Learning Industry Revolution

| Comments

In my last post, I outlined the obstacles that traditional enterprise L&D models face in a rapidly shifting business environment. Today, I’d like to identify the three market forces that are propelling the changes in the industry: the shift in mindset, the shift in mechanics (technology), and the shift in control.


In a previous position as Director of Learning & Development at T-Mobile USA, I was hired to “make training more effective” which confronted me with three critical questions I couldn’t answer at the time:

  • Are my people ready? (to sell or climb a pole safely?)
  • If not, what needs to be done?
  • How do I know it will be effective?

Let’s just say answers such as “93% have taken the mandatory test with a score of 85% or better” or “the confidence score before and after training improved 70%” didn’t address the core of these questions. Embracing the challenge, I discovered the underlying forces at work and anticipated an inevitable industry shift in mindset and mechanics.

The Shift in Mindset

from company-driven to people-driven

Previously, the company mindset had been to create and deliver training in the form of knowledge acquisition or skills development. Information about products, processes, and people were available within the company. Information had to be aggregated and delivered in person or with e-learning modules launched from a centralized learning system. Skills had to be demonstrated in a classroom setting, with a mentor, or on the job. In all cases, people were limited by and compelled to take whatever training the company offered.

This company mindset of what learning should be is no longer in touch with reality. Today, information is available everywhere. People curate their knowledge through internal and external sources faster, and often better, than Learning & Development (L&D). The enterprise L&D response has been to adopt learning disciplines such as Embedded Performance Support, which delivers the right information to people when they need it, within their standard workflow. The new paradigm is getting “what I want to know, when I want to know it, how I choose to learn it.”

The Shift in Mechanics

from a centralized learning fortress to distributed learning everywhere

A change in the mechanics and technologies that facilitated learning brought about a shift in the market. As I mentioned in the last blog, computers and Learning Mangagement Systems (LMS) were a step forward in the way learning was delivered, but L&D still found itself the central hub of the process. It’s only more recently, with the explosion of learning resources available online, that a new, distributed learning environment has been created.

Between step-by-step guides, video tutorials, and collaborative social networking tools, the traditional training model set in a single place or fortress is no longer an accurate representation of learning in the workplace.

These changes could have left L&D in the dust, but just as technologies were being developed to expand the learning ecosystem, so were tools to help forward-thinking L&D professionals continue to participate in the process. In the last few years, developers, vendors, and L&D leaders have taken a look at the current state of learning technology and found that the set of tools were constrained by proprietary formats, without a modern technical standard to support the new learning and performance ecosystem. Learning could not be tied measurably to business outcomes.

In April of 2013, the US DoD summoned a community of learning practitioners, developers, and vendors to build the Experience API, an e-learning technology specification, to solve these problems. The Experience API helps free the data from silos, so that disparate learning and performance systems can talk to each other. The Learning Record Store (LRS) is a component designed to store and share xAPI data (called statements). The xAPI and the LRS gave L&D the ability to track learning where it really takes place. To keep up with the speed of business, L&D could finally train, assess skills, and demonstrate effectiveness within the employees’ natural workflow, none of which was practical until the xAPI.

The Shift in Control

from enterprise to consumer

Together, the shift in mindset and mechanics paints a pretty clear picture: The enterprise and L&D no longer have total control of training and learning. People can get equivalent or better information from outside sources, and do so faster than L&D can deliver it. For the first time in its history, corporate L&D has serious competition.

LMSs and in-person training disrupts work and productivity, so L&D leaders have adapted to support employees by analyzing processes and injecting information at the point it’s most relevant. But going forward, information and knowledge management will continue to be less and less central to L&D’s activities. In its place, more resources will be going toward the facet of human capital in which L&D still has a crucial part to play: skills development. The need for learning practices which support workforce performance will continue to be necessary, whether it’s through on-the-job training, roleplaying, or virtual simulations.

But here, too, L&D faces some competition in the form of highly immersive games. If skills development simulations aren’t up to the production standards of modern entertainment technology, L&D will have a hard time keeping people’s attention long enough to support their development.

The overall shift from company to consumer-driven innovation reminded me of a similar revolution which took place in personal mobile devices. Blackberry devices (and the central Blackberry Enterprise Server which ruled the employee mobile experience) formerly had a stranglehold on the business market, but iPhones eventually displaced them. Consumers were emboldened by bring-your-own-device policies and preferred the freedom and adaptability of this new class of productivity tool. This is the same path that learning technologies are heading, and if I knew then what I know now, the three critical questions I was trying to answer as an L&D director at T-Mobile would have been much more clear.

There is a common thread among L&D professionals positioned to thrive in the learning revolution which I’ve come to call the Saltbox Savvy way: an adventurous spirit and embrace of technology-assisted learning in a fast-paced, distributed environment. It is savvy in that these learning leaders may be constrained by small budgets and little IT support, but are dedicated to growing an ecosystem around new ideas in the industry. It’s everything we stand for at Saltbox, and it’s why in the coming weeks, I’m excited to begin sharing the Saltbox Savvy series of blog posts, to discuss the models and strategies L&D leaders have developed to adapt to this new world.

If you have your own thoughts about the current state of learning, let us know in the comments below or drop us a line at Saltbox.