Annee Bayeux, Chief Learning Strategist at Degreed explores what the future looks like for corporate learning.
Every now and then, we all like to gaze into our crystal balls and predict what the future may look like for ourselves personally and the companies that we lead. If the pandemic taught us just one lesson, it would be that the future is unknown and (potentially) disruptive. Planning for this disruption is a never-ending task. However, we can look at some of the trends emerging today as a harbinger of what’s to come. And it’s worth considering what may change in your industry, especially when setting long-term goals and strategy.
So with this in mind, let’s consider a function that impacts every business and its workforce. What does the future hold for corporate learning?
Many changes occurring today
It’s an exciting time to be in learning and development (L&D). In many ways, this department is at the forefront of the significant skills changes happening across workforces. Stemming skills gaps are at the top of every CEO’s priority list — with half of business leaders encountering challenges in executing their strategies due to an unforeseen lack of skills. Many are turning to learning to build skills from within, instead of solely relying on a competitive hiring market.
This means that L&D is finally taking a strategic position in the boardroom. Corporate learning is no longer just a compliance exercise or a nice-to-have benefit offered to entice employees. L&D will become the de facto way for the C-Suite to ensure their workforces are ready for future business needs and can shift quickly if demand suddenly changes.
Skills become a focal point
With this, comes an evolution in how we view someone’s skills. Notably, by 2030, all organizations should be ‘skills-based’ and the role of the CLO (Chief Learning Officer) may evolve into the Chief Skills Officer to reflect their new focus. All major workforce decisions, from hiring to promoting, upskilling to redeploying, will be based on the current skills of an employee and the skills they are building through learning. We’re seeing the early stages of this now, with IBM, Accenture, and even the U.S Government recently dropping degree requirements in favor of a skills-based approach.
Degrees will still have a place in this new world, but the skills that an employee builds after they graduate will be just as important — if not more so as time passes since graduation. After all, you don’t measure someone’s health based on a marathon that they ran two decades ago. So why are we doing the same with education and the workplace?
Learning impacts the broader business
The shift to skills will have a positive impact on other focus areas for CEOs, notably in improving diversity and inclusion. It removes unconscious bias from workforce decisions, by basing those choices on tangible, hard skills data. Plus, it can help to broaden the talent pool, possibly by bringing in gig workers and other temporary talent — matching available work tasks to people based on their skills, regardless of their backgrounds, work style, or other potentially biased factors.
New ways to learn will emerge
As technology advances and new innovations emerge, our relationship with technology will change and that’s going to impact the way we learn. Just look at the impact ChatGPT and other generative AI has had on L&D in just a short period of time. It’s changed the skills required by workers (prompt engineering is a good example) and made it much easier for L&D teams to create content and curate learning pathways. The way we create content will continued to change – AI assisted content creation will accelerate, adjust and draw unique learning paths that adapt to the prior knowledge and skills of each learner.
This disruption will only continue. Thanks to emerging technologies like the metaverse, mixed reality, VR and AR, and digital twins, we can predict what some of this will look like in 2030. We’ve already got medical students practising their transvenous lead extraction in mixed reality and engineers simulating airplane repairs without even visiting a hangar. By 2030, our technology and infrastructure like 5G (by that point, 6 or 7G) will be fast and powerful enough to make these immersive experiences so detailed and real-time, that learning in the ‘real world’ will feel antiquated and slow. Just look at how immersive some of today’s video games are. That’s where L&D is headed, to the point where employees will engage and interact with interfaces that look like something out of Ready Player One.
The pace of learning will also increase drastically. Not just out of necessity, thanks to the dwindling half life of skills, but because AI will help to summarize and deliver learning in a more digestible way. One that’s personalized to our different learning styles. One employee may get a VR simulation while another may be offered haptic gloves to learn the same skill.
Bringing this to life today
These ideas may seem far-off in the future. But you can be laying the groundwork for them right now. Keeping an open mind and scanning for new innovations you can bring to your L&D is a good start. So is investing in a learning ecosystem that works effectively with others (an open one, as opposed to a closed system that locks you into a pre-defined vendor list).
Vitally, you don’t want any trend to be a distraction for your business. So always align any experimentation with your business goals. There will always be a new, cool technology that grabs your attention. Ensuring it takes you towards fulfilling a goal is a simple check that you can do to avoid an innovation from hindering your long-term growth.