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The Future of Learning

Part of what makes working in learning and development so exciting is the fact that it is an ever-changing field with new technologies, challenges, and opportunities emerging every day in both corporate and higher education contexts. When you couple changes in our approaches to learning with changes in the world at large, you get a dynamic and fascinating playground for our work. 

There are a number of workplace and education trends and challenges that will keep learning professionals on their toes in the coming years. 

Longstanding volatility in the business environment. Business leaders continue to be battered by an ever-changing environment, which is influenced by market fluctuations, global opportunities and pressures, increasingly diverse workforce demographics, expanding and changing technology platforms and tools, and political and regulatory uncertainty. These forces also affect learning strategy. These rapid changes require learning on the fly, and L&D must learn to anticipate competency development needs and respond with curated resources as quickly as possible. Education providers need to be able to be more responsive to these changing needs as well. 

Overwhelming speed of change and explosion of available information. It is becoming impossible to keep up with our modern environment. Employees desperately need strategies for filtering information and adopting changes that help them to remain focused on the task at hand. Collaboration is key here as employees can share what they find important and help one another stay current. L&D can support employee efforts by providing tools and dedicated learning advisers. In academic preparation for careers, some knowledge may become outdated even before students graduate, so developing the ability to learn continuously is becoming more critical. 

Increasing understanding that modern employee performance depends on the connected and collaborative worker. Employees need strong networks inside and outside their organizations, and they must learn how to effectively collaborate both across the table and across geographical distances. Informal social learning and the ability to use technology to connect to resources and people as needed are becoming essential skills. Organizations are continuing to find ways to connect employees through social learning and performance systems, and they will increasingly issue smartphones and tablets (or create bring-your-own-device policies) to enable immediate electronic access to performance support and communications any place, anytime. Learning resources need to be just as connected, collaborative, and portable. 

Increasing interest in and commitment to mobile learning. A further implication of the connected and collaborative worker trend is the recognition that in many situations, learners are just as likely to access learning resources on a smartphone or tablet as on a desktop computer. Companies may even be more interested in creating custom enterprise apps for learning and performance support. Learning resources need to be accessible and usable on smaller devices and in short spans of time. Learning projects that require a greater investment of time can also be supported by mobile follow-up and support materials. 

Expanding attention on customized, personalized, and adaptive learning. While these terms have different meanings, they all focus on a more learner-centric view of learning—ways of delivering to learners the exact modules they need in an appropriate timeframe. A learning environment takes that one step further by giving learners control over the resources they select. 


Ever-evolving technology. Any look into the future should try to anticipate how newer technologies might support learning and performance. The items that are immediately emerging at this writing include wearable technology, the Internet of things, and 3-D printing. Designers are imagining how to make access to resources even more efficient with wearable computers and specialized devices. The Internet of things movement considers how connecting data flows from separate sources might make decision making easier (or even unnecessary as algorithms process data and respond accordingly). Three-dimensional printing can make physical resources handier, allowing for the creation of unique props for learning. In addition to these emerging areas, advances in mobile learning are a continuing trend, necessitating shorter bytes of learning support on smaller-screen platforms. All of these open up possibilities for new resources and activities for learning that can be incorporated into a learning environment. 

Continued commitment to measurement of outcomes. Both employers and employees are interested in ensuring that they demonstrate outcomes from the investment in learning. There may be more interest in “badging” strategies (which document skills and capabilities) than in academic credentialing, which has proven to be an unreliable indicator of knowledge base and skill. A measurement strategy related to learning environments, therefore, might need to include ways for learners who are following their own paths to document their skill building along the way. 

Deepening focus on engagement. Employers understand the value of having engaged employees, and they are instituting workplace policies and practices that support engagement. Being able to learn and develop on the job is a big part of what engages employees, so learning strategy is critical to an organization’s engagement efforts. It’s important that employees are quickly brought up to speed when they begin a job, and that they are well supported in continuing to deepen their knowledge base and skills, both independently and in collaboration with others. 

Open learning and domain of one’s own. More higher education instructors are finding value in having students compile their learning assets outside a closed course management system, so they can continue accessing the networks they build and the materials they create even after graduation. Encouraging open and connected learning also prepares students more effectively for lifelong self-directed learning.

Note: This article is excerpted from Learning Environments by Design by Catherine Lombardozzi. 


© 2016 ATD, Alexandria, VA. All rights reserved.

About the Author
Catherine Lombardozzi is founder of Learning 4 Learning Professionals and author of Learning Environments by Design. Catherine’s work focuses on the professional development of designers, faculty, facilitators, learning consultants, and learning leaders. Catherine has been enthusiastically engaged in the learning and development field for over 30 years and integrates practical experience with academic grounding. Her areas of specialty include developing talent in the digital age, amplifying creative capacity in L&D, supporting social learning, and grounding practice in theory and research. She has frequently contributed to professional conferences and journals, and she teaches graduate-level courses in adult learning, instructional design, learning technology and consulting. Catherine holds a doctoral degree in Human and Organizational Learning from The George Washington University. You can learn more about her background at
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