How learning is changing in the new age of disruption
“I am still learning” – Michelangelo, at the age of 87
February 1, 2017 - Change is taking place at a breakneck speed, the digital revolution is well underway and almost every industry (including Retail, Travel, Healthcare, Banking, Energy, Automobiles) is in various stages of disruption, which is having a significant impact on the world of learning. In the old days, we believed that we went to school and college to pick up the education and skills that would last the length of our careers. Today, it is clear that we need to reskill ourselves every 7-10 years. Alvin Toffler, author and former associate editor of Fortune magazine, famously said that the “illiterate of our century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn and relearn.”
Thank you for the disruption!
When people are asked “what % of the knowledge required for your job do you have” they now typically answer in the 50-60% range, down from over 90% in the mid-20th century. This reflects the fact that there is so much new information being generated and that problems today cannot be solved merely by breaking down a big problem into multiple small problems and solving each of them, they also require the use of multi-disciplinary thinking. That is one big reason why peer networks and collective intelligence are becoming ever more important in companies.
Ask an employee today, “Who do you go to, to learn about a new topic”, and very few will point to either their boss or a training program, they will probably say “google” or a “community” or some “forum”. Our learning ecosystems now extend far beyond formal training to non-traditional assets such as expert forums, search engines, open-source content, peer networks and knowledge management.
Another interesting development is how consumer technology has developed. Technology for consumers (Facebook, LinkedIn etc.) has been designed for ease of use and a terrific user experience. Technology for companies, however, has traditionally been designed for strong controllership. It is no surprise then, that more people (even in Indian cities) now say that their systems at home are better than the systems in office - perhaps for the first time ever. The good news is that learning, which is discretionary, is now accessible outside of office systems, because of the advances in consumer learning technology.
To summarize, disruption is creating such a redundancy of skills that it is becoming necessary to completely reskill ourselves every 7-10 years, while also learning continuously. At the same time, the toolkit available to learn has expanded in scope, availability and accessibility. Learning is more critical than ever before - making this is a great place to be for learning teams, as custodians of a strategic capability for their companies. Which is why I say - Thank you for the Disruption!
The implications for learning
Let’s take a look at the implications of these fascinating new forces on the world of learning.
- The new Learning Ecosystem = New age L&D + Knowledge Management & Collaboration. What is taught in typical programs is now being reinforced through knowledge management and peer learning through collaboration. This brings much more power to the “on the job learning” 70% component of the 10-20-70 learning rule.
- L&D professionals need to retool themselves with 21st century skills like Content Curation, Design Thinking and Collaboration. When speed is of the essence and content is more readily accessible, we have to get better at how we present and use it, and how we encourage learners to become content contributors.
- Coaching is increasingly important in this new disruptive environment. Situations are changing fast and clients and bosses often don’t know the answers, so the key is to be able to ask the right questions to improve the thinking process of colleagues so they may find the answers. In my opinion, this is a skill that learning managers and leaders must pick up in order to help navigate and deliver on new and disruptive situations.
- A good partnership with the Chief Information Officer is essential to deliver a consumer friendly learning environment and to provide the right user experience, while ensuring that the data security and IT cost needs of the firm are met. Additionally a deep understanding of technology is important for all learning teams. I actually believe 15-20% of the future learning teams will first be digital experts who we will then train in learning.
- An even closer integration with Performance Management. The ATD research continues to hold true that the single biggest determinant of learning is ‘boss before the program’, as they are the ones who foster the desire to learn in an individual. Today with the learning ecosystem extending beyond the office, with so many different options on what and how to learn, it is even more important to tie learning and performance together so that they can motivate the learner to learn what is important from the firm’s perspective.
For me, it’s really all about creating a living, breathing, ever-changing, relevant learning culture that is agile and flexible and inclusive, where everyone in the organization, whether they are trainers or peers or leaders or young learners, can share knowledge, communicate, adapt to new trends and processes, imbibe fresh ideas and thoughts – and keep growing and learning for life. I would love to get your thoughts and comments on some of these ideas or alternate ways to think about the world of learning in the future, so do write in!