The Future of Learning Needs Work

It’s summer! Well, not officially but the weather here has been wonderful, and I’ve spent a lot of time outside. I work from home most days, and I schedule a longer lunch break so I can take a walk. I usually listen to podcasts during my walk: about technology, HR, pay and the metaverse. Also about great philosophers and books. There’s so much to learn and so many wonderful podcasts. I find that listening to audio makes it intimate and allows me to really hear what’s being said without distraction. No wonder audio is making a come back.

Learning channels: more is better

And that ties into one of my observations at Learning Technologies 2022: vendors are becoming more creative. They no longer offer a single channel, usually video, to deliver training. They are making full use of the whole media range: from traditional approaches like video and audio to new channels including text, messaging, bots, AR and VR so employees can choose the channel that serves them best.

I was blown away by the sheer size of the exhibition: around 200 vendors focused on Learning & Development. As expected, all of the large LMS vendors were there. I was pleasantly surprised to see quite a number of young, newer vendors demo their capabilities: from just-in-time training to employee coaching to metaverse meeting training (yes, that’s a thing).

The vendors ran mini sessions on the floor and they were packed. I’m sure that people were happy to visit an in-person event again, but also, it’s been 2 years since they last saw vendors in action. A lot has changed since: on the vendor side but also on the demand side. With remote working and the labor and skills shortage, it’s critical to teach and upskill your people fast.

One thing that was different: no gadgets. Personally, I think that’s a good thing as it eliminates a lot of waste. Vendors offered snacks and drinks on their booths and that’s a welcome change. And one thing that surprised me: given the focus on VR, I had expected to see more vendors demonstrate their capabilities. I counted only 5. A lot less than I thought. Also MIA: learning solutions focused on the deskless workforce.

But Web3 wasn’t completely absent: vendors are anticipating the Creator Economy and are opening up their solutions to include creator content. They allow external content creators to monetize their services through these platforms. In the same line of thought I saw some solutions offer access to employee coaching services using external professionals.

I didn’t see much focus on data. There were some analytics dashboards, but I’m aiming at using data for real insights: what drives learning adoption, how can we change behaviors? With everything that is happening in learning systems and the money we spend on L&D, we should be able to understand much better how learning is consumed, what employees enjoy and which trainings result in increased productivity. Maybe next year.

Conference observation: long is better

The conference was very well organized with sessions that ran a little over an hour. At first I thought that was kind of long, but the experience was pleasant: the speaker has time to lay out the topic in detail, with enough time at the end for audience questions. I wish more conferences would offer fewer sessions that run longer, so you can really explore a topic, instead of jamming as many sessions as possible into the program.

A special mention for the #30under30 program. A group of 30 young L&D professionals attended the conference, and everyone in the audience was invited to engage with them. I met with this vibrant group of young people and it was a pleasure to hear their thoughts. A great initiative!

On to the content with the opening keynote. Matthew Syed introduced us to 2 corporate mindsets. A fixed mindset is focused on talent itself. A growth mindset considers talent as one factor among others. Growth mindset organizations learn from their successes and their failures. They are also better at inviting divergent thinkers to speak up. This attitude drives high performance and is key to corporate success in this decade.

Break-out sessions: personalized is better

The breakout sessions I attended focused on technology (surprising, right?). David Kelly from the Learning Guild took us on a journey to describe how fast learning technologies are changing and where they are headed. Personalization is key, as is just-in-time learning. Learning must be integrated for maximum impact. And don’t talk about mobile anymore: it’s a given that learning adapts to the platform you’re on.

I asked him about VR and the metaverse, but he said it was too early: “While VR has some powerful opportunities around collaboration and presence, I think that potential is still a ways off from being mainstream. It is also like extinguishing a match with a fire hose – there are more accessible ways to connect across distance.”

Upskilling must be better

David Fosway shared the latest Fosway 9-Grid for Digital Learning. He observed that companies aren’t upskilling internal workers enough. We’re looking to hire external candidates instead of educating employees to grow their career. Only 5% of companies indicated that they are very effective in matching workers to new opportunities. That is not sustainable.

He also mentioned that the problem with skills is that they are based on HR measures (using the standard in the HCM system) and not on business insights. Using generic skills overviews will not help your company to reach its potential. And with all that, people are tired of online learning: 41% of Learning professionals indicate that digital learning fatigue is here.

Embracing the robots is the way forward

My own keynote started with 2 audience questions: “Do you teach people how to work with robots? Do you train robots how to work with people?” Yes, a bit provocative first thing Thursday morning, but given our demographics and labor & skills shortage, every company needs to think about this. And I can safely say I didn’t see a lot of hands go up.

Our business leaders expect to execute their strategies, and workers can be more productive when using automation. For the first time, they don’t feel threatened by robots, but welcome the opportunity to remove mundane activities from their workload. It’s important to find ways to get people to work with robots and robots to work with people. It’s a big task but it belongs to Learning & Development and can’t be left to IT.

I ended with a call to action: When you go back to your workplace, ask yourself how you can prepare everyone to work alongside robots and use automation effectively. I’m going to leave you with that CTA as well. Let me know if you’d like to hear the full story. I’ll be happy to share the keynote!