The Future of Learning is Not Training


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The Future of Learning is Not Training

By Stephen J. Gill and David Grebow

Instead of jumping off the January 1st starting line, 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 mLearning
  • All companies will be dong more microlearning
  • There will be much wider use of xAPI and Learning Records Stores (LRS)
  • Learning apps will become ubiquitous
  • Gamification will be for everything and everywhere!
  • Video learning will be on a smart device near you
  • Social learning the idea whose time has come
  • Things are looking up for cloud-based delivery
  • Responsive Web Design (RWD) 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 Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR) coming up fast
  • Finally training will focus on performance and not on smiles

Any of these predictions about technology and trends may come true. We won’t know until we reach the end of the New Year. We just 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 over 100 years, during the first Industrial Economy, work meant using your hands to produce things. Training and learning were 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 that are being employed.

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 is a profound failure of imagination. That’s why so many predictions on this year’s list feel so disappointingly similar to last years. They are based on a managing hands model that is well beyond its’ shelf life. It’s just pouring “new wine into an old wine skin”.

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 like 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 collaborate, openly communicate and figure out what they need to know, and know how to do 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.”[1]

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, take risks applying 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. For example, 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 and 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.[2] 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 all means to managers and employees look for our forthcoming book from ATD titled “Managing Minds”.

[1] http://thinkexist.com/quotation/the_ability_to_learn_faster_than_your_competitors/222409.html

[2]  http://jarche.com/2009/10/the-future-of-the-training-department-2/#comment-192218

Corporate Training’s $70+ Billion Dirty Secret


According to analyst Josh Bersin, US companies spent well over $70 Billion for employee training in 2013. Analysts predict that amount is will be significantly greater in 2015.

These are the kinds of statistics one might expect C-suite executives to pay attention to. So it’s odd that they seem not to be paying much attention to the ROI for corporate training.

It’s abysmal.

PHOTO elephant in room

Leading experts have studied the subject at length; the statistics they provide differ. Some say there are too many variables to allow for “one-size-fits-all” statements about how much training is retained, and how quickly it is forgotten. They note the  variety of training goals and audiences receiving the training, as well as differences in training delivery methods.

Having said this, there is general agreement among experts in the field that that corporate training’s success rate is, shall I say, “poor.”

One of these experts is Dr. Art Kohn, who has done a great deal of work on “the forgetting curve” and its effect on training retention. He’s also the recipient of not one but two Fulbright Fellowships for work in Cognitive Psychology and Educational Technology. In a recent article in Learning Solutions, he wrote the following:

It is the dirty secret of corporate training: no matter how much you invest into training and development, nearly everything you teach to your employees will be forgotten…this investment is like pumping gas into a car that has a hole in the tank. All of your hard work simply drains away.

The fact is that this “dirty secret” is really not secret at all.

The research and resulting articles about this have been out there for years. Yet there’s not much evidence that corporae executives are acting upon it, despite its its obvious and critical importance to the bottom line.

Bersin’s research also shows an explosive growth in technology-driven training, including self-authored video, online communication channels, virtual learning, and MOOCs. Worldwide, formal classroom education, now accounts for less than half the total training “hours.”

According to Bersin, mobile devices are now used to deliver as much as 18% of all training among what he calls “highly advanced companies.”

Does this mean that employees are using their iPads to access Udemy courses? If so, is there a significant difference in retention rate for employees who have information presented by a live trainer while sitting in a room with 20 fellow workers… versus those who receive it on mobile phone the subway on the way home at night… compared to someone being trained via  iPad while sitting in the living room after the kids have been put to bed?

We won’t have statistics to provide answers to those questions for some time.

But corporations should be watching closely to see if new methods of delivering training result in a dramatic increase in retention among employees once they’re on the job — because if Kohn is right, even achieving a whopping 400% increase in retention will mean that after just one week, the average employee will still be retaining only about half of what is needed on-the-job.

That’s hardly a stunning success rate.

Research has made it abundantly clear that the basic premise that drives corporate training is fatally flawed.

It’s abundantly clear that the training corporations are currently providing to their employees  is not succeeding in providing them with the information they need to do their jobs properly the first time. So why does corporate America keep throwing good money after bad, trying to find a “patch” or download an “updated version”?

It’s as if a purple elephant with pink toenails is standing next to the coffee table and corporations are only willing to acknowledge that there’s an “unusual scent in the air.”

My next blog will give more compelling facts to show why a major change in corporate training is needed.

High Innovation Hiring?


dilbert on training

I have been researching the difference in approaches to learning between Boomers and Millennials. I recently started reading and hearing about a new approach to hiring and learning called a “high innovation system”.

We know there has been a sea-change in the old hiring for life contract between employer and employee. And the union agreements are disappearing faster than you can say “retiring boomers”. There is also a newer change in the way companies view employees learning.

We originally had a “high commitment system,” which valued long-term employment and on-the-job training. The new approach is called “high-innovation”. Here’s the idea in a quote from  Andrew S. Ross writing in SFGATE

Engineers are typically hired because their skills and knowledge are required for a specific technology or product being developed. This system is seen as cost-effective, since the company can hire required skills and does not have to retrain experienced workers, who usually command higher wages than new graduates. Of course, this puts engineers, who are no longer retrained by their companies, at a disadvantage as they age.

I had an epiphany about why older workers over 40 are becoming an endangered species, not only in the high-tech industry, but in companies worldwide.

I come from a generation of continuing education – workers tagged to go from event to event to learn new skills and improve or update old ones. I wondered why we consider so many older (read post-40) workers as part of the ‘long-term unemployed’. The answer is that “knowing” has replaced “learning”. According to the SFGATE article, if a company can find a worker with a specific skill to fill a job that requires that skill, then there is no need to spend the time and money training someone to learn it.

In today’s flat and hypercompetitive world, it’s the equivalent to trying to teach a square peg ‘roundness’ when simply finding a round peg will do.

It is the difference between the “high-commitment system” in which employees expect to be taught and learn and improve skills while they are working in order to improve their performance, and the “high innovation system” in which people only become employees when they can already perform the skills that are required. How they learned them is not important. Being able to prove they can do them is all that counts.

In the industrial economy, where change happened more slowly, there was time and money to train someone in a new skill. In today’s Digital economy, where there is more talent out there than time or money for training, the trend among some companies is that learning and development is irrelevant. The digital revolution happened so fast that an entire segment of the workforce now has an ‘use by’ date stamped on their foreheads.  It appears that what a Digital Native has already knows will always be in higher demand than what a Digital Immigrant can learn.

To quote Mark Zuckerberg: “I want to stress the importance of being young and technical,” Facebook’s CEO told a Y Combinator Startup event at Stanford University. “Young people are just smarter. Why are most chess masters under 30? I don’t know. Young people just have simpler lives. We may not own a car. We may not have family. Simplicity in life allows you to focus on what’s important.”

The problem with this approach to hiring and learning is that it may work for hard skills, but with regard to softskills – for example people management – learning never stops. You may temporarily find the round peg for the round job, but wait a few months and the shape of things will change. The Digital Immigrants and Digital Natives must both be continuous learners of softskills. And the experience of the older workers – especially in the area of soft skills – will always be an important part of the younger workers learning. Mentors are not born, but only made by adopting and adapting to success, failure, more success over lots of time.

Training for hard skills will soon become as obsolete as the chalk board. My prediction is that it will soon be replaced by performance support utilizing the Internet of Things (IoT) to help people who simply want operational or procedural information on the job.

Training for hard skills will soon become as obsolete as the chalk board. My prediction is that it will soon be replaced by performance support utilizing the Internet of Things (IoT) to help people who simply want operational or procedural information on the job.  Using embedded chips or beacons, machines or equipment will be able to ‘talk’ to you. They will tell you what to do to make them work, how to troubleshoot a problem, instruct you about fixing a broken part, walk you through completing a safety inspection checklist or finishing a regulatory compliance report form. That finally solves the problem of your mind falling off the forgetting curve and takes hard skills training – and the many millions of dollars and uncountable hours of development time – off the high-commitment table.

It’s the people-to-people skills that are still and always will be hard to learn, especially for people who prefer to spend time focused on things or ideas. You cannot put a performance support beacon on a worker and have it instruct you about what to say if their performance is not meeting the company’s expectations. Or they need time off for an operation. Or they are depressed over someone’s death. Or … or … or ….

So that still leaves us with the need to learn soft skills. An area from what I understand Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook could go to school on.

How would you define your company, as high-innovation or high-commitment? And as time marches on is this just a temporal blip on the hiring radar of the Millennial generation? Is high-innovation a symptom of an outmoded approach to training that no longer really works? Will a culture of learning evolve and replace what we once called the high-commitment company? You tell me ….

Discursive or recursive? The fractal nature of education


We’d like to share the article below by Steve Wheeler, Assoc. Professor of Learning Technology in the Plymouth Institute of Education at Plymouth University in England.  We admire Steve not only for his thinking about the future of learning and education–but also for the clarity and beauty of his writing. His blog can be found at:  Steve Wheeler

I presented a keynote at the Curriculum Enhancement Day for Portsmouth Business School recently, and chose this bright coloured image as one of my opening slides. It is as beautiful as it is intriguing, and it’s known as the Mandelbrot Set. I didn’t choose it solely for its visual impact, although as you can see, it certainly is quite a stunning image, and there are many variations. I chose it because I wanted to use it to make a point about what education is, and what education can become. You see, the image represents a mathematical formula that is recursive. In other words, as you zoom in to the image, which represents data points of a mathematical calculation, it continually reproduces itself towards infinity. Mathematicians will understand the explanation below from Wikipedia, but the rest of us might struggle:

The Mandelbrot set is the set of complex numbers ‘c’ for which the sequence (c, c² + c, (c²+c)² + c, ((c²+c)²+c)² + c, (((c²+c)²+c)²+c)² + c, …) does not approach infinity. The set is closely related to Julia sets (which include similarly complex shapes) and is named after the mathematician Benoit Mandelbrot, who studied and popularized it. Mandelbrot set images are made by sampling complex numbers and determining for each whether the result tends towards infinity when a particular mathematical operation is iterated on it. Treating the real and imaginary parts of each number as image coordinates, pixels are coloured according to how rapidly the sequence diverges, if at all.

Follow that? Me neither. The rest of us simply admire its visual appeal or marvel at its fractal properties and how it is never ending. The point I wanted to make at the conference was that much of our education systems are fractal in nature. Education is delivered recursively, where students are required to reproduce knowledge that is already known.

It’s a safe approach to education, and learning can be easily measured. Those that become teachers continue this tradition, teaching their own students the same knowledge, in more or less the same style they were themselves taught. Assessment of learning also has fractal features. Standardised testing is based on reproducing knowledge. Final examination success is premised on the student’s ability to reiterate what has already been taught in lessons. There is no room for exploration or creativity in summative assessment.

My point was that when education is conducted in fractal mode, it does not obtain its full potential and students are disadvantaged. I asked my audience to consider the difference between recursive and discursive education approaches. In recursive education, we see reproduction of knowledge, and we see students learning content towards a product – memorising facts and then reproducing them for the examiner. In discursive education, students are allowed to digress from the pathway, investigate new and untravelled pathways, and discover for themselves. Instruction is minimised, learning takes centre stage in the process. This kind of learning can be found in project work, problem based learning and personal research and many other progressive approaches.

My question for my audience was this: How can we as educators provide discursive opportunities for our students?

What would it take for us to leave the safe and mundane world of product based, recursive education behind and adopt new pedagogies that promote self discovery, digression from prescribed pathways and learning by a process of serendipity?

It would be a major risk for many institutions, and there would be some personal cost. But if we don’t try, how will we make any progress? This is an initial foray into this area for me and I would interested in your views on these ideas. As ever, I am open to discussion and revision, because I’m wholly committed to discursive enquiry.

Steve can be reached at S.Wheeler [@] plymouth[.ac.uk]

Coming Soon to Your Workplace: The Internet of Smart Things


Imagine if the equipment you use in the workplace could:

  • show you what you need to know about how they operate
  • tell you how to use them correctly and efficiently
  • help you be safer working with or around them
  • offer you details to complete and submit regulatory forms and checklists
  • show you how to fix them if they are broken
  • provide you with the schematics and diagrams you need
  • help you contact a mentor or emergency assistance
  • and more, lots more.

What if all of this information was delivered automatically whenever you were within a short distance of the machine?  Imagine if it was instantly and securely viewable from any nearby internet-connected device.

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Think of the enormous impact that could have: eliminating errors, boosting employee productivity.  It could dramatically reduce errors and injuries and associated workman’s comp and insurance costs —  all of which would obviously have a positive effect on the bottom line.

We’ve all heard and read about how The Internet of Things in the home will utterly transform the ways in which we live. We’ve heard for years how your refrigerator is going to send a shopping list to your grocery store, your car will make an appointment for an oil change, and the blinds on your windows will automatically close as dusk falls.

What about the Internet of Things in the workplace? It seems to me that far more people need the machines they work with on the job to supply them with specific information.

While I can appreciate that having a dishwasher that will automatically turn itself on when its full might be nice, having a piece of machinery that can provide me with safety warnings or with a checklist before I operate it could prevent me from being seriously injured.

That’s a whole new category that I call “The Internet of Smart Things.”


I recently saw a demo of an app that can make everything I’ve just described above a reality. The app won the Best in Show Award at mLearnCon 2014 DemoFest in San Diego, and it went up against some big names in the Edtech industry.

The app is driven by iBeacon technology connected to any cross-platform internet connected device that can pull information from the cloud. The beacon goes on any machine or piece of equipment and sends out a specific signal when you get close. The app ‘hears’ the signal and calls the cloud for the information on that machine or piece of equipment. You get a tailored menu of information choices that could include safety checklists, operating instructions, functional specs, diagrams, and safety warnings. Whatever you need. Whenever that information is really needed.

You have now crossed over into the Internet of Smart Things.

The opportunities are vast and diverse, across industries ranging from mining, logging oil exploration and refining, to manufacturing, pharmaceutical and medical, construction and engineering, food production and agriculture.

According to a recent Gartner study the size of the market for the Internet of Things (IoT) by 2020 is estimated to be $1.9 Trillion.

And here’s a breakdown by Industry according to another Gartner study:

IoT Market Share 2020

Here’s the link to the 9-minute demo of the app I saw. It’s technical and explains how it works:

https://www.dropbox.com/s/0jq8ohnaykfa09w/DemoFestArchiveBestOfmLearningDemoFest2014Baty.mp4?dl=0

I invite you to take a look and tell me what you think. Looking forward to hearing your thoughts.

The Internet of Things That Help You Learn


new-paradigm-ahead (2)

Talking about the Internet of Things …

I have seen the future of on-the-job learning. It is an app that connects any piece of machinery your company uses, with any internet-connected device you already have, and instantly and automatically delivers any specifically chosen, task-related information that exists in the cloud.

So you get close to any piece of equipment and your device provides Information that can range from details about how it works, technical support information, or even safety checklists to ensure compliance. You decide.

Different information is received when you are a certain distance from a piece of equipment  — on your iPhone, iWatch, Android phone or any other internet-enabled device.

This has really fired up my imagination!

I can imagine so many scenarios and uses for this app. And just think of how it could reduce employee error — and the impact that could very quickly have on a corporation’s or organization’s bottom line.

Love to hear your reactions:

Amazing App for OTJ Learning

It’s Time to Stop Pushing Learning


The major change in business today is the rate of change…. the time between conception of an idea and market acceptance was five to seven years. Now a new car model goes from idea to market in 24 months. “Internet time” is just a few months for most things. My public offerings…used to take months or years. Now, crowdfunding can raise millions of dollars for a new business in a few weeks.

John Psarouthakis

push pull pic

As the digital revolution continues rapidly increasing the rate of change andtransforming all aspects of business, from supply chain management to communicationthe highest-performing corporations are abandoning traditional “push” training for the “pull” learning model.

Push training is a centralized, top-down model that occurs when management determines what it is people need to know or do and “pushe”’ educational programs out from a central training group.  Going to a class or taking an assigned online program is push training.

In a push training model, learning is test-based. It is all about what you know.

The problem is that the push training culture was developed to serve the old Industrial Economy that no longer exists.

It is a relic from the time when producing products and delivering services changed slowly and the shelf-life of both was almost glacial compared to today’s reality.  In the pre-digital age, most workers did not need to learn volumes of information to perform their jobs. We all know that has changed.

So why is it that, despite the change from the Industrial to the Knowledge Economy over 100 years ago, the vast majority of organizations still push training out to employees in almost the same ways as they did then?

We are hard-pressed to think of any other business function that is still managed as it was a century ago. Especially when the research clearly shows that push training is an inefficient way of developing skills, abilities and attitudes. Studies show that push training programs only managed in transferr a mere 10 to 20 percent of skills to the workplace. This is a huge waste of 80 to 90 percent of the investment in those programs.

“Pull learning” is the model for the new Knowledge Economy.

It is a decentralized, bottom-up approach that enables employees to access the information they need right when it is needed. Employees are connected and able to collaborate tomake the best use of the supporting technology which connects them to each another and to the sources of information.

Imagine employees facing a new situation in which they require more instruction. With pull training, employees can quickly and easily locate and access the most current information in a variety of ways, when and where they need it.

In a pull model learning is performance-based. The focus is on what you can do when you need to get it done.

Figure 1: Push or Pull

 push pull

 Replacing Push with Pull: The Learning Culture

Replacing push training with pull learning transforms an organization into a learning culture.

A learning culture is an organization that can provide relevant, useable and on-demand access to the knowledge and skills employees need to perform their jobs. This includes technical, operational, and managerial skills. Our research over the past two years shows that corporations that commitment to becoming a learning culture experience measurable, significant and sustainable increases in on-the-job performance, talent-retention, sales revenue, and innovation.

Our research and consulting with leading corporations has further convinced us that the smartest, highest performing, most successful organizations in the current global idea-based economy are learning cultures. Why? Because they are more agille –able to respond instantly to the ever-changing requirements and demands of a fast-paced, hyper-competitive marketplace. Their employees can quickly access the technology and support to find what they need to know, when and where it is needed. Shifting from training and knowing to learning and doing improves the thousands of job-related actions and decisions performed each day, and makes mission-critical corporate-level decisions more immediate and effective.

Yet surprisingly few organizations and their leaders have fully grasped the enormous benefits to be realized by becoming a learning culture. It has become obvious to us that a fundamental shift needs to occur in the way senior managers think about how they provide knowledge and know-how to their workforce.

It is time to stop seeing the workplace as a relatively static 9-5 schoolplace where employees receive an occasional invitation to a training event. Leaders need to reimagine the workplace as a constantly moving beehive in which employees are continuously learning whatever knowledge and skills will help them do their jobs more effectivley.


If you would like more information about what it takes to transform your company into a high-performing learning culture, contact Stephen at sjgill@learningtobegreat.com or David at david@knowledgestar.com