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Looking at the Past, Present and Future Fashions of L&D

Bob Little 

November 17, 2017

Some clothing or cultural fashions disappear virtually overnight. Others fade away, only to return a few years later. Some stand the test of time.

The skill for any self-respecting trend-spotter is to differentiate between what’s ephemeral and what will endure. And it’s a similar story when you’re looking for future fashions in learning and development.

So, with a little help from some experts in the field, I’ll try to work out where L&D’s been, where it’s at, and where it’s going.

Nine Key Fashion Favorites

A recent straw poll of L&D professionals identified the key fashions over the past 40 years or so. They were:

  • Transactional Analysis.
  • Max Kostick’s Perception and Preference Inventory.
  • Competence-based learning.
  • E-learning.
  • Blended learning.
  • Developing young people in the workplace.
  • Learnscaping.
  • 70:20:10.
  • Roger Schank’s ideas on how not to transfer education-type methods into the corporate L&D world.

PESTLE Influences L&D Future Fashions

Richard Lowe, director of Hewlett Rand, says, “L&D fashions come and go, influenced by such external factors as Political, Economic, Sociological, Technological, Legal and Environmental (PESTLE) change. These set a context for why these trends emerge.

“L&D fashions continue to be impacted by slow economic growth, which adversely affects business investment in L&D. That said, we’re in an era where organizations have a growing need to service a more virtual and globalized multicultural workforce. So L&D is embracing technological innovations – to reduce training costs while extending access to mobile, agile and geographically dispersed teams.

“This has increased the demand for easily accessible learning content. We’ll continue to see digital learning helping to drive down L&D costs, especially for knowledge- and compliance-based learning,” says Lowe.

“Digital learning technology will continue to be shaped by fashionable functionality and applications, although the quality of learner experience and its adding value to the business will remain variable and difficult to measure.”

AI and Robotics on the Horizon

Artificial intelligence (AI) and robotics will influence L&D future fashions.  Lowe adds, “The first L&D areas to be affected are likely to be where learning content is simple to communicate and easily programmable.

“It could take the form of robot lecturers covering a prescriptive syllabus,” he says. “Applying this approach to more complex, creative and soft skill areas will take time, especially as one of the concerns for AI and robotics is the lack of international regulations or standards.

“There could also be a resurgence of human-to-human learning interventions – coaching, classroom and conferences – as the novelty of social media dissipates,” Lowe says.

“Nothing can replace the unique nature of real-time, face-to-face shared learning experiences for developing interpersonal skills. It also brings the benefits of developing deeper relationships with colleagues, peers and networks, particularly for management, leadership and team development.”

The Rise of Neuro-Linguistic Programming

Tim Drewitt, a digital learning strategist and product innovator at Kallidus, says, “One of the key L&D fashions that springs to my mind is neuro-linguistic programming (NLP). Back in the 1990s, it seemed as if most corporate trainers were enrolling on NLP programs and then trying to build the techniques into their programs.

“Books about NLP flooded the market and we started playing ‘spot the NLP-trained person’ at meetings. A handful of NLP’s key principles have remained but, fortunately, they’ve lost their NLP legacy.

“Apart from NLP, the ‘near misses’ in fashion terms have resonated the most,” Drewitt adds. “These – paraded on the catwalks at learning conferences and exhibitions – have yet to be a fashion hit in the wardrobes of corporate L&D.

Mobile Learning Waiting in the Wings

“My main choice, though, would be mobile learning,” says Drewitt. “In the late 2000s, mobile learning solutions were everywhere but most struggled to take off. Even today, surveys show only about one third of companies are using mobile delivery for learning.

“But, for me and those in organizations where learning at the desk has never been a conducive environment, mobile learning has proved invaluable. This is one fashion where I hope we’ll see some cyclical patterns. If it’s not the fashion now, I hope its day will come.

“Mobile learning made me re-think what learning at work is really about,” he adds. “It allowed me to examine learner behaviors more and to challenge what was meant by ‘impactful instructional design’. I realised that performance support needed to take its place alongside traditional learning approaches – if not overtake many of them.

The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator

“The fashion for using behavioral indicators, such as the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator [MBTI®], has been one of the most beneficial L&D fashions for me. I know there’s been a lot of recent noise calling into question their validity but, as an L&D professional with a bias towards using technology as the primary delivery approach, understanding behaviors allows me to work more closely with the recipients of my proposed solutions.

“Empathy is one of the most important skills an L&D practitioner should practice.

Becoming More Inquisitive and Challenging

“From rushing too fast in the past to embrace previous fashions, we’ve learned to be more inquisitive and challenging before adopting the latest ones,” says Drewitt.

“We should probably think through the latest trends in terms of the fashion business. How long will this be relevant? What use could I get out of this? What’s likely to follow it and how quickly?

“So, I see studying learning fashions as a crucial part of the evolution of learning in the workplace. It’s also important to note that many fashions nowadays start from outside our profession – such as micro-learning, curation and AI.”

Top Tips for Future Fashions

Sashaying down Drewitt’s L&D future fashion catwalk are:

  • Augmented reality. As the technology becomes more widely available, its use to support learning at the point-of-need will excite the profession.
  • Virtual reality (VR). Similarly, as VR is more mainstream, L&D will seize on the opportunity to create more immersive learning experiences that deliver noticeable benefits.
  • Personalization of learning. As systems develop, we will be able to offer learners highly tailored programs of learning that they buy into like never before.
  • Mobile learning will make a comeback. As different new learning modalities emerge – and the younger generations come to dominate the workplace – the mobile device will truly come into its own as a learning platform.
  • User-generated and curated content. Eventually, L&D will realize that it’s now fashionable to take a step back and let the learners themselves create and curate content that works for them and their peers.

What do you think the future holds for L&D? Tell us in the comments section, below.

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