When Eliot Masie’s report #2 from CES, “Where Has All The Learning Gone?” came in this week it focused on a long-standing issue for L&D, branding. Honestly, until about 6 months before I was hired by The Forum Corporation in the nineties I didn’t know L&D was a profession. This is after growing up in the service industry and an early career in financial services, both heavy on training. Masie rightly states that learning is part of an increasing number of products, technologies and environments. He even provides a list of phrases used to describe the learning component of products. (spoiler alert: not a single one uses the word “learning”) He submits, for our consideration,
“…we may need to look at our field’s branding and engagement with the evolving technologies to better brand and position Learning…”
In the forward to Salim Ismail’s book Exponential Organizations, Peter Diamandis, founder and chairman of the XPRIZE Foundation, introduces what he calls the 6Ds; Digitize, Deceptive Growth, Disruptive, Dematerialize, Demonetize and Democratize. I would assert that learning is moving through these six phases. While I agree that branding is an issue, the lack of recognition of our industry’s progression through these phases is a much larger issue.
- Phase one, digitize, is easy. Learning is no longer contained to binders and SME’s heads. It exists in videos, online documentation, podcasts, elearning programs and more. Digitization? Check.
- Phase two, deceptive growth, requires us to broaden the lens a bit and accept that the fact that the industry (as poorly branded as it is) is not the product. With digitization has come a wave of new learners and the learning opportunities. Just a hunch, but If you added up all the hours spent by students in formal school environments (K-12, Higher Ed, Vocational, etc.) in 1990 it would be less hours than that accumulated in a month by viewers of DIY YouTube videos. Growth? Check.
- Phase three, disruptive? Check. I don’t think I need to unpack this one.
- Phase four, dematerialize, is where I believe the industry is now and what is described by the Masie’s CES observations. In increasingly rare cases will learning be “the thing”. It will instead be absorbed into product, technology and the environment. However, this is not a devaluation. Phone manufacturers compete on the quality of the cameras which have dematerialized from their stand-alone product form. Learning will also be a battle front.
All industries in this fourth phase must adopt to a new way of packaging and delivering its value. A focus on partnerships and a willingness to take a back-seat are two important requirements of this phase. The next two phases are where the real show begins. For now, as an industry, we need to examine how we can deliver the exponential value of learning in a world that needs it now more than ever.