The last decade has brought a multitude of changes in
technology and in the learning function. What will the next 10
years have to offer?
Ten years ago, we had just come out of one of the most costly IT
investments of all time - the Y2K scare. Mark Zuckerberg,
co-founder of Facebook, was in high school. Microsoft had just lost
a major antitrust lawsuit; Google was getting settled in its first
office space after being in a garage for its first year; and the
presidential election results were stalled due to hanging chads.
The economy was in a state of hope and opportunity known as the
dot-com boom, and the phrase "Web 2.0" was 1 year old.
In the learning industry, the LMS was seen as the provider of the
comprehensive solution for the technology needed in an
organization; e-learning content providers were merging to provide
comprehensive libraries; and portals were the intranet solution of
choice for content destinations.
What a difference a decade makes. Will the next decade bring just
as much change or more? Not only are there new technologies being
introduced daily, but shifts such as globalization and demographic
changes will surely affect our future. In 1999, the United States
accounted for 43 percent of the largest global companies in the
Financial Times Global 500. By 2009, only 36 percent of
global companies were from the United States, while the BRIC
countries (Brazil, Russia, India, and China) moved from a combined
four top 500 companies in 1999, to 52 in 2009.
Teams composed of employees from multiple countries across several
time zones are no longer unusual, which makes face-to-face training
logistically difficult and expensive. Regarding demographics, in
only four years, Millennials (born between 1977 and 1997) will make
up 47 percent of the workforce. Their comfort with tools such as
Twitter, Facebook, and texting surely indicates that they will
expect tools like those to be used in their work and learning
Throughout the last three years, we have researched what the future
holds for fields as diverse as human longevity and the future of
the web. That research helped us come up with 10 predictions for
the future of social learning. If you are just now dipping your
toes into the social learning pool, we hope the following
predictions will give you some ideas about where the future is
headed so that you can prepare accordingly.
Prediction 1| Augmented reality learning emerges
Imagine a future where you are able to pour on contact lenses that
act as a type of computer display. Researchers at the University of
Washington are working on contact lenses consisting of nano-objects
that self-assemble when poured into the eye. Even further along is
MIT's SixthSense, a wearable device that allows the use of natural
hand gestures to interact with the environment, powered by a cell
phone. A camera and projector are suspended from a lanyard, and
wearers indicate what they want by using hand gestures.
For example, by drawing a circle on your wrist, SixthSense knows
you want the time, so it projects a watch on to your wrist. Never
again will you be put in the uncomfortable position of not
remembering someone's name because you will be able to walk up to
someone, and project onto your palm the LinkedIn profile of the
person and their Facebook information, and get a quick Google
search of them, as long as there is a photo of them anywhere on the
So what could be the implications for social learning? Simulations
and games could take on a whole new level of interactivity,
technical training could be done virtually without expensive labs,
and management conferences could become networking events designed
around finding knowledge content built on a pre-event profile, just
to name a few. Even in prototype, SixthSense is less than $350, so
in the near future, the device could be a highly affordable
supplement in the learning environment.
Prediction 2| Most learning incorporates use of a mobile
The world is going mobile. Morgan Stanley estimated that
smartphones will outship the global notebook and netbook market in
2010 and will outship the global PC market (notebook, netbook, and
desktop) by 2012. By 2015, more users will connect to the Internet
via mobile device than by desktop PC.
Our mobile devices - smartphones, tablets (such as iPad), or
netbooks - are already transforming the face of publishing.
Consider that in 2009, five of the top 10 novels that were
published in Japan started out as text novels before emerging into
print. Traditional newspapers are seeing their circulation erode as
more customers begin viewing their news online. Already, there are
more mobile devices in the world than there are people.
With increased capabilities of real time search on all mobile
devices, learning will truly be just in time. Ask a question, get
an answer. Our world will turn into three-minute learning
vignettes. When you incorporate GPS sensitivity into a learning
environment, many possibilities emerge.
Similar to the GPS-sensitive program FourSquare, we could design
check-in points for new hires to get to know their company and its
history. Or with programs such as Serendipity (under development at
MIT), set our social networking profile to alert us whenever we're
near an expert in the topic of our choice. Perhaps the future role
of learning is to find, organize, and enable the experts?
Prediction 3| Games and simulations are used for every
The Millennial generation, which will comprise the majority of the
workforce in just a few years, grew up on GameBoys, World of
Warcraft, and EVE Online. IBM has already studied whether
participation in massively multi-player online role-playing games
(MMORPGs) develops leadership skills. They found that having to
recruit a guild, fulfill a series of tasks, motivate, and retain a
guild led to the development of leadership skills. MMORPGs can be
nonviolent, virtual-world - building games as well, with
experiments in teaching math and science already under way.
FarmVille is a real-time farm simulation game developed by Zynga,
available as an application on Facebook. In April 2010, 1 percent
of the world was playing this virtual game. Zynga promises new
elements of collaboration and social partnership with the game,
which is largely individual in nature. If 82.4 million people are
learning how to create a farm, imagine what can happen if learning
departments could apply this process to teaching employees in a
Companies such as BTS have been using simulations with management
teams for years, allowing senior executives to practice running the
company. As markets become increasingly complex and specialized, it
is difficult for an executive to get a chance to see the whole
picture. A management simulation provides the ability for what
Michael Schrage has called "serious play" - an opportunity to
innovate, take risks, and practice in a safe environment.
But games and simulations aren't just for management. New-hire
games can be used even in advance of hiring to allow players to
become familiar with a company's products and services.
Collaboration is increasingly important at most companies, and
games could take a key role in teaching collaboration skills.
Prediction 4| We will have a huge appetite
In the words of Apple's marketing department, "there's an app for
that." In the case of applications for iPhone and iPod touch, more
than 130,000 have been developed to date. Morgan Stanley predicts
500,000 new applications before the end of 2010. Since people are
already accustomed to the convenience and functionality of apps, a
whole new breed of apps for corporate environments will emerge.
Corporate HR and learning functions will get into the business of
custom app development.
Possible apps include
- acronym lookup
- product description and specs apps
- benefits chooser
- campus and conference room map
- room scheduler
- retirement planner
- expert locator
- virtual profile (replacing the company phone directory)
- cafeteria menus and reviews
- virtual manager.
With just a little work, you could probably brainstorm another 10
apps in the next 10 minutes. Nearly anything that is in print now
can be converted into a rich, constantly updated application.
Prediction 5| Peer-to-peer learning blossoms
When people attend conferences or workshops, it's not unusual to
read in the evaluations that one of the most beneficial aspects of
the event was the ability to network and learn from peers. Through
technology, that peer-to-peer learning has now taken on a whole new
level of meaning. While baby boomer managers fret that time spent
on Facebook is a time waster, Millennials can't imagine getting
their work done without relying on the tribe they've collected
through their online social networks.
To mediate an organization's concerns for security while balancing
the need to allow people to connect, expect to see a proliferation
of platforms aimed at Facebook-type applications in the
organization. Furthermore, expect some of these platforms to be
specifically developed in the learning field and incorporated or
integrated with the LMS. Learning functions will be able to
determine which content is most in demand by perusing the most
popular and most viewed content, and then assembling content
developed by contributors into formal learning courses.
At this point, knowledge management and training become such a
seamless continuum that it becomes fruitless to try and separate
them functionally. Anticipate that learning functions will become
the new and improved knowledge management owners as well.
Prediction 6| Expert and credibility ratings create trusted
In a study at the University of California at Berkeley, it was
estimated that knowledge is doubling every 18 months. Combine that
with the time it takes to become an expert, which is usually
estimated at 10,000 hours of practice, or roughly 10 years. No
sooner do you become an expert than your knowledge is outdated.
Now consider how you spend your days and how you learn about
something quickly. For example, maybe you'd never heard the term
"MMPORG" before. If you're like most people, you would be unlikely
to look up a training course on MMPORG as your first stop. Instead,
you go to your favorite online search engine and type in the term.
The problem is that there is so much information available, you
might not know which definition to trust.
As search evolves, we will be able to identify industry experts and
friends whom we trust, and our search results will include in the
algorithm of results those sites and resources that our trusted
sources have indicated as solid content. For example, you might add
Tony Bingham, the president and CEO of ASTD, as a trusted source.
If Tony had endorsed a definition of MMPORG, then that definition
would rise to the top of your search results. Your tribe of trusted
sources will become the way for you to navigate through the
proliferating mass of online information.
Prediction 7| Search bots go on the prowl for you
It's one thing to know what term or question to type into a search
engine, and it's another thing entirely to know the terms you
should use or the questions you should be asking. As Will Rogers
once said, "It's not what you know that hurts you, it's what you
know that ain't so." In other words, with all the knowledge
available, it's what is out there that you don't know about that
can hurt you.
One solution to this dilemma will be search robots, commonly called
"search bots," that will prowl the web on your behalf, looking for
information that fits a profile of requested knowledge. On many
online retailer sites, you see the early days of this with products
suggested to you with phrases similar to, "You might also like"
Now imagine that you've completed a search profile that says you
are in sales training, in a major pharmaceutical company based in
New Jersey. You'd like to know about the top developments in
healthcare reform, any news alerts for the major suppliers you rely
on, important news feeds on products and executives in your
company, and a search through any publication in the world relevant
to training for pharmaceutical sales reps.
Your bot will be at your service, culling the data on the web and
delivering it to your doorstep every morning. Like any good pet, it
will get better with feedback and training, so you will teach it to
become more accurate by indicating that you like some bits of
content and not others. Your own personal information robotic
concierge, at your service soon!
Prediction 8| Governments will become more involved in
ensuring that its citizens have access to training and
With advances in human longevity, the economic setbacks many people
experienced during the last few years, and a backlash against an
unfettered corporate focus on profit, governments are starting to
see that the strain put on their purses due to unemployment and
underemployment is out of balance. In Korea for example, the
government not only provides tax benefits for training investment,
but also provides co-investment dollars.
Expect to see governments provide more incentives for retraining
workers. These incentives could include anything from tax
incentives to authorizing personal accounts, much like 401(k)
retirement savings plans in the United States. Sometimes called
"Lifelong Learning Accounts (LiLAs)," California, Indiana, Iowa,
Illinois, Washington, and other U.S. states have introduced
legislation to provide tax credits and breaks for investment in
Imagine a day when the learning function is not only getting funds
from the corporate budgets, but individuals can elect to attend
classes using their LiLA account money. Will that change the way
learning functions think about the offerings they have available,
and will it drive even more cooperation with universities to
provide focused, relevant curriculum?
Prediction 9| The learning function's focus shifts to
accreditation, with less emphasis on the learning process
As the amount of knowledge required to perform the job moves more
and more to instant access, it will become less and less likely
that people will prove their credentials by having an internal
corporate training completion on their personnel records. Instead,
learning functions will set the standards of performance required
to achieve accreditation, install systems for enabling achievement
of that accreditation, and track completion.
For example, a service technician may have three levels of
accreditation to achieve for any given product suite - apprentice,
master, and expert. The learning function will work with subject
matter experts to define what is expected of each level, provide
incentives for achieving accreditation, and then create platforms
and resources for people to self-direct their achievement. For the
apprentice level, a technician may have several steps to be signed
off on by his manager, including going out on a service call and
observing a master, all the way to solo completion.
Additionally, the technician will have to pass a test, which may be
done in collaboration with other technicians since what really
matters is the performance. The learning function could have
e-learning available, but a peer-to-peer learning platform could be
populated with content that the learners themselves contribute,
also called user-generated content. To move to expert, a
requirement could include contribution to the peer-to-peer learning
Prediction 10| You will be rated publicly, much like a Yelp
or Amazon rating for people
Yelp is a popular social networking and review site where users
rate and comment on local restaurants. The Millennial generation is
accustomed to relying on user input on sites such as
rateyourprofessor.com to steer everything from where to have fish
tacos to which professors to avoid at college. Few people order
from Amazon without looking at the cumulative rating stars of past
purchasers. Sites such as glassdoor.com already provide insights
regarding the culture, pay, and management quality. It is not a big
leap to assume that eventually, managers will be publicly rated,
followed by everyone being rated.
Will it change a manager's behavior if he knows that his tendency
toward berating employees will show up in a public review the next
day? Will the manager who chronically micromanages begin to adjust
her behavior if multiple reviewers have commented on the same
thing? It is one thing to go into the quiet of your office to
review a private 360-degree report and quite another to have your
children reading about your work behaviors.
This may be one of the scariest predictions so far, as you wonder
about the fairness of disgruntled employees commenting publicly. On
Yelp, the establishment owners are allowed to provide a rebuttal on
comments, so this could be a feature of how a public people review
system would work. But do anticipate that privacy has taken a whole
new turn and will continue to do so as we progress.
Learning's future: champion or outcast?
One of the main reasons we like to think about the future is
because we hope the learning and development field will be the
first to step up to take ownership of many of the ideas we have
presented here. We've been in learning functions where people have
said they think social networking is a fad and micro-blogging is a
waste of time. We beg to differ, and believe that the next
generation of work coming into organizations will demand being able
to work in ways they've already found to enable success. If the
learning function does not step up to the task, some other
department in the organization will, and a learning function will
On the other hand, if the learning function has a vision for the
future, and works patiently to inspire organizations to move into a
new way of work and learning, the relevance and core criticality
for business success could be unprecedented in our field's history.
Which will we choose?
This article was based on the book, The 2020 Workplace: How
Innovative Companies Attract, Develop, and Keep Tomorrow's
Employees Today, which is co-authored by Jeanne Meister and
Join T+D as Meister and Willyerd present a Webinar all
about the 2020 workplace, July 22, 2010.
Jeanne Meister is an internationally recognized
thought leader, speaker, and author in enterprise learning. She is
a co-founder of Future Workplace and frequent blog contributor to
the Harvard Business Review;Jeanne@FutureWorkplace.com.
Karie Willyerd was the vice president and chief
learning officer for Sun Microsystems, recognized by ASTD with a
BEST Award in 2009. She is a co-founder of Future Workplace;