The Future of Learning and Development Adaptation

Our topic for today is all about the future of learning and development adaptation. I’m here with Miriam Taylor to discuss the evolving roles of learning and development teams in organizations. In my mind, there are really two parts to that conversation. The first is to answer the question, How is the L and D world changing? and then once we understand that, to discuss how the L&D team and the learning professional can adapt to meet these changing needs. So Miriam, to begin what would be one of the biggest changes you’ve seen?

At the risk of stating the obvious, I’m going to say a shift towards digital learning. I know this is a risk. Back when I first started my career in this field in the mid-90’s we were already talking about digital or online learning. So the term is obviously not new. But what I’m referring to is the sophistication of new digital learning platforms. The learning and development world is increasingly embracing digital learning platforms as a means to deliver training and education. I should also point out that because of the industry we’re in, we assume all organizations have shifted to digital learning development and delivery, but honestly there are still many organizations that prefer in-person training or perhaps training that’s delivered via Zoom. They are just now starting to move towards a true digital strategy.

(JZ) So you’re seeing the entire industry shift their whole strategy to digital, in a variety of formats but still making that shift? 

(MT) Yes, originally everyone was pushed by COVID so we had this emergency digital or online learning but in the recovery and lessons learned from that, most organizations are creating a more robust long-term strategy. 

Some of this is also driven by the learner and their preference to access learning digitally. This shift is driven by the accessibility and flexibility that digital platforms offer, allowing people to learn at their own pace and in their own time. 

Additionally, digital learning enables the integration of multimedia materials, interactive exercises, and collaborative tools, enhancing the overall learning experience.

(JZ) I hear you talking about some of these changes being driven by the learner. Can you tell me more about what you mean by that. 

 (MT) Sure, so the term is personalized learning experiences, and the trend towards personalized learning experiences just continues to grow. It’s another significant change in our industry. It involves tailoring learning and development programs to the specific needs and preferences of the learner. This approach acknowledges that people have preferences, goals, and skill levels, and seeks to provide targeted and relevant learning content. By customizing the learning experience, organizations can better engage their employees and maximize the effectiveness of their training initiatives.

(JZ) Personally I find that when the learning journey is tailored to who I am, my motivation increases. I wonder if this would help with fostering a culture of continuous learning? 

(MT) Yes, absolutely, and thanks for the great segue into another change in our industry: a focus on continuous learning. Of course, fostering this kind of culture has always been the goal of the L and D team, but as the pace of change in the workplace accelerates, the learning and development world is placing greater emphasis on continuous learning. Organizations are investing in ongoing training and development programs to ensure that employees have the skills and knowledge necessary to adapt to new technologies, business practices, and industry trends. Continuous learning helps promote that culture of growth and adaptability. 

(JZ) What other changes or shifts are you seeing?

(MT) The shift towards collaborative and social learning is a big shift coming out of COVID because it recognizes the value of peer-to-peer knowledge sharing and interaction. Where there is an environment where individuals can learn from each other’s experiences and expertise, organizations can create a more engaging and interactive learning culture. This approach uses basic adult learning theory; where we encourage the exchange of ideas, the cultivation of a learning community, and the development of a broader range of skills through shared experiences. We just talked about this topic a couple of weeks ago so I won’t spend more time now but you can find my thoughts here.

(JZ) I have one last question, and I’m sure you were expecting it. You know we always end up talking about AI. You haven’t mentioned that yet and that surprises me. 

(MT) Oh, I was getting there. But it’s a big topic, and I wanted to focus on some other key areas first. But, without a doubt, the integration of advanced technology and tools, such as artificial intelligence, virtual reality, and gamification, is transforming the learning and development world. These tools offer opportunities to create more immersive learning experiences, increase engagement, and provide real-time feedback to learners. By leveraging this technology, organizations can improve the effectiveness and efficiency of their training programs and gain valuable insights into learner progress and performance.

However, you also know me well enough to realize I’ll always begin by asking:, what is best for the learner and the organization? Those of us in the learning industry should have concerns with artificial intelligence, virtual reality, and gamification as these technologies present potential ethical and privacy issues. AI can raise concerns about bias and discrimination in learning algorithms, while VR can blur the lines between reality and simulation, potentially creating confusion and disconnection from the real world. Gamification can be a potential distraction from the learning objectives, if not done correctly. Additionally, all three technologies require significant investment and resources, which may not be accessible to all learners. It is important for learning professionals to carefully consider the ethical and practical implications of incorporating these technologies into education and training programs. To be clear, I’m very excited about the current and potential use of all of these technologies, but it’s important to think through them carefully. 

(JZ) So this is very exciting to think about all the shifts and changes in our industry, but this is just the first part. Learning and development teams must evolve or help their organizations evolve to meet these challenges. So how can they possibly do that with all these changes coming at them while still trying to focus on the immediate and pressing needs of their organization.

(MT) One of the key ways learning and development teams can prepare for the future is by staying on top of industry trends and best practices. This requires a commitment to continuous learning and networking to understand the latest developments in the field. Attending industry conferences, participating in webinars, and reading industry publications are important activities that allow them to stay informed about the latest strategies and tools to enhance their training programs. And even as I say this, I am keenly aware that in the era of budget cuts and increasing workloads, this may feel impossible. 

I would suggest taking even small steps because they will add up over time. For example, block just one hour a week to catch up on a few articles or watch part of a webinar. I often listen to podcasts while I’m doing other things. Subscribe to industry digests that allow you to control when and how you ingest them. For others it might be easier to set aside a half day once a quarter to think about new trends and their impacts. Something is always better than nothing. 

(JZ) As I listen to you talk about these ways to stay on top of industry trends, it’s occurred to me that so much of what we’re talking about is really embracing a mindset more than anything. 

(MT) Absolutely, I call this developing a future-focused mindset. And I think leaders have to set the tone with this. As a leader, it includes having a positive attitude towards the new but also providing a framework for a learning and development team to think about change. Perhaps it’s a half day at the end of a year to think through opportunities for the next year. Perhaps it’s assigning team members to research and share what they’ve learned over a lunch-and-learn. 

A framework we like to use at Ingenuiti is the Here, Near, Far Framework. It provides a framework to help us think through how we implement new learning strategies and technologies. I’m going to summarize here a longer interview that you did with Johnny Hamilton and Chris from My Baseline Builder. You can read the full article here

For Here, I mean something that a team can already do with a known outcome and no risk or additional investment. Near is something that the team needs to put some effort into to build their capabilities, but it won’t take too long or too much of a budget. Far requires great investments of time, money, and effort and carries much risk, as well as potential reward. This framework is helpful to know what type of learning innovation you are using and where you are in the adoption of new technologies. The Here, Near, and Far Framework helps our learning teams with planning and skill development. 

(JZ) I think these are really useful ideas for a learning and development team within an organization, but no one operates in a silo. How does a learning and development team also help their organization evolve and grow? 

(MT) I think first and foremost by listening. Listen to the problems and opportunities you’re hearing across the organization. Listen with an ear towards how your L and D team can help solve those problems with a new learning strategy or technology. By working with HR, talent management, and business operations, you can better understand the evolving needs of the organization and align their training programs with the broader objectives and strategic direction of the business. By collaborating you’re ensuring that training initiatives are designed to address emerging needs and remain relevant in an ever-evolving role.

(JZ) Anything else you’d like to share before we wrap up?

(MT) I read a phrase the other day that stuck with me, Urge of Learning, found in an article by Pratik Naik . This phrase conveys everything a L and D team hopes to create in a learning culture. One of the best ways we can help our organizations evolve is by instilling this urge. Obviously, though, the question is how? I think that when employees can clearly see that a learning path is both custom to them, and it provides a clear path toward their future development, it creates a sense of motivation. It goes back to the age-old, “what’s in it for me?” And then, stepping outside of just the individual motivation, when organizational leadership can paint a clear vision for the future and tie that to individual growth, the entire organization feels that “urge to learn”, the desire for knowledge and skills to create a better organization and future for all.