As one of the early advocates and innovators of e-learning, I should be delighted to see the exploding field and marketplace for edtech. We now have enterprise talent and learning systems to publish and track digital resources for employees. There are collections of learning courses and videos that offer tens of thousands of educational and development sequences. Multiple educational technology ventures are now valued at multiple billions of dollars as entrepreneurs promote the ability to automate and even personalize learning and development pathways for any employee, at any location and any time.
However, there’s a WOW and BUT to consider:
- WOW. Cool and exciting new technologies and systems that could scale and enhance access to talent development across the enterprise and around the world!
- BUT. Does the newest wave of technology result in real learnings, experiences of development, and scalable improvements in both individual and organizational performance?
These are changing times for our organizations and for the career pathways of our employees. The pandemic has shaken up the format of our workplaces, challenged the traditions of how we meet and collaborate, and disrupted the career patterns of our workforce.
Never have we been more in need of effective approaches to continually skill and develop the workforce. Never have we been more in need of highly flexible approaches to when, what, and where learning experiences happen. Never have we been more intrigued about how technology can supercharge talent development.
Here are a few questions that I’ve created in addition to the content from my introduction article in ATD’s Handbook for Training and Talent Development to help us determine our approach:
- What are our learning and development models for 2022?
- Do our employees want to watch courses and take modules?
- How does educational technology react to learner confusion or low motivation?
- Can we facilitate authentic collaboration and learner engagement in a virtual world?
- Is the “metaverse” an effective new platform for learner development?
- Does coaching scale across a 30,000 employee base?
- How does the employee relate to a boring or off topic e-learning offering?
- Where does workflow and performance support fit into our design strategies?
My questions reflect the combined WOW and BUT about this moment in the history of learning and talent development.
I joined ATD almost five decades ago. Many of us became trainers or learning professionals because we were excited about the magic of great teaching. We talked about the joy of seeing the lights go on when a learner mastered a new topic or skill. Meetings with our colleagues often focused on creative approaches to design and facilitate group interactions. I fell in love with the art, skill, and field of developing talent.
When learning technology shifted from choosing a good overhead projector to leveraging the internet to deliver e-learning, we saw learning technology as a powerful force to allow learning to happen everywhere with everyone in an engaging format. As a result, content was able to evolve in an effective, efficient, and evaluative environment.
In other words, it’s time to design great content and use e-learning to multiply, extend, and democratize access.
The BUT is the fear that the roles and balances of design, content creation, and technologies may have skewed the process to focus more on the ability to offer syndicated content to employees using enterprise systems. In this context, content collections may not trigger learning, development, or behavioral changes.
Organizations may see an automated approach to talent development that does not reflect major changes in design, engagement, or mentoring. The worry is that we’ll talk more about the market valuation of an edtech company rather than the changes in business results from using their offerings. There’s been a reduction in excitement about the science and art of learning, and instead, the focus has been on the profitability of edtech and talent ventures and the possibilities of new tech like AI in the future.
In my article in the handbook, I pose dialogues that you can have with other talent development colleagues about the current and future state of our field. It’s also important to explore how e-learning is expanding, exploding, and evolving; consider how we add empathy as a key component of our offerings to a stressed workforce; and imagine how changing career expectations and retention levels will impact our talent development offerings.
New technologies and innovative approaches are useful as we react to the changing times and changing career paths. Imagine ways to stretch the skills of talent development to a wider set of business leaders and designers. In doing so, we will harvest new learning science to shape future approaches.
Just one caution: Add a BUT to the WOW. Hold the technology and the providers to standards of excellence. Let’s experiment with augmented realities, robotics, personalization, metaverse, cohort learning, and scalable coaching. Experiment with the excitement of WOW with the critical reasoning question of BUT.