From 2000 to 2050: Secrets from L&D’s past that can help future-proof businesses today
Will robots be the teachers of the future? Is AI going to take our jobs? What even is the metaverse?!?
It’s easy to spiral about the uncertain future of work, especially in the L&D field where shiny new ideas and transformative technologies pick up speed fast.
But by looking at the biggest workplace trends of the last two decades, we can prepare for the disruptors that lie ahead, get proactive about making more informed decisions and determine which trends are worth an investment and which will fade out fast.
What we can learn from the not-so-distant past of workplace learning
The current AI-driven tech boom isn’t the first time workplace learning has been disrupted in a major way. The early aughts saw the rise of e-learning, cloud-based technologies and SaaS companies as internet use skyrocketed and organizations pushed to go digital.
“2000 was a pivotal year for L&D. We weren’t ready for the dotcom crash and in particular the cost-cutting that ensued that year,” said Donald H. Taylor, Learning Technologies Conference Chair, during a recent episode of our LinkedIn series, “In The Know.”
“E-learning was just coming up when cost-cutting began and the result was, ‘Hey, I know what we can do. We can take the slide decks that we normally deliver in the classroom, put them in a Powerpoint presentation and send them out to people with a button to click next on. That’s our learning—done!’”
Lessons from The Digital Age have taught us that formal, one-and-done training sessions are not the best option for the day-to-day realities and needs of the frontline. Taylor admits that it’s taken a decade to recover from the impacts of this particular technological renaissance.
Then, in 2007, with the release of the iPhone, L&D took advantage of the growing ubiquity of mobile devices—but it wasn’t always a success either.
“It’s a crucial lesson in Learning and Development and how professionals react to technology—and I’m afraid the lesson isn’t a good one,” said Taylor, who’s also the mind behind the annual L&D Global Sentiment Survey. “We get a mobile device and we use it, not as a tool for augmenting what we do, but substituting what we do.”
“When we get a new technology, we should think about three things: One; Execution. Does it help me do what I do now better? Two; Evolution. Can I do the old thing in a new way? And Three; Revolution. Can I do the new thing in a new way?”
“We tend to get stuck on the first step.”
Building community, promoting idea-sharing and getting tacit knowledge from employees were some of the underused benefits of mobile devices at the time. A too-narrow focus on simply delivering content on a new platform failed to properly harness the full potential of the tech.
Luckily, by identifying some common gaps, we can use past learnings to inform how to move the L&D industry forward in a way that’s more efficient and effective.
Where L&D is—and where it’s headed
“The development of large language models and the exploitation of AI means that in 2024, the world might look completely different,” offered Taylor. “All the research points to the fact that L&D is not now equipped to deal with this new world. We’re equipped to deliver training but that’s not where the rest of the world is anymore.”
Big tech innovations in short periods of time—and how the workplace reacts to them—suggest what trends we can expect to see emerge. In the near future, learning at work won’t have been dramatically transformed and while organizations will likely have found a way to use AI to maximize the potential of their people, there will still be skills gaps. As for the metaverse? Taylor has some predictions.
“You know how it goes. We always say we overestimate what we can do in two years and underestimate what we can do in 10. AI [won’t] have taken over our jobs because smart people will be working with AI to augment their potential. As for the metaverse… we’ll still be waiting for it.”
Looking (way) ahead
In the future, Taylor envisions the L&D function as distributed throughout organizations rather than sitting on a single team—becoming a shared commitment between individuals and managers as a required part of the role.
“It’ll be accepted that the intangible value of organizations lies within the people. It’s everybody’s job, but there will definitely still be learning and development leads potentially going by the name of ‘people leads’, ‘skill leads’ or ‘human leads’ to make sure the processes are working right behind the scenes.”
While we can’t go through the looking glass to prepare for everything that’s coming our way, Taylor offered some strategies for getting ahead of L&D trends.
“We should be experimenting, following the right people and learning from them. In 2050, nobody will be producing courses anymore. The content is out there and we’ll be concerned with helping people learn effectively and develop themselves in other ways, for their jobs. It’s a really exciting future and I can’t wait for it.”
The future of workplace learning doesn’t have to remain wholly unpredictable if we properly evaluate past triumphs and pitfalls. This way, L&D pros can revisit how similar challenges were already approached and lean into what worked and pivot based on experience and outcomes.
Watch the full In The Know episode on-demand to learn more about where L&D has been and where it’s going (and to see intrepid host JD Dillon go full Marty McFly as he travels Back to the Future)!