The Learning Equation

The Learning Equation – The Learning Awards 2019 Opening Address

We are working in an industry that continues to experience extraordinary change. What is clear is that you are not only confronting this change head-on, but you are excelling. You are realising your potential, discovering opportunity, and distinguishing yourselves among your peers. And so, every one of you out there tonight deserves the fullest praise for your achievements.

I’m often asked if there is a magic formula for learning. A simple equation that describes how the best organisations and individuals approach their learning strategies. I believe that in 2019 there is, and it inevitably involves technology.

Exciting new technologies appear almost daily (and often disappear just as quickly). The trick is to understand when, how, or even if, to leverage these technologies in a learning strategy. I think it’s safe to say that AI, bots and automation are here to stay. And, far from being a threat to L&D, these technologies are actually changing the nature of work itself, liberating us from repetitive or mundane tasks and allowing us to focus on more creative, strategic, and collaborative work.

Cutting-edge L&D teams are already seeing the benefits of delegating tasks such as content curation, personalization and even coaching to AI, and it’s giving them more time to think holistically about the future of work, ambition, well-being and development.

But what about alluring and provocative technologies like Google Flutter, Alteryx, and blockchain? Will these become powerful new weapons in our L&D arsenal in 2019 and beyond?

It may be too early to tell but we shouldn’t be afraid to embrace these new platforms and experiment with their potential. Let’s remind ourselves that everything, at one point, was a new technology.

The World Wide Web itself was new technology only 30 years ago and yet, now, it is so completely ingrained into everything we do that we can barely remember life before.

Technological change is inevitable.

What is essential is that we adapt and nurture our human skills so that we work with the technology and not against it.

This leads to the second term in our equation: people. History has shown that we can be unprepared for significant change – as in the case of the Industrial Revolution where much of the agrarian workforce found itself redundant against the onslaught of mechanisation.

300 years after that revolution, we find ourselves in the middle of another epoch – a fourth Industrial Revolution – only this time, we have the benefit of hindsight.

Now our role is clear: we must build a digital-human workforce, where soft skills such as emotional intelligence, critical thinking, conflict management and storytelling are key capabilities for employees. We must prepare ourselves and our employees for emerging roles and even for jobs that don’t exist yet. And I believe we are already making progress.

L&D has argued for years about whether it should be part of HR, or how closely aligned with IT it should be. Now, forward-thinking L&D functions are cultivating valuable relationships with the Change Management department, the recruitment teams, and others, as they look to transform their people and their organisations in the digital age.

We’re seeing L&D departments having huge success creating learning cultures using technologies they already have to build social communities that crowdsource informal, peer-to-peer learning.

Progressive learning professionals are up-skilling in the disciplines of user experience design, marketing, and data analytics to really understand the cause and effect of learning.

And L&D is finally getting out of the classroom – going out into the business to see how people really work and becoming strategic influencers with key stakeholders.

This is the human part of our equation – our creativity, our adaptability, our empathy, our open-mindedness – these qualities are what separate us from the machines. As people, we have the unique ability to perceive challenges as something beneficial, so we can deal with them in the most productive way.

So, technology is part of the solution. The role of people is part of the solution. But it’s the combination of the two that results in measurable learning and performance improvement. So, the magic formula to learning…arguably it is that:


Tonight, we celebrate all three of these.

The Learning Awards exists to recognise the most talented individuals and organisations in L&D, the most innovative learning technologies, and the unquestionable business performance improvements that arise from these working in perfect harmony.

Improving performance means improving engagement, attracting new talent and retaining existing, boosting productivity, and boosting morale.

It’s something that can only happen when the very best people work with the very best technology – and this is why we are here tonight – to recognise the pioneers and the leaders among us, whose work is an inspiration to us all.

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The Learning Awards

The Learning and Performance Institute



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