ATD Blog

The Future of L&D Is Not the Information Business

Friday, November 1, 2013

You know how sometimes you can have a conversation with someone, and they say something that really sticks with you? I had one of those conversations recently with Elliot Felix (, who does lots of interesting things with the design of spaces, and he was telling me about the design of libraries and museums. 

According to Elliott, museums are waking up to what libraries have already started to figure out—that they are no longer in the information supply business. Both museums and libraries used to be the containers for information, and people would go to them get the information.  But there’s more information available online than anybody knows what to do with.  So, now that people can get information instantaneously, libraries and museums need to be about services and experiences if they expect to stay relevant.

It occurred to me that practitioners in learning and development (L&D)—who are currently in the information presentation business—are going to have the same problem.  When everyone is walking around with smart phones in their pockets, which is already true in many places, how much need will there be for information purveyors?

When information was not easily accessible, then someone could make a reasonably good career out of packaging information in a usable format and making it available. But that skill is going to be less useful going forward. Sure, there will still be some need for it, but probably less every year.


A similar example is encyclopedia publishers, who were unquestionably eclipsed by the rise of online resources like Wikipedia. In addition to winning on ease of access, Wikipedia also wins on timeliness. If a major event happens, Wikipedia is frequently updated the same day.  While there are areas where Wikipedia has issues, such as consistency, it has definitely changed the standing of published encyclopedias.


Where does that leave L&D? 

I think that as a field, L&D is still incredibly important. However, our focus needs to shift away from information presentation, and toward some of the services and experiences that it’s uniquely qualified to address. Some of these skills or focus areas include:

  • Cultivating and managing a social learning community.  This is going to be an essential skill for creating successful learning organizations.  The information an organization needs to function successfully is changing constantly, and that information needs to be shared and cultivated by the whole community—not filtered through a few individuals who can’t possibly keep up with the flow of updates and changes.
  • Focusing emphatically on performance support. The term “performance support” goes in and out of vogue, but it needs to be central to everything we do.  We need to answer the question: What is the best way to help people do better and be better? Sometimes it’s a full learning experience, but frequently it’s an accessible resource, a mobile just-in-time tool, a job aid, or even a process improvement.
  • Understanding how to design experiences that support behavior change. When people know the right thing to do, and don’t do it, then the solution is not to give them more information. These are the hard problems. We need to better understand how to design environments and experiences that foster real behavior change.

I know that there are more than these three skill areas, but I’m confident that these three are some of the really important skill areas for L&D professionals as we progress into the next few decades.  And I’m also confident that these skill areas aren’t going to become obsolete any time soon.

About the Author

Julie Dirksen is an independent consultant and instructional designer who has more than 15 years’ experience creating highly interactive e-Learning experiences for clients ranging from Fortune 500 companies to innovative technology start-ups to major grant-funded research initiatives. Her focus has been on utilizing the disciplines of educational psychology, neuroscience, change management and persuasive technology to promote and support the improvement of peoples’ lives through sustainable long-term learning and behavioral change.

Dirksen holds an M.S. degree in instructional systems technology from Indiana University. She has also been an adjunct faculty member at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design, where she taught courses in project management, instructional design, and cognitive psychology.

She recently published Design For How People Learn, in which she gets ridiculously excited about everything from learning applications of behavioral economics to the way glucose is regulated in the brain. She’s happiest whenever she gets to learn something new. You can find her online at

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