Ten years after

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The Learning Circuits Blog Big Question for March is “If you peer inside an organization in 10 years time and you look at how workplace learning is being supported by that organization, what will you see? What will the mix of Push vs. Pull Learning; Formal vs. Informal supported by the organization? Are there training departments? What are they doing? How big are they as compared to today? What new departments will be responsible for parts of workplace learning? What will current members of training departments be doing in 10 years?”

Here’s some discussion at togetherLearn about the topic:

And here are a few of my own rambling thoughts on the topic:

1. The pace of business is accelerating at an unprecedented rate. We will make more progress and experience more upsets in 2009 than in the entire 1980-90 decade. Internet Time has arrived, and it’s a currency that’s undergoing hyperinflation. I’ll try to guess 5 years out.

2. Before you look at workplace learning, you’ve got to look at the workplace, and by 2014, organizations will look so different from today, you won’t recognize them.

For example, Technologies of Cooperation from the Institute for the Future focuses on cooperation-amplifying technologies and makes a good case for them. All of these are important carriers of learning. Learning professionals will be helping to bake sound learning practices into these evolving structures.

  • Self-organizing mesh networks
  • Community computing grids
  • Peer production networks
  • Social mobile computing
  • Group-forming networks
  • Social software
  • Social accounting tools
  • Knowledge collectives

3. Are there training departments? Yes, no matter what the future landscape, there will be training departments. (Bet you didn’t expect Jay to say that, eh?) After all, thousands of large companies are relying on IT whose foundation is ancient COBOL and PL/1 applications no one can understand any longer.

4. Incrementalism is the enemy of innovation. I’m reluctant to address push vs pull and formal vs informal for fear of not thinking big enough, but that’s not enough to hold me back. Pull will continue to gain in proportion to push because active network connections flatten power structures, and it’s better when unfettered workers can have more discretion in what they pull. Pushing lessons is not very effective; it’s a poor investment.

5. Formal isn’t versus informal, although I’ll admit to using the analogy myself on occasion. All learning is part formal and part informal. What’s important is the proportion. How this plays out in 2014 is so dependent on future tech that my answer is again speculative. When you need to learn the lay of the land or explicit knowledge around something you have no framework for, more formality is appropriate. When you’re filling in gaps if an area for which you already have a set of mental pigeon holes, informality works because you are the one who knows what you need. This speaks in favor of more use of informal.

6. The Internet Time factor generates more information, relationships, models, and things to learn by the microsecond. Will corporations devote more time and support to learning? Yes. Lots more. Lots, lots more. However, I expect most corporations will have spread responsibility for learning, helping others learn, and knowledge of meta-learning throughout their corporate domains. Learning will be woven into the fabric of the corporation, not delegated to a department.

7. Our self-imposed training silos are coming down. Classic instructional designers by-pass the messiness of the business environment by acting as if it does not exist, much like architects who flatten the landscape and clear the trees because it’s easier to deal with a blank sheet of paper. Training programs tumble out but are not used. Even the good ones decay in the blink of an eye. The problem is the focus on programs. Today’s instructional design needs to focus on platforms: connections, bandwidth, access, ease-of-learning, availability of network stewards, fostering the development of communities …. Constructing limited-use training events, with rare exceptions, is becoming obsolete.

8. In a knowledge society, learning is the work. I expect corporate learning to encompass not only employees but also customers, partners, contractors, suppliers, part-timers, potential recruits, corporate alumni, and other stakeholders. Smarter customers are better customers. Partners and contractors are vital to the supply chain. Outreach to recruits and loyal former staff pay off in better talent and more supporters.Providing opportunities for informal learning is an incredibly cheap way to support this outreach.

9. What will current members of training departments be doing in 10 years? Something else. We all will.