March 17, 2016

Will L&D exist in the future?

Mike Collins, Head of Learning Solutions at DPG talks about the future of L&D to celebrate DPG’s 25 year anniversary.

The scary thing is that we can’t even imagine what things will look like in five years’ time, let alone 25. The way that technology is developing is changing, the way that we are communicating and collaborating is changing, how economies are and will be performing, societal shifts…

But if we were to do a bit of crystal ball gazing, what would we expect to happen in organisations over the next 25 years? There will be some big shifts in L&D, that’s for sure, and we even need to ask ourselves the question: ‘Will L&D exist in the next 25 years?’ There is a lot of research around this, such as the CIPD’s work on future professions.

Will the office be a thing of the past? Will we see a much greater reliance on remote working and virtual offices and what does that mean for HR if employees are not predominantly all in one place?

There will be a big shift from classroom based training to much greater use of remote communications, collaboration and knowledge sharing. It’s already happening. In L&D we have created a cottage industry around L&D and training – it’s where people have been sent to learn and get training. However, a lot of start ups now do not have L&D functions and these organisations are self-learning. They share and have a mindset of learning and collaboration, peer to peer.

A lot of those start ups do not use email to communicate internally. Instead, they use social software that allows people to connect through their networks. Enterprise social software removes the hierarchy of control, removes that top down approach. People can connect with each other, share ideas and show what they can do. It encourages innovation.

If (when?) more organisations do this, having networks at the heart of their operations, it could be a game changer.

The catalyst for all of this has of course been the onset of the digital age. People can gather information for themselves, rather than relying on L&D to create content. L&D has to think about it can help people to learn in the 21st century. How do we go out and find relevant information and turn it into compelling stories and resources? We have to help people connect with each other and foster the community aspect of learning. Communities of practice will be a key part of how people learn in the future. This is quite a scary shift for a lot of L&D professionals – the job they have been doing for the last 20-25 years is no longer effective. We need to shift from the default response of ‘Let’s create some training’. We need to embrace the world that we live in and that requires a variety of skills, tools, technologies and expertise that L&D can draw on.

There is already a big shift in organisations that need to help people be more responsive in terms of just in time learning and dispersing knowledge quickly.

There will be a big shift away from L&D’s traditional function, a shift that is already happening. Rather than being a delivery function, L&D needs to undergo a major shift in understanding what performance consulting is – it will have to be much more strategic and become an essential part of business. It will have to really challenge people in operations and the business, asking questions such as ‘It this a training issue or a process issue?’ and ‘Is it that this is the wrong person for this job rather than a training issue?’

There is also how artificial intelligence and algorithms are changing the way that people access content. You can have ratings on your course catalogue, the way that Amazon does, say. This can influence the content and support that L&D produces. The way that algorithms on the Internet track your user journey and then reshow web content you might be interested in, we could have the same mechanics in a work context. This means there will be the ability to flag up information that people might be interested in based on preferences, job role and web history. We can create a whole learning journey based on what people genuinely need and are interested in.

We need to get smarter at marketing our products so that people want to consume them. We still call people employees and learners but who are they? They are consumers, they are our customers. If L&D does not meet the needs of consumers it will become a sideshow or disappear altogether.

Virtual reality is something else that will be increasingly important. It has started to hit mainstream already, such as with Samsung’s first maths produced headsets. Creating immersive experiences is really powerful and can be used for business simulations – trying things out in a safe environment. For example, if you need to have a difficult conversation with someone, you can try it out in a virtual space first. Or if you need to do a big presentation, you an practice virtually. There will be a massive rise in this over the next few years.

With all of this, L&D professionals need to be masters of their own destiny, as far as is possible. Have the right skills and mindset and be aware of the external factors that will influence change.