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ATD Blog

The Future of Learning Is Not Training

By and

Fri Feb 10 2017

The Future of Learning Is Not Training

Instead of immediately sharing our predictions on January 1, we decided to wait and see what other people are predicting for corporate training and learning in 2017. Here’s a partial list from our 2017 Crystal Ball Scorecard:

  • The New Year will bring a wider adoption of m-learning. 

  • All companies will be dong more microlearning. 

  • There will be much wider use of xAPI and learning records stores. 

  • Learning apps will become ubiquitous. 

  • Gamification will be for everything! 

  • Video learning will be on a smart device near you. 

  • Social learning is an idea whose time has come. 

  • Things are looking up for cloud-based delivery. 

  • Responsive web design will be the buzzword for 2017. 

  • 2017 is the year of adaptive, more personalized learning. 

  • Content curation for learning will lead to better learning. 

  • Look out for virtual reality and augmented reality. 

  • Training will focus on performance; not on smiles.

Any of these predictions about technology and trends may come true. But we believe the prognosticators are doing what they always do—looking at the future through the wrong end of the telescope.


Before we tried to see into the future, we studied the past. For more than 100 years, during the first industrial revolution, work meant using your hands to produce things. Training and learning was predicated on the need to manage all those hands. Business schools focused their management practices and principles on managing hands. Today, despite the desire some of us have to pile into The Wayback Time Machine, most of us produce work with our minds. We have been transported into the knowledge economy so rapidly that many of us are still not sure what happened. Even in the workplaces where hands are still making things, minds are hard at work using the digital technologies to work faster, better, and smarter.

All this means we need to make an abrupt turn and change our whole approach to the way we manage people, training, and learning. We know from experience that change is hard. We tend to grab onto the past and use it to design the future. It’s a profound failure of imagination. That’s why so many predictions on this year’s list feel so disappointingly similar to last year’s. They are based on a managing hands model that is well past its shelf life.

The future is no longer about looking for continuity with the past and choosing shinier versions of existing technologies and trends. Sometimes there needs to be a disruptive idea that lights up the crystal ball and makes us look at the future in a new way. We believe that future starts with a simple prediction: We will transition training and learning from a managing hands world to one in which we are managing minds. And managers will be at the center.

Managers will think very differently. Training and learning are no longer the primary responsibility of someone else, such as the L&D department. The primary role managers will have will be helping people continuously learn, equipping them with the tools and technology they need, empowering them to work together, constantly collaborating, openly communicating, and figuring out what they need to know, and know how to do it so quickly and effectively. Managing minds is now their responsibility and they will need to rethink and relearn what to do. Managers will need to look for people whose EQ is as high as their IQ. They will need to post on their walls and carry in their wallets what Arie de Geus said when he headed the Royal Dutch Shell’s Strategic Planning Group: “The ability to learn faster than your competitors may be the only sustainable competitive advantage.”

Employees have their own work cut out in this new economy. They will need to learn to “pull” the information they need from a variety of resources rather than wait around for the information to be “pushed” to them. The artificial and archaic way we separated learning from work will be replaced by the idea that work is learning. If employees are not continuously learning, finding what they need when and where it’s needed, they aren’t improving, creating, innovating, competing, or keeping up with change. In this new managing minds world, they need to be able to rapidly curate the information coming at them from all sides, apply that information to their work, and quickly decide what is useful. They will need to be able to communicate in every way, reflect on actions and decisions, and learn from everyone’s experience.


The only certainty about the future from here on out is that it won’t resemble the past. We no longer have the luxury of time to define, design, develop, deliver, manage, and measure formal courses. Survival will require people who can navigate a rapidly changing maze of policies, procedures, products, and services at high speed. They need to find their own curriculum and courses, figure out an appropriate way to learn, and get on with it. It’s cliché to say it, but employees will have to learn how to learn in this new environment. And management will need to support self-learning, not direct it. We discovered it is already happening in companies around the world, an unknown yet powerful trend.

So our prediction for 2017: The future of learning is managing minds.

For a more in-depth look at what this means for managers and employees, look for our forthcoming book from ATD Press.

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