This month’s Big Question from ASTD is “what will workplace learning be like in 10 years?”. If you go to their post, there are already some really interesting thoughts and comments about this topic.
Byron said “The best prophet of the future is the past”. I’m a firm believer in that notion, so I’d like to answer the Big Question with a question of my own: what happened 10 years ago to workplace learning?
I’ve been doing some sort of training since I came into the professional workplace in 2001. I just started studying education for my graduate degree in 2007. I have some very experienced, patient folks in my department who kindly talk with me when I ask them about something I am studying or something I have read on a blog that pertains to eLearning. They seem to appreciate my enthusiasm, but they always have this weary look on their face when I tell them about all these “new” ideas. They tell me they were trying to implement some of these very things 10 years ago!
Besides having these discussions with co-workers, there is literature that goes back 10 years or so that talks about CSCL, communities of practice, and all of these things that are the underpinnings of what people are talking about doing today. So I have to wonder, are some of the ideas being bandied about today really that new? Or are they rehashed from 10 years ago? If these are old ideas given new life by improved technology, what happened 10 years ago that got these ideas pushed to the back burner? What can we learn about our past so that we can execute these ideas in the present, so that in our future we’re not going through this exercise yet again?
I also want to say that I do not agree with the idea that the training department should go away completely. For one thing, work is social. Work gets done based on the relationships we have with others, and based on the social capital that we have. This means that there will always be “others” in the workplace. This otherness will be categorized just like it is in general society: by race, gender, nationality, disability, religion, etc.
Knowledge is a form of social capital. I believe very strongly if there is no guidance, “others” in the workplace will not have access to knowledge that they need to have to do their work. This will happen either because they don’t have access to the correct network, or because they are purposefully excluded from access to that information based on their position in the social ladder.
I believe this because of my status of other (a woman in a predominately male field), and my daughter’s status of other (Asperger’s Syndrome). Training departments can be the mechanism that provides each worker with access to the information required to perform his/her job duties successfully.
If we as training groups are aligning to the business and the true competitive advantage of knowledge workers is how fast they are able learn, we owe it to the business to ensure that every worker, no matter their access to social hierarchies in the workplace, has access to all the tools they need to help them learn.
Maybe in the future learning organizations won’t be the “givers of knowledge”, maybe we become more like librarians that help people find resources (and learn to do their own searches) as they are needed.