The way we live and work has changed fundamentally over the past decade or so, driven primarily by the arrival of the internet. The implications of these changes are profound and far reaching. In particular, they affect anyone whose role centres on information.
And that includes the L&D profession.
L&D has traditionally been all about our relationship with information. For almost all of human history – from the earliest Babylonian wax tablets to the printed books of the Twentieth Century – information was scarce. No longer. From the moment in late 1989 when Sir Tim Berners-Lee proposed an online information sharing system he called the World-wide Web, things began to shift.
A new world of information
We are still on that journey of change, but the single, most telling impact is clear: from a position of scarcity, information has become close to free and frictionless. It costs almost nothing to find the information you need, and you can share it almost instantly.
This challenges the traditional role of L&D. When I began as a trainer in the 1980s, there were two primary routes to information: the classroom and the book. That set the role of L&D clearly: we were to collect information, interpret it and deliver it – typically via live classes – to employees of the organisations we worked for. By and large, they were happy with the results and by revising our offering, say once a year, we could keep up with the pace of business.
Now that information is almost free and frictionless, not only can employees usually find what they need to know in a moment, they can share it faster, too. As a result, business has sped up. The product life cycle for developing a new model of car, for example, has dropped from about 5 years to closer to 2.5. Stock in S&P 500 companies which was held an average of 60 years in the 1960s in now held for less than 20 years. Business is harder and faster and a watchful Wall Street will punish any mistakes without hesitation.
A new world of learning
In this environment, training employees with an annually revised roster of classes – whether face to face or online – is no longer viable.
To be sure, some companies have stuck to this approach. They are in what I call the zone of ‘Comfortable Extinction’, ignoring reality until it eventually side swipes them and their business goes under (think video chain Blockbuster which filed for Chapter 11 in 2010).
Other organizations demand a different approach, looking at three things in particular.
Course, resources and sources: If information is free, is a course always the right way to convey that information? If it is, who should author it? Can the L&D department afford to be one of thousands of departments world-wide engaged in the cottage industry of producing materials very similar to others, and very soon likely to be out-of-date?
A new role: These smarter organizations know that an L&D function is still essential, but also accept that its role has changed. It can no longer be fixated on information delivery, as if the Internet had never been invented, it must change what it does.
A new mind-set: Most of all, they know that in the Information Age, a successful, modern learning function is crucial to organizational success, but that the function must not only act differently in its new role, it must also approach that role with a new mind-set, focused on business need.
A new L&D function
I've spent my entire working life since the mid-1980s in learning and technology and it has never been more exciting, more dangerous or more full of potential. In travelling the world I regularly meet people who are doing great things in L&D. For them, and for anyone serious about supporting real learning – as opposed to being a vehicle for delivering information – this is a great time to be in the profession.
Please join me on Wednesday February 17th, 8am PST, when I'll be delivering a webinar for OpenSesame where I discuss these topics in more detail, and focus practically on what you can do to take advantage of the current opportunities in L&D.
Just click to register for Three Learning Essentials in 2016. I look forward to seeing you online, discussing these important issues, and to helping you build an approach to successful organizational learning this year.
About the Author:
Donald H Taylor is a 25 year veteran of the learning, skills and human capital industries, with experience at every level from design and delivery to chairman of the board. He has been chairman of the Learning and Performance Institute since 2010.
A recognised commentator and organiser in the fields of workplace learning and learning technologies, Donald is passionately committed to helping develop the learning and development profession.
His background ranges from training delivery to director and vice-president positions in software companies. Donald has been a company director and shareholder for three companies through start up, growth and acquisition.
He is an influential writer and speaker in the fields of the professional development of L&D and of technology-supported learning. He was the 2007 recipient of the Colin Corder award for services to training and has chaired the Learning Technologies Conference since 2000. He also chairs the Learning and Skills Group, hosting its bi-weekly webinar programme, and edits Inside Learning Technologies Magazine. He is a graduate of Oxford University.