Tech Talk - Amar Dhaliwal

The world of corporate learning is undergoing the most radical transformation in a generation. The impact of new technologies (AI, machine learning, collaboration, etc.), the onset of the Fourth Industrial Revolution (digitization, robotics, and cyber-physical systems) and sweeping demographic changes (the gig economy and the rise of millennials) are placing a new set of demands on learning professionals.

These changes provide an opportunity for the learning department to reinvent itself and establish a new strategic position inside of their organizations. What should such a roadmap for change look like?

As Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr prophetically stated in 1849, “The more that changes, the more things stay the same.” In learning, this could not be truer. Ever since the emergence of e-learning and learning management systems (LMS) in the 1990s, there has been no shortage of technology at our disposal.

However, whereas we previously focused on the tools – which resulted in a lack of engagement and strategic impact – we have the opportunity today to focus on the ultimate outcome: the employee experience. Just as we use consumer-centric apps like Netflix for our entertainment, AirBnB for our lodgings, and Uber for our transportation, we need the learning we deliver to be as easy and as intuitive to use as these on-demand services.

Rather than a focus on buzz phrases such as “data-driven learning” or “microlearning,” we should focus on the learner experience. This means a very fundamental switch from “instructional design” to “experience design.” You must be experts in, and champions of, service design thinking. You should obsess about your learner’s journey and produce learning that is simple and easy in the flow of work.

A basic tenet of good design is that form follows function. In the exact same way, the technology, content and learning programs you select should follow from the employee-centric learner journeys and experiences you design.

The huge advantage of this approach is that the conversations you need to have with your business partners and employees in the design of your learner journeys will force a strategic alignment that is often missing.

There is a lot of chatter about whether the LMS era is over. I don’t believe it is today, but the signs are there that it may be in the near future. The LMS paradigms that were previously built were focused on the idea of a course catalog construct that makes sense for formal education. But that no longer feels relevant for today’s learning journeys.

As a result, the LMSs we built tended to be very hard to use; they were admin-centric and not learner-centric. They now often contain thousands of courses (many outdated and irrelevant), and most employees justifiably find them of limited value.

If the past belonged to LMSs, the future belongs to learning experience platforms. I suggest you start planning now and watch your strategic impact grow.

This does not imply that classroom-based learning is also going away. Instructor-led events play a very important role, but almost inevitably as part of a broader mixed program.

Josh Bersin calls these types of programs “macrolearning” (as a very explicit contrast to microlearning, which serves a very different purpose and solves very different problems). He goes on to say that while we used to call these programs “courses,” in the context of digital learning, they are simply “macro” in size and should be designed for use in special ways.

Despite the influx of so many exciting technologies, training initiatives will inevitably be a combination of macrolearning and microlearning. This is no different than how we have approached things in the past, but with a very important difference. We have to let the programs, including the content and tools, be driven by both the learner journeys we need to support and the employee experiences we need to deliver.