future learner
ATD Blog

Are We Prepared for the Learners of the Future?

Thursday, December 3, 2015

In a mere five years, learning will look dramatically different from what it looks like today, and organizational L&D functions aren’t prepared to meet the needs of tomorrow’s learners. Those are among the key findings of ATD and the Institute for Corporate Productivity’s (i4cp) newly released research report, Learners of the Future: Taking Action Today to Prevent Tomorrow’s Talent Crisis

We Can’t Really Imagine Learning in 2020

ATD and i4cp surveyed 405 learning professionals, and a robust 59 percent agreed that learning in 2020 will take place in ways that we can’t imagine today. However, some of the factors that learning professionals believe will have a greater influence on learning in five years are blended delivery methods (which combine the traditional classroom with technology-based learning) and experiential learning (for example, simulations). 

Learning Isn’t Prepared for the Future 

Alarmingly, a mere 38 percent of those surveyed believed that their organizational learning functions would be ready to meet learners’ needs five years from now. Even more concerning, most learning functions aren’t currently taking steps to correct this situation. A minority of learning functions are trying to understand and prepare for changes in the ways workers learn, and less than a third of respondents described their learning functions as leaders in leveraging new technologies to help achieve learning goals. 


What Can L&D Function Do About the Coming Crisis? 

ATD and i4cp interviewed several leaders of learning functions that are actively imagining, and preparing for, the future. Learning professionals at these organizations mentioned that their teams are trained in evolving technologies and also stay current on trends and news in areas such as globalization and brain science.


Frank Persico, vice president of learning at IBM, explains that to be prepared for the future, learning professionals should have both generalized and specialized knowledge: “We’re going to need deep specialists who know how people learn. But the skills learning professionals need for the future go beyond that. At IBM we talk about being T-shaped. What that implies is that we’re broad across the T—we know a little bit about a lot of things. At the same time, each of us is expected to have deep knowledge in a relevant area. It could be instructional design, mobile devices, analytics, or data science. That’s the vertical dimension of the T. We’re trying to develop people who are both deep and broad at the same time.”

Get the Full Report 

The full report is available for purchase at Members can download a free whitepaper version of the report.


About the Author

Maria Ho is the manager of ATD research services. She serves as ATD's senior research program strategist and designer and provides oversight and direction for all of ATD's internal and external, industry specific, and market research services. Prior to joining ATD, Maria was a public policy researcher, data analyst, and writer at the Pew Charitable Trusts in Washington, D.C.

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