Wednesday, November 26, 2014

The Changing Face of Work and Workplace Learning

I am not the kind to crystal gaze. I lay no claim to being able to predict the future. Now that my disclaimers are in place, let me explain the premise of the post title and what I intend to discuss in this post. 

I am trying to re-imagine how my work will shape up five years from now. Five years seem like a pretty short time but in today's context, it can be a very long time. Anything can happen in five years. Companies take birth and vanish; business models come and go; technology appear, evolve and transform everything.

I am not doing (at least trying not to) today what I did five years back--not only in terms of professional and personal growth but with respect to the demands of the time. Technology has brought about unprecedented changes at a pace that is challenging all notions of flexibility and adaptability. Here are five things/phenomenon that did not exist five years back (at least not in the way we know them today):
  1. IBM's Watson, the AI driven robot that interacts with humans on human terms (in natural language). "You don't program Watson; you work with Watson". Here is a fascinating video on what Watson can do. Watson incidentally won on Jeopardy against former winners Brad Rutter and Ken Jennings. (And as weird as it sounds, I am finding it difficult to write Watson with a lower case "w").
  2. Siri, the quirky and intelligent personal assistant has been an integral part of the Apple iOS since October, 2011. Here is a heart warming story of how interacting with Siri helped an autistic child make sense of the world at his pace -- How One Boy with Autism Became BFF with Apple's Siri
  3. 3D printing or Additive Manufacturing is evolving rapidly and we don't yet know of all the emerging possibilities. However, it is in the news with events like NASA completing first successful 3-D printing project in space. The power of 3D printing to impact domains as diverse as medicine to manufacturing is mind-boggling. Here is an article on Medical implants and printable body parts. 3D-printed, low cost prosthetic limbs will bring the smile back on many faces. 
  4. Cloud computing, while it has been around for a long time, is showing huge impact today. "In July 2010, Rackspace Hosting and NASA jointly launched an open-source cloud-software initiative known as OpenStack. The OpenStack project intended to help organizations offer cloud-computing services running on standard hardware. On March 1, 2011, IBM announced the IBM SmartCloud framework to support Smarter Planet." - Wikipedia
  5. The rise of mobile computing in the form smartphones, tablets, and wearable devices accompanied by ubiquitous Internet connection is creating unforeseen change--in how we work, learn, communicate, do business, conduct personal tasks, and myriad other aspects. 

As working professionals and L&D personnel concerned with training and organizational learning, capability building and talent development, we cannot ignore the implications of this changing landscape. While Watson and Siri may seem far removed from our task of designing learning programs, the reality is they are not. Anything and everything that impact how the future of work will get redefined are matters of concern to us. 

This brings me back to the point I started my post with. How do I see workplace learning shaping up five years from now? To be very honest, I don't know. But here are five things I envisage will be different...
  1. The need for creating meticulously designed training programs will be gone -- (Some compliance programs may still be around.) Communities of professionals collaborating and cooperating to learn together will be on the rise. Content will be continuously co-created and co-owned by the community members (much like the evolution of Wikipedia). Each member will bring their expertise to bear and share their knowledge and experiences. Learning will happen through conversations and participation. What will emerge is a network of diverse and connected workers skilled at PKM learning together to develop skills they can apply to their work. L&D will have to don the hat of community managers and become learners.  It will be a participative ecosystem with knowledge and skills being freely shared. Utopian? Maybe. But I see this as an emerging trend. 
  2. Workplaces will become communities -- This change is likely to be more subtle. The nature of organizations with their hierarchical structure is already giving way to more networked and democratic workplaces. Smaller organizations are emerging along with a movement toward generative business models where businesses build an ecosystem of mutually supportive relationships. Collaboration will replace competition. Sustainability and purpose will drive the ethos. Workers will move from "jobs for life" to a "life of jobs". Talent will exist in pools and not necessarily belong to one specific organization. Individuals in the pool will increasingly take greater ownership of their professional development to stay on the cutting edge and in demand. How will L&D be of service to such a workforce? Again, I go back to the notion of L&D becoming community managers. They will play a strategic role in helping organizations collaborate with such talent pools for the mutual benefit of all.
  3. Mobile devices will be ubiquitous and play a critical role in professional development -- We still have the luxury of debating whether workers will access the learning program via a laptop or a tablet. Very soon, that luxury will be gone. Workers will use mobile devices including wearables to learn at the point of need, access their network and communities of practices to solve challenges, share user-generated content in response to the community needs or just to share their learning. Social media and open resources like MOOCs will foster an era of self-driven learners who know what they need, where to find it and take their pick. The learners will come with a consumer mindset--valuing what they need, and not what is thrust on them. L&D will have to ensure that we have the requisite skills to facilitate this move or risk becoming redundant. 
  4. The talent pool will go global -- Ubiquitous connectivity, technological advancement and economic drivers brought about off-shoring which gave way to outsourcing. Then came automation taking over simple and complicated tasks that concerned processes and routine thinking. We are now in the age of creative economy with "no location jobs" and borderless workplaces. Talent can exist anywhere, work from anywhere as long as organizations are capable of attracting such talent. Yes, the balance has tilted in favour of the talented, the capable and those willing to continuously learn. L&D will have to cater to a global talent pool of diverse individuals with very specific and unique learning needs. L&D will need to work very very closely with HR to design a holistic ecosystem that participates and collaborates with prospective and existing employees for professional development. Moreover, a global talent pool will require cultural sensitivity and an inclusive mindset from L&D, HR and the organization. 
  5. Work will require multiple skills and diverse perspectives -- Most work will pan different domains. Teams of similarly skilled individuals will not be the greatest and the best when it comes to such complex problem solving. Diverse perspectives and subject matter expertise will have to come together to solve problems in the future. Projects with specific purpose and outcome will draw individuals together. The best-fit team will work on the project, bringing to bear expertise and experiences from their different domains, and disperse once the project is complete. This fluid and dynamic working model will be replicated in pockets across an organization. The teams may or may not be co-located thus requiring the organization and the individuals to have technological infrastructure in place. L&D will be faced with the need to support this dynamic and fluid ecosystem in different ways--designing collaboration spaces where project teams can collaborate to enabling communities of practices to evolve on the larger enterprise social networks. 
All of these are tectonic shifts and are already taking place. L&D and HR will have to evolve to meet this shift. L&D teams operating on old paradigms and processes will be ill equipped to keep pace with the change. The role of the CLO will be to drive this change NOW! @joyandlife writes about The Changing Role of L&D and CLO where he mentions adaptiveness, rapid reaction times, learning agility and flexibility as key requirements. The CLO today has to be able to scan the emerging landscape and build her/his team in a way that will enable them to meet the future. In fact, L&D teams should ideally be the initiator of the change before the deluge hits the org. 

L&D teams of the future will also require diverse individuals with different skills encompassing areas like strategic business thinking, analytics and cloud computing, mobile computing, community building and management, instructional design, content strategic and knowledge management, social and informal learning, and experience design.  

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