The Death of Learning and Development

Written by David D’Souza for for #Ozlearn on 9 March 2015.

I remember 2015 like it was yesterday, it was such a hopeful time to be around Learning and Development professionals, we stood on the verge of a brave new world, full of change and opportunity. 10 years on and it seems bizarre that we hadn’t seen it coming, that the death of our profession had been so very close – and in some ways so obvious – but we didn’t see the signs. Maybe we just didn’t want to.

The death of HR was being mentioned everywhere, maybe that was the critical thing that distracted us and possibly we felt safe by comparison, it’s hard to tell. HR were trying to be all strategic and the one thing we knew for sure was that people needed to learn if companies were going to grow – and we would be the key to that. We needed to ‘talk the language of business’ and be ‘better aligned’, but it was a given that there was a requirement for our skills to facilitate learning experiences for others, we were key to the productivity problem. We were adding technology to our expertise in order to make things more accessible and things could hardly look brighter.

When the reports first came out regarding automation of jobs they were something of a curio. It was a good thing to talk about at conferences to show that we were keeping up with external change. The studies were suggesting that almost 25% of jobs could be automated by 2025 – the figure seemed ridiculous and the time frame far too short. If anything this showed the relentless march of technology – and we knew that being tech savvy was an opportunity for us. Google Glass hadn’t quite done what we thought, but gamification was kicking off nicely and we had even started the backlash against it. And nothing says progress like a backlash. Still, even if the working population did decrease we would all be fine in ‘portfolio careers’, moving seamlessly from project to project whilst charging a premium for our expertise. That’s how things still felt in 2017 when the first automated hotels and restaurants started becoming more common. Initially odd tourist traps in Asia, but then becoming more and more mainstream as they moved from novelty through competitive advantage and then into becoming the only sustainable model.

The reduction in learning teams in the hospitality and leisure sectors meant a surfeit of learning professionals, the first signal that something wasn’t right. After years of talking about skills mismatches we now had an excess of skilled individuals within our profession. Sure, some of them switched to consultancy, but with so many individuals hitting the market in a short period they were working for less than they had been in permanent roles and rates came down across the market. Even then we still hadn’t realised what was coming. We thought at the every least we’d be left with curation.

Google Now’s ability to predict the information people required next (before they even knew) via analysing their search history and contents of their calendar began to be applied within IT systems at work. It was a system that people were comfortable with as their daily hub and that drew on their experience and preferences outside of work as well. As people worked online these complex systems were instantly and automatically pushing people towards sources of learning – websites, articles and knowledge within the organisation. If you had a meeting coming up with the Marketing Team for the first time you could expect a glossary of marketing terms and the opportunity for a premeeting chat with a marketing team member all to be offered seamlessly. All of it automated, none of it requiring a human intervention. We had been curious when Google said that it’s own system had been able to learn, we hadn’t appreciated this would mean it could help others learn better than we could. We had been searching for ways to prove ROI for years, now every performance uplift fed back into the system to refine the information provided to learners. We weren’t even involved.

Matching individuals to mentors, assessing talent and capability, highlighting career opportunities – none of these involved a human intervention. Induction was all system and app based, the learning and development teams were – at best – an adjunct to IT. The first company that invented a system for effectively assessing competency of coaching interventions via webcams and providing instant feedback via an avatar made a lot of money. Then by the early 2020’s it was standard and nobody was making money from that either. Out of 70:20:10 we were rapidly being left with only the 0’s. The new era wasn’t self directed learning, it was code guided learning.

Executive coaching was replaced by peer to peer coaching (with tight confidentially requirements) as the mindset of a new generation of CEO’s focused on sharing learning and comfortable with networks continued to rise and rise. The historic income stream of exec coaching was now largely denied to consultants, meaning that the market was now far too squeezed to sustain the number of individuals seeking work. To work in L&D was now to obviously be the last of near extinct breed, the only respite for individuals still hoping to make money was that people had stopped entering the profession.

The last remaining few of us were relics, meeting online to discuss how we could become more relevant – only without the cushion of 10 years ago and largely without the hope. It wasn’t about speaking the language of business after all – it didn’t matter what we said, the profession was dead and buried.

Notes:

  • This post was originally written for #Ozlearn, to help provoke a conversation about the future of the L&D profession. The conversation takes place on Twitter tomorrow at 9am UK time - just search for #Ozlearn. I've replicated it here in the hope more people take a plunge and join in that might not currently be on Twitter.
  • The author has already written several pieces complaining about the high number of articles proclaiming things to be ‘dead’, this piece is therefore fundamentally lazy hypocrisy
  • The author has no desire for colleagues to be replaced by robots. Well, at least he has no desire for most of them to be replaced by robots, but thinking about it there are probably 3-4 people that I wouldn’t miss. You know who you are.
  • Feel free to follow on twitter or connect on Linkedin – apparently the profession won’t exist in a decade so we should probably chat now
  • Apparently the term ‘code guided learning’ doesn’t exist yet. So I’m hoping it takes off and then I can claim to be the person who invented it. On such things our small careers hang.