In your opinion what is the biggest anxiety within the world of learning and development at the moment?
There are many anxieties and these are quite understandable given the pace of change in the environment in which L&D operates. So many L&D departments are still operating a traditional course-running service, mostly classroom-based, ignoring the opportunities with which they are now presented and risking marginalisation. Technology is changing everything but not through traditional e-learning, which continues to underperform and underwhelm. The impact of technology is to empower learners of all ages as never before. Through the proliferation of online content and social networks, and the ubiquity of mobile devices, people now know that they can take control of their own learning. This was what L&D always wanted. Now it has arrived, it’s making learning professionals very nervous.
Who or what is informing your thinking around L&D?
I do not find myself inspired by many of the current models. A good example for me is 70-20-10, which is based on sand and only serves to confuse. What encourages me is the emergence of true evidence-based practice, founded on solid science. We know a lot more than we did ten years ago about how people learn, yet so few learning professionals are aware of the implications of this research. I blame those responsible for so many train-the-trainer courses, which are still peddling the same old learning styles theories and bunk such as Dales Cone of Experience.
What is the most exciting innovation on the horizon for learning?
We already have one enormously significant innovation and that is the smart phone. It is transforming how people interact with information and with each other. But your question is about what is on the horizon and for that I would have to answer AI. We are finally beginning to see some real progress made with the application of artificial intelligence to learning, after a false start in the 1980s. We need AI to provide more flexible, personalised learning experiences for all learners, but particularly those learning online in large numbers on sites such as the Khan Academy or Lynda.com, or through MOOCs. However, there is currently almost no evidence of any intelligence in corporate e-learning, which continues to be dominated by graphic designers and 1970s-era instructional designers.
What “game changers” would you like to see and why?
One thing would change the game for me from the supply side, i.e. from the perspective of L&D, and that is a shift from our current role as order takers for courses to one of trusted consultant. Far too few practitioners in L&D are professionals – they act as brokers between their internal clients and external course providers, much like travel agents booking holidays. This would be alright if their clients asked for sensible things but they do not. We need true learning professionals who can work on their clients’ behalf to find effective and efficient solutions to business problems. Moving from order takers to consultants is not easy for those in L&D because roles are so engrained, but this transformation is vital if L&D is to remain relevant.
What do you think the world of L&D will look like by 2020?
Well, 2020 might sound a long way off but in L&D terms it is not. If you were cynical you would say that very little has changed in the past 30 years, so why should things speed up now? However, it would be extremely dangerous for L&D to keep putting off the changes that it knows are necessary. Bit by bit they will become less and less relevant, stuck in a ghetto in which all they get to do is run compliance programmes and the occasional courses for that ever-diminishing proportion of employees who haven’t figured out how to do things for themselves. The future for L&D need by neither complicated nor particularly technical but it will be different. In the end, we cannot be credible as change agents for our clients if we are incapable of changing ourselves.
What advice would you give your 21 year old self?
Consider a career in workplace learning and development, perhaps not at 21 but when you have some job experience. Look at L&D as a field ripe for change and innovation, one in which you can express your creativity and provide a service that simply can’t be beaten – that of helping people to fulfil their potential, to grow in confidence and self-belief to such an extent that they have no need for you any longer.
About Clive Shepherd
Clive is a consultant in the field of workplace learning and development. His 35-year career includes spells as head of training for a multinational credit card company and co-founder of a major developer of multimedia materials. He has written six books and many hundreds of articles. His current passion is the transformation of workplace L&D through the application of next generation processes from the strategic level down. His is a founding director of The More Than Blended Learning Company.