Retooling for the Future

Connie Malamed does a nice job of defending we Learning and Development professionals in her blog post, Retooling Instructional Design: 7 Ways Learning Professionals are Preparing for the Future. There has been a massive wave of change that has often left us subject to criticism that we’ve fallen behind or obsolete. Connie points out that many of us have been working at changing our methods, approaches and tools in order to prepare for new ways of doing what we do.

She provides a list of 7 ways learning professionals have been working to meet the demands of the modern workplace that is evolving quickly.

  1. Acceptance of Evidence-based Strategies
  2. Focus on Human-centered Design
  3. Adopting UX Techniques
  4. Use of Agile Models
  5. Creating Learning Journeys
  6. Applying Learning Analytics
  7. Designing for Newer Technologies

I wholehearted agree with Connie on these 7 trends that are at the core of what learning professionals will be doing now and in the future. I do feel she slightly missed the mark on #6 and #7. And I would add a #8 to the list.

Applying Learning Analytics

While she does indicated we are making more data driven decisions, she only mentions “the value of learning analytics for continuous improvement.” While this is true, it’s not a huge change from what we’ve always done in evaluating the effectiveness programs. Big data is enabling faster, more responsive analysis, but it’s not the game changer when it comes to Learning Analytics.

The real power of Learning Analytics comes in our ability to use data to:

  • make predictions of what is needed and what will work,
  • we can combine learning data with business data to determine true business value from learning activities, and
  • we can use data in real-time to provide truly personalized learning experiences in the flow of work.

These are the game-changing promises of Learning Analytics that will enable us to get in-sync with our business unit colleagues and finally demonstrate our real value to the organization.

Designing for Newer Technologies

Here I feel like Connie over simplified by limiting her discussion to the impact that virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR), and conversational interfaces (I’m guessing she is referring to Chatbots and other tools that take advantage of voice recognition and Natural Language Analysis) are having on.

She is right that learning professionals are leveraging the latest technologies. I’d even argue that this is a trend we’ve been at the forefront of for decades dating back to pre-internet days.

She correctly points out that we have an awareness that “a new tool will not magically solve a performance problem.” Yet we fall for the bright shiny new toy as quickly as others. There are all kinds of new technologies emerging (artificial intelligence, machine learning, xAPI, geo-presence, sensors and other internet of things devices, image recognition, pattern recognition, robotics, and more) and the “old” technologies are still viable (ink on paper remains a great, cost effective delivery mechanism for learning) depending on the solution needed.

Designing for Newer Technologies really points to the necessity to determine which technology:

  • resonates with our learners (irregardless of whether it is a “learning” technology or not),
  • can deliver the best learning experience for the given need, and
  • does so in a cost effective manner.

Be Marketers of Learning

Connie does touch on a bit of this trend when she discusses using personas and conducting learning campaigns. But I believe it should be called out separately. One, because there are numerous learning professionals and organizations who are starting to do this and, two, I believe it is vital to our successful transition into our future state.

We need to be champions of individual and organizational learning. The evangelists of a new learner centered, lifelong culture of learning that is supported by senior leadership and frontline managers. The learning journeys that Connie discusses need to supported with well articulated marketing campaigns.

Like our Marketing colleagues, we need to have an intimate knowledge of who our audience is. Who are the thought leaders? Who are the saboteurs? Who are the influencers? Who are the campaigns of change? What social networks already exist? Can we leverage them to help or will they resist?

Finally, we need to target managers and provide them with the meta-learning tools and the evidence that they are working that will lead to a conversion experience about learning.


Do you think these regulations will change anything? Will they drive greater support for data collection in learning? Motivate more collaboration between the business units and L&D?

The Value of Learning

Working hard is the industrial era approach to getting ahead. Learning hard is the knowledge economy equivalent. – Michael Simmons

It’s not every day an article motivates and excites me. But I really am blown away by not only the ideas discussed in  “The secret to lifelong success is lifelong learning” on the World Economic Forum website, but more by the language author Michael Simmons  uses. He discusses knowledge as a commodity that is beginning to show signs that it is more valuable than money.  Learning is the generator of future worth and prosperity.

This insight is fundamental to succeeding in our knowledge economy, yet few people realize it. Luckily, once you do understand the value of knowledge, it’s simple to get more of it. Just dedicate yourself to constant learning.

He points to a what Peter Diamandis calls the rapid demonetization of technologies.  The concept is that technological advances are leading to products that have lower and lower costs – some even free.  This means money isn’t as important in the access and use of these tools when compared to the knowledge to use and exploit them.

Simmons provides a number of examples of how future technologies (automated cars) may cause a precipitous drop in the price of commodities (no need for car ownership).

Because, he argues, money is likely to lose its value, knowledge will replace it as what is most valued.  He points out that when you use your money to purchase a good or service, you no longer have that money.  When you use your knowledge, you keep it.  It often times increases!

Constantly pursuing knowledge, through learning, is vital to success in the future:

“People who identify skills needed for future jobs — e.g., data analyst, product designer, physical therapist — and quickly learn them are poised to win.

“Those who work really hard throughout their career but don’t take time out of their schedule to constantly learn will be the new “at-risk” group”

He then outlines 6 skills that will help us to “learn the right knowledge and have it pay off for us”:

  1. Identify valuable knowledge at the right time.  What is every going to want, or better yet need, to know soon.
  2.  Learn and master that knowledge quicklyWhoever knows something first has an advantage. Simmons advocates for knowing multiple mental models in order to process information faster and more effectively.
  3. Communicate the value of your skills to others.  Market yourself. Not everyone does, but those who do so effectively achieve a multiplier effect in the increase of their value.
  4. Convert knowledge into money and results.  Leverage your knowledge and ability to learn to build your reputation, get a raise or a new job, build a business, etc.
  5. Learn how to financially invest in learning to get the highest returnUnderstand the economics of learning – what is the ROI of your learning, risk management, what is your hurdle rate, how can you hedge your investment, and how diverse is your portfolio of knowledge.
  6. Master the skill of learning how to learn.  Just as you might work on your golf swing if you are a golfer or take voice lessons if you sing in a choir, you need to understand how you learn and study how others successfully do it.  Just as a golfer might watch a video on how a professional golfer hits out of a bunker; learners need to study how others go about learning. And work to be efficient in your learning.  Improve your reading skills, find alternate ways to learn content, find a mentor who already knows how to do what you want to be able to do.

I find this knowledge investment model compelling.  Maybe it’s because I was an accounting major or perhaps it’s because of all noise about understanding and reporting the value of learning and development.  It takes the WIIFM (What’s In It For Me) mindset to it’s logical, full-tilt expression.

Simmons makes the point that we count our steps and schedule time to go to the gym when wanting to get fit. We count calories and take cooking classes when trying to eat better.  Why shouldn’t we dedicate time to learning and measure how we are doing.

Knowledge is the new money of the future. The time to start investing is now.

What do you think?  Do you carve out time specifically for learning?  Do you have an “investment plan” for building a knowledge “nest egg”?  What do you think of  Simmons’ Knowledge Investment model?  Let me know what you think in the comments section below.