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The Future of Learning and Development in the Workplace (Revisited)


“The dropout rate of massive online courses is higher than 97%,” recently reported Seth Godin, technology guru and author, on his blog.

As a panelist on next week’s The Technology Edge – The Experts Share for the American Society for Training and Development, I feel obligated to share new and shiny technology that we all can use to increase the competency and knowledge of our workplace.  And, as a millennial, I feel the expectations that I’m supposed to embrace every new gadget that offers me everything to make my life easier.  Right? That’s how it’s supposed to go.

And yet, when we look at the statistic of 97% drop out rate its hard to argue that technology may not be the silver bullet for the future of training, learning and developing our workforce.  We’re not too surprised though are we? I mean we’ve all been in those webinars that drone on and one. Usually we’re multi-tasking, doing other work, have another browser open searching for weekend get aways and we may sign off before the class even ends (shhh, I won’t tell if you won’t).

Technology is only the tool, what’s the strategy?
When I coach and train on technology and social media one of the fundamental ideas that I try to get across again and again is that new technology is only a tool.  It’s no different than any other tools that we use.  The paintbrush in the hands of a master creates masterpieces; a paintbrush in the hands of an amateur does not. In essence, it’s not even the paintbrush that creates the masterpiece, but the human behind the paintbrush.

Why did e-learning and web-based learning systems never take off in the 90s?  Because there was never a fundamental strategy to embrace them.  Why have other learning systems including some new social technologies failed to catch on fire and really transform the learning within our workforce, break down barriers and create a harmonious, continuous learning environment?  Because there was never a fundamental strategy to embrace both the technology, but more importantly, the structure needed to incubate and grow the continuous learning culture.

I’m not even saying the strategy should be to embrace learning technologies wholeheartedly.  I’m saying we need to make learning and development a core strategy and develop tools and systems around that to make it successful!

Much of the failure with technology and learning doesn’t even have to do with technology.  It has to do with us trying to force technology into an ecosystem that doesn’t need technology, or at least not at every touch point of education.  You know that eye-roll you get from your kids or from the younger employee when you attempt to incorporate technology?  Many of those eye-rolls are because either the inexperience of administering the technology (which tends to frustrate younger employees) or the organization is using a technology for the sake of technology instead of using it to create a more efficient workspace (which is really all the young worker wants – speed and efficiency – technology is just usually the best path to get there).

Godin asked, “What is school for?” during a TEDx talk when he was trying to strip away all the nuisances of the failed system we call our national education system.  We may want to ask our organizations “What is learning for?”  What are we trying to accomplish?  The opportunity to use new gadgets and shiny toys as a way to appear cutting edge? Or, are we making sure the learner has learned in whatever way possible – be it classroom led, technologically-driven, or perhaps even socially-led. As Godin continues in his TEDx talk, “It’s easy to be exposed to education, but actually quite a challenge to learn.”

Are we exposing our employees to just more noise (cumbersome learning systems and socially awkward networking technology) or are we attempting to get them to learn something, retain it and then apply it?

Social Sandbox
All that being said, the workplace isn’t moving to a more technological learning sandbox, it’s moving to a more social learning sandbox.  If technology provides the ability to connect, collaborate and share so be it (but it has to be on the learners terms), if small groups like roundtable discussions or breakout groups provide the learning “sweet spot” than provide those. I saw a great mixture of this when I took a tour of Tech Valley High in Albany, NY (stay tuned for a special blog on that!).

HONESTY ALERT: Because New Directions core talent and work is in our ability to offer a classroom-led workshop, we have a tendency to think we’ll be wiped out by an inability to always compete with the next new technology.  I rest assured that technology and “buzz words” will come and go, but the ability to help another individual learn and grow and have that ‘ah ha’ moment will always be needed and always be cherished by company and worker alike.  As Stacey Harris, VP of Research at Brandon Hall Research reports classroom training actually increased in the past year by 5%.

What will the future be?
In my opinion, the future of learning will be a combination of competency building through lecture-led seminars, engagement-building through social learning and discovery-learning through new technologies and collaborations.  We have our work cut out for us, but I can’t think of a better team ready to tackle the challenge.

As Sharlyn Lauby, HRBartender, point out in her post this past week, Believe It or Not – Classroom Training Isn’t Dead, “the real value in social media is when people get the chance to take their online interactions to real life.  I believe we see this trend in classroom training.  Virtual teams getting the chance to meet each other.  Employees from all of the world connecting in person then collaboration online.”

Here would be my recommendations when trying to understand the future of learning and development within your own organization:

  • Start an Advanced Learning Team that is cross generational, cross-functional, multi-level and charge them with finding out the social and technology learning needs and desires of your organization.
  • Measure if learning has occurred within your programs and workshops based on if the learner has learned not on whether they “attended” the learning session.  Test this with assessments, behavioral changes and continued learning opportunities.
  • In workshops and training allow for the ‘social sandbox’ to occur. Next-generation trainers (whether in-house or vendors) will have to be great facilitators of both competency learning and social engagement (group discussions, mentorships, sponsors, break out groups) when providing workshops and trainings.
  • Continue to invest in training and development.  It seems simple, but so many organizations are cutting back on this in our current economic state.  It’s scary – if we continue to cut back we are going to have a very competency-depleted workforce within 5-10 years.

What has been your experience with technology and learning?  Are you using any new programs or tools?  What do you find to be the most effective for “bottom-line learning”

One Response to “The Future of Learning and Development in the Workplace (Revisited)” Leave a reply ›

  • I think it’s safe to say that the future of learning and development in the workplace looks bright. New technologies and techniques will evidently come along, and training programs are sure to become more effective. Personally, I am excited to see how augmented reality, a revolutionary training tool, will improve workplace learning across the world. Learn more about it here:

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