ASTD Big Question: What will workplace learning be like in 10 years?

Posted by Gina Rosenthal in big question | Tagged , , , , , | 3 Comments

This month’s Big Question from ASTD is “what will workplace learning be like in 10 years?”. If you go to their post, there are already some really interesting thoughts and comments about this topic.

Byron said “The best prophet of the future is the past”. I’m a firm believer in that notion, so I’d like to answer the Big Question with a question of my own: what happened 10 years ago to workplace learning?

I’ve been doing some sort of training since I came into the professional workplace in 2001. I just started studying education for my graduate degree in 2007. I have some very experienced, patient folks in my department who kindly talk with me when I ask them about something I am studying or something I have read on a blog that pertains to eLearning. They seem to appreciate my enthusiasm, but they always have this weary look on their face when I tell them about all these “new” ideas. They tell me they were trying to implement some of these very things 10 years ago!

Besides having these discussions with co-workers, there is literature that goes back 10 years or so that talks about CSCL, communities of practice, and all of these things that are the underpinnings of what people are talking about doing today. So I have to wonder, are some of the ideas being bandied about today really that new? Or are they rehashed from 10 years ago? If these are old ideas given new life by improved technology, what happened 10 years ago that got these ideas pushed to the back burner? What can we learn about our past so that we can execute these ideas in the present, so that in our future we’re not going through this exercise yet again?

I also want to say that I do not agree with the idea that the training department should go away completely. For one thing, work is social. Work gets done based on the relationships we have with others, and based on the social capital that we have. This means that there will always be “others” in the workplace. This otherness will be categorized just like it is in general society: by race, gender, nationality, disability, religion, etc.

Knowledge is a form of social capital. I believe very strongly if there is no guidance, “others” in the workplace will not have access to knowledge that they need to have to do their work. This will happen either because they don’t have access to the correct network, or because they are purposefully excluded from access to that information based on their position in the social ladder.

I believe this because of my status of other (a woman in a predominately male field), and my daughter’s status of other (Asperger’s Syndrome). Training departments can be the mechanism that provides each worker with access to the information required to perform his/her job duties successfully.

If we as training groups are aligning to the business and the true competitive advantage of knowledge workers is how fast they are able learn, we owe it to the business to ensure that every worker, no matter their access to social hierarchies in the workplace,  has access to all the tools they need to help them learn.

Maybe in the future learning organizations won’t be the “givers of knowledge”, maybe we become more like librarians that help people find resources (and learn to do their own searches) as they are needed.

3 Responses to ASTD Big Question: What will workplace learning be like in 10 years?

  1. Candi Imming says:

    Interesting thoughts. I agree that some things around education/learning are hard to change, but I actually could see that some technologies could help with that in the future.

    I do think it could be possible to have education consultants similar to your librarian idea. They help diagnose and then prescribe a curriculum to help people accomplish their job training goals, perhaps certifying them as part of the service.
    They might be much better then this then a manager would be for several aspects of job training. Training experts understand how people learn and acquire skills.

    I do not see how people will ever really be out of the training solution. Another possiblity could be trainers assigned to teams for specific skill builiding in an area like agile development. Think how much faster a team could be up to speed if one member was focused on building skills, monitoring, analyzing proficiency, providing feedback, and helping people to learn. This does not happen today.

  2. MadKat97 says:

    One further question to ask is: where? Some organizations will have embraced Web 2.0 technologies and their predecessors; others will still be spreading “death by PowerPoint.” Also consider that it is the culture of the organization that will help determine the outcome: in some cultures, attempts a meaningful use of technologies and “informal” learning will be stillborn because at base the organization is closed, hierarchical, authoritarian and controlling.
    As regards training departments: we need to be the plumber, not the pipe. IT will own the pipe: we need to add value to the process and the content, and advise as to where the bandwidth and cycles should best be spent.

    All motion is relative. 10 years may be forever in Web years, and a mere moment in the evolution of an organization.

  3. Bill Kirwin says:

    While ideas happen at the speed of light they take 10-20 years to become mainstream. This gestation period may be shrinking, but is nowhere near the optimistic projections that accompany them. Some like the flying cars projected in the 1950s have yet to come to fruition.

    Having been a “pundit” at Gartner for 20 years, I learned that no matter how long we would project a trend to become mainstream, it always took longer. The mouse took over 15 years to come into its own. Voice recognition is now becoming mainstream after over 30 years of development. At Gartner there is an analytical tool that plots the life of a technology. There is a steep curve at the beginning called the “rise of inflated expectations” followed by a drop into he “trough of disillusionment.” Then there is a maturation phase that rises to a “plateau of productivity” that is about 1/3 as high as the peak of inflated expectations.”

    So I guess the recommendation is to set your timer appropriately, look about 10 years back into history and look for enablers that will accelerate or slow down the adoption rate of an opportunity. Y2K was an enabler that accelerated the adoption of ERP solutions well before they were ready for prime time.

    At Cohesive Knowledge Solutions we are seeing knowledge work (communication and collaboration) just beginning to rise from the trough. This is proven by the rapidly emerging corporate awareness that they have a problem with email, file and document management and meetings which consume about 75% of the kworker day. This is 60 years after Drucker invented the term and at least 15 years after we entered the knowledge economy!


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