time when expertise and learning came solely from within the company walls.
  4. Analytics and recommendation engines will transform the way learners find information and how information finds them.
  5. Talent “management” will look radically different.  Unlike today’s models where talent management and talent identification are driven almost entirely from the top-down, in the future, talent identification and management will be emergent.
  6. A lot of trainers and instructional designers won’t be trainers and instructional designers, but they will still be integral to organizational performance and learning.
  7. The best companies in 2019 will be running training like a community, a community made up of employees, partners, suppliers, customers, and the public.

1) The more things change, the more they stay the same. Part of the future, namely compliance and certification processes, will look an awful lot like today’s models. Companies will still need to “prove” compliance and track certifications related to certain kinds of learning. OSHA training and the need to report on it isn’t going anywhere, not in the next 10 years or even the next 20. Unless of course, you think the number of government regulations will decrease… Right, so like I said… ; )

2) We will see a lot of laggards who still don’t “get it.” Many big companies will still do a lot of training the “old fashioned” way which in 2019 will mean “expert-developed” or “sage on stage.” I think sometimes we overestimate how much will get done in 10 years. 10 years ago people were certainly doing less elearning than they are today, but a remarkable amount of training today is still being delivered via ILT, much of it content that would be better served as WBT.

Within the last few weeks, I’ve had discussions about software simulation with potential buyers who didn’t even understand the basics of simulation theory or, in my humble opinion, basic instructional theory. And these were people who were in charge of key aspects of learning at some big companies, including in one case software training. Six months ago, I spoke with a global car dealership who had neither an LMS nor virtual classroom technology. They still did regional events for all the training, not just the hands on — all of it.

So, suffice to say, we will see plenty of laggards in 2019 who will be midway through their first LMS implementation and who will think simulations and games are cutting edge.  Most of these companies will also be struggling, however, as they are outflanked and outmaneuvered at every turn by more nimble and more innovative competitors who have learned to tap the collective wisdom of their employees, their customers, their partners and suppliers, and even the public.

Ok so those are the laggards, what about the early adopters? Here is where I’m encouraged. Imagine Blue Shirt Nation in 10 years. They already have blogs, social networking, idea sharing, discussion boards, a wiki — even a prediction market. Imagine Cisco’s Idea Zone or Ciscopedia in 10 years or Intel’s Intelpedia. This is where the magic will happen so read on for a rosier outlook.

3) “Workplace Learning” as a term and a concept will seem quaint and antiquated like the waterwheel, a relic of a time when expertise and learning came solely from within the company walls. The workplace of the future won’t be defined by company walls, but by common interests and aligned objectives — sometimes customers and the public will share insights and ideas with companies with which they feel an affinity as with Dell’s IdeaStorm; othertimes, the public will be incented to share ideas through competitions or other reward models like Cisco’s I-Prize.  Customers will support each other via customer learning communities, and through these exchanges, companies will derive significant insight into real world best practices, challenges and opportunities.  Employees will contribute in multiple external communities sharing company best practices and previously “confidential” information to help build trust and authenticity while also addressing the needs of the user base.  Companies will interact with their customers on their terms and in their own spaces.  Employees will support each other through social networks and social media in ways as yet unimagined.

4) Analytics and recommendation engines will transform the way learners find information and how information finds them. 10 years ago, I helped oversee the development of a hybrid EPSS / Knowledge Management / Training solution that hasn’t been duplicated since.  First it was context-sensitive so it knew what software you were working on and where you were within it.  Second, it used that information to dynamically pull together a smorgasbord of assets when the user requested help — FAQ’s, help topics, simulations, courses, links etc… Third, it used natural language query (AnswerWorks by Steve Wexler), and further, it linked the NLQ engine to the FAQ engine so if you didn’t find results in the EPSS, it would dynamically create a query string to look in the FAQ’s.  This was all in 1999.

Fast forward to today.  Well over  50% of the software we use today is online and more of it is moving online each day.  It’s easy to imagine that in 2010, 90% of the software we use will be web-based.  So how big of a stretch would it be to use something similar to Google ad word technology to know what you were working on?  Not very.  And what if we coupled that data with information in your social profile and data from recommendation engines?  We could dynamically create a list of helpful links and resources that would not only be specific to the task you were trying to complete, but would also be specific to your job role, geography and interests.  Contextually appropriate content generated dynamically from a combination of “crowd” usage patterns and smart recommendation technology.  And searching would be just as easy.

5) Talent “management” will look radically different.  Unlike today’s models where talent management and talent identification are driven almost entirely from the top-down, in the future, talent identification and management will be emergent. Social media and social networking analytics will dynamically generate organizational network analysis based on real behavior patterns and connections in workplace communities.  Analytics will be used to “profile” certain behavior patterns, network structures, and contribution models to recommend broad career inclinations such as leader, expert, collaborator, innovator.  These data points will be merged via API and web services with “hard” data such as success in hitting a sales quota, turnover rates in a division, and the like to develop a complete picture of organizational contributions.

6) A lot of trainers and instructional designers won’t be trainers and instructional designers, but they will still be integral to organizational performance and learning. Many trainers and ID folk will transition to roles where they vet content, where they produce content from the contributions of the “learners,” and where they facilitate and seed discussions to mine the organization for expertise and emergent knowledge.  Many trainers will help manage idea competitions or customer “support” portals where customers share best practices.

7) The best companies in 2019 will be running training like a community, a community made up of employees, partners, suppliers, customers, and the public. These various constituents will have various levels of access, and this will be partly managed by former trainers who will have assumed roles as learning community managers responsible for mining conversations and contributions, and shepherding the community in ways that bring value both to the participants and the company.

I think we have an exciting future ahead, and I’m happy to be working for a company that’s bringing some of this to the market.  I think you’ll be surprised how close we are on some of this stuff.  My hope is be able to realize this 10 year future a lot sooner for companies that are ready.

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6 Comments leave one →
  1. March 3, 2009 3:14 am

    We agree on so many things, Dave. Permit me one quibble. You write:
    The best companies in 2019 will be running training like a community, a community made up of employees, partners, suppliers, customers, and the public.

    My revision:
    The best companies in 2019 will be run like a community, a community made up of employees, partners, suppliers, customers, and the public.

    We’ve got to weave learning into the fabric of organizations to the point that it’s no longer visible as a separate entity.

    jay

    • dwilkinsnh permalink*
      March 3, 2009 4:03 am

      I agree completely. Well said.

  2. March 4, 2009 3:13 pm

    If I might disagree with Jay on one little point. As he said in his video with Clark Quinn and Harold Jarche on this topic, “Good entertainment is not always good learning.” 10 years from now, there will still be value in the process of winnowing key learning points out of the mass of information available on every topic on the planet. That process is different from the process of deciding which learning experiences people enjoy. (see this post for more details…http://www.bottomlineperformance.com/lolblog/?p=517 )

    Those learning professionals who have and consistently practice that skill will continue to be valuable, and should continue to be visible.

    • dwilkinsnh permalink*
      March 4, 2009 10:10 pm

      Hey Lisa,

      I’m not sure that you and Jay actually disagree on this. In other venues, he’s said a lot about vetting as a required skill, and I think this is integral to emergent knowledge capture which is another of his key themes.

      I’d also just like to clarify a couple of points that you made in your blog about my post. When I described “old fashioned” models as expert-led, what I was referring to are models that are dominated by expert-led. As I noted, I think compliance, certification, and other sorts of “expert”-required content isn’t going away. If anything, it might continue to grow along with increasing gov’t regulation.

      We’ll always need acknowledged and “official” experts for this to comply with gov’t regulations. I just don’t think that these will be the dominant models that they are today. Instead, I think these will be a much smaller subset of more comprehensive and pervasive social learning / community-learning models.

      Dave

  3. March 4, 2009 11:01 pm

    David-

    You’re right – the certification-style courses aren’t going anywhere. Did you see on ASTD’s blog here http://www1.astd.org/Blog/post/ASTD-TRAINING-IS-A-MAJOR-FOCUS-OF-THE-US-STIMULUS-PACKAGE.aspx that $5 billion of the stimulus goes to training?

    I also agree that strict reliance on top down management is very 1960s and unlikely to result in outstanding results. I also believe that one typical fear response in our species is to try and gain more control over things that scare us. I think a lot of businesses will unwisely try to tighten the reigns…and you are exactly right when you say that the companies that run like communities are likely to beat the command and control organizations.

    In fact, don’t I remember this same conversation from sometime in the late 80s, where it seemed innovative to suggest that technology and flexible management could allow small businesses or communities of practice to outperform large mega-corporations? I guess it’s all cyclical in the end.

    • dwilkinsnh permalink*
      March 8, 2009 7:57 pm

      Hey Lisa,

      Thanks for the link. I actually missed that one.

      I agree with your points about the “human fear response.” I also agree that we’re going to see some companies retrench. I run into this all the time — companies banning Facebook, LinkedIn, Delicious — it’s mind-blowing. But as you note, expected too. That said, I don’t think they will survive very long. When you at the results of the companies who are embracing social learning and community principles, it’s clear that traditional strategies won’t survive very long. Have you read The Big Shift by Nick Carr? It compares the shift to electrical grids from waterwheels to the shift today to cloud computing from local IT resources. I think we can make a similar argument about the transition to crowd sourcing and community from hierarchies and traditional management models.

      And yes, I agree too that it’s all cyclical. I remember doing EPSS in the mid 90’s. And then it was workflow learning. And now we can do some of this with community… It’s going to be a fun ride.

      The Big Shift

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