As the workforce becomes more diverse, not only from a generational perspective, but also bringing with it an array of educational, technical and anecdotal backgrounds, course designers and instructors face more challenges than ever to craft and deliver relevant, current and compelling content in a timely and dynamic manner.

The Future of Work is already here. So declares Josh Bersin in a September 2016 article in Forbes. While the article says executives should not be intimidated by this revelation, today’s workplace does present challenges for the talent development industry. So how does “Future Now” impact learning and development professionals? The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics says that the average baby boomer will change jobs 11.7 times over the course of their career, while Guy Berger’s LinkedIn blog predicts millennials will change jobs every two years or less.

Compounding a workforce that is in an increasing state of flux, many more workers are now working on a contingency basis with upstarts like Lyft, TaskRabbit, and Uber. Automation and robotics also continue to gnaw away at traditional job roles, creating concern over professional drivers losing their jobs to autonomous vehicles.

The Internet has empowered corporate learners to seek out information on their own, whether inside or outside corporate boundaries. According to research from Degreed, about 47 percent of workers search the Internet, while only 28 percent search their employers’ learning systems.

With the increasing pace of job turnover, plus perhaps an even faster pace of role changes and relationships between employers and employees changing both within and tangential to organizations, timely, relevant and current information delivery to the workforce becomes even more vital.

GREAT EXPECTATIONS 

If businesses were expecting to see exponential increases in productivity due to more technology and automation, they may be disappointed. According to a U.S. Bureau of Labor statistics study, productivity began to flatten while smartphone sales grew steadily. This paradox does not mean that L&D professionals cannot leverage technology to move learning experiences from a series of mind-numbing tasks to a truly engaging and consumer-like experience. Technology just needs to be leveraged in a different way.

Kurt Marko introduces the term omnichannel in an April 2016 article from Forbes on leveraging big data and machine learning to enrich customer experiences. Successful and effective instructional designers and instructors consider their learners as customers and can leverage this omnichannel approach to constantly connected learners who, as a result of their experiences as consumers, have come to expect anytime, anywhere learning. These consumer experiences, along with the “there’s an app for that” mentality have also set expectations for relevant, timely and intuitive learning experiences. And, based on their experiences with many retailers, today’s corporate content consumer also expects the ability to rate, review and share the learning information to which they have been exposed.

Recent YouTube statistics cite the average viewing time on mobile devices is now over 40 minutes. With smartphones putting video production capabilities in the hands of virtually everyone and consumers going to sites like YouTube or Vimeo for “in-the-moment” video vignettes of how-to instruction on everything from household and automotive repairs to cooking and learning new personal interest skills, this consumer-enabled technology is already having a seismic impact on the roles of instructional designers, learning architects, subject matter experts and instructors.

Video is not the entire picture, however. There is still a place for both formal instruction and face-to-face coaching.

In a classic prediction from the end of the last century, The ClueTrain Manifesto still rings true today.  Consumer markets are now better informed, smarter and more demanding of business organizations. These markets are conversations in which customers are humans and not simply demographics. Today’s corporate learners are no different. They no longer wait for learning to be pushed to them. With the ubiquity of information (or misinformation), the corporate learning consumer no longer relies on, or even necessarily trusts, the “official” learning materials that are thrust in front of, and sometimes force-fed to them. The Degreed study suggests that while workers have more options, they still want guidance.

By leveraging big data in ways Marko suggests, L&D stakeholders can personalize learning experiences, thus making them more engaging and effective.

In virtually all workplaces since the beginning of time, employees have always relied on the tried and true experts in the field. Yet much of this knowledge has remained uncaptured and invalidated. Technology has empowered and enabled both expert and novice alike. It’s up to forward-thinking L&D professionals to move from managing learning experiences to instead enabling and empowering them.

A LEAP FORWARD 

Enter the notion of the Learning Enablement and Action Platform, or LEAP. As employers and learning software vendors strive to harness and validate the massive amounts of informal learning taking place beneath the radar, a mind-shift has begun to codify itself, in which traditional, rigid and static roles across the learning ecosystem are becoming more blurred. The learning experience has become democratized and the role an individual may play can vary from experience to experience, and even within a single experience itself.

To fully leverage and embrace this democratized dynamic, learning systems need to recognize and accommodate the fluid roles of today’s corporate knowledge and skills consumer.

Many learning management systems allow for the review and rating of learning resources by consumers. This is a critical component of keeping the community active and engaged and helps “police” the relevance of the materials to the consumers’ job role. Finally, the learning platform should also seamlessly integrate with HR systems to allow for better insights in identifying performance gaps and prescribing solutions to close those gaps.

SETTING THE PACE

So, with individuals continuously moving from one role and set of expectations to another, how can professionals in the L&D industry keep a handle on all the dynamics without inhibiting the free flow and transfer of accurate and relevant information?  Once the foundations of a Learning Enablement and Action Platform have been established, one possible solution might be to follow a four-step PACE (Process, Activate, Curate, Everywhere) strategy.

Process for Pertinence

With virtually everyone having a video camera in the palm of their hand, enthusiastic Contributors might be apt to contribute irrelevant or potentially inaccurate information. It will be up to the Curators to ensure the validity and significance of contributed content. Establishing clear expectations around quality, accuracy and sourcing of contributed materials will better enable the initial filtering and placement practices. The instructional designers or learning architects (Creators) play a key role in prepping the raw material for inclusion in a learning experience.

Activate & Advertise

Once contributed or sourced material has been appropriately vetted and refined, content should be loaded into the system and promoted via both the learning platform and social media. Leverage user ratings and reviews while touting the popularity of key content ContributorsConductors (instructors and facilitators) should also play an active role in marketing new and expanded offerings.

Curate for Currency

Curators, whether they be subject matter experts or other individuals with appropriate expertise, should be continually monitoring content for the most up-to-date and relevant materials while culling out expired information. Creators (instructional designers, etc.) also play a role in ensuring the information is presented in a way that best ensures learning transfer.

Everywhere and Anywhere

Today’s technology and consumer experiences have today’s corporate learning Consumers expecting to receive learning by whichever method and whatever device best suits their needs. Cultivators will work with Creators to ensure a consistent and effective learning experience, whether in the classroom, via a web conference, discussion board or interacting on a mobile device.

BACK TO THE FUTURE 

So perhaps the future has indeed arrived, but does it pose threats or opportunities for the talent development industry? While the introduction of smartphones, social media and other connectivity resources has not yielded the levels of productivity some may have hoped for, it has enabled the workforce to connect to learning resources on an as needed basis. While some L&D professionals may view the empowerment given to the learning consumer as a threat to their careers, visionary executives and specialists in the industry will seize upon the opportunity these new circumstances present to take their learners to new levels of achievement.

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