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For something that most of us would, I hope, see as a Good Thing, it’s surprising how often education is a butt of jokes or derisory remarks. One of the most familiar is probably ‘The Ivory Tower’ – originally a Biblical phrase suggesting noble purity, but for the last few centuries used as a criticism of academics to indicate a wilful lack of worldliness or of ‘real world’ applications. (If you work in a discipline or function that a University would position as a Humanities or Social Science area, they mean you.) Those of us involving in workplace learning and professional development should be more than aware that ‘our’ kind of education has left the Ivory Tower. The classroom is no longer some kind of ‘holy’ place where employees congregate – no pun intended – to have learning bestowed upon them. The future of organisational learning will be WISE – Workplace, Informal, Social and Experiential – even if it might take a while for the actual individuals to merit the adjective.

But if we’ve left the Ivory Tower, how diligently have we observed the landscape outside it? Travel with your eyes tightly closed and you don’t so much broaden your mind as relocate your ignorance. Even if we are foolish – or optimistic – enough to contemplate standing still, the learning landscape does not. In our recent free webinar, Supporting workplace learning – the truth about 70:20:10, ASK Chairman Robert Terry outlined just some of the aspects of ‘The Gathering Storm’ blowing through the world of workplace learning:

  • While the business community continues to grumble about the skills of those leaving schools and universities, the continuing challenge of orchestrating effective learning transfer exacerbates the issue they raise
  • 2012 saw a 12% fall in spending on training in large organisations
  • 2012 also saw of 5% fall in L&D headcount: if two heads are better than one, how will 19 compare with 20?
  • Conversely, 2012 saw a 15% increase in expenditure on learning tools and (mostly) technologies, further fuelling the trend away from face-to-face delivery that had already been fuelled by economic recession (F2F delivery accounted for 53% of learning in 2012, compared with 70% in 2009)
  • Demographic trends will continue to exert a powerful influence: while patterns vary from country to country, 20% of senior managers in the US have retired in the last five years
  • ASK’s UK Learning Transfer Survey 2012 showed a 10.3% decline in the use of research as a contributing practise to learning transfer.  Whether the underlying cause is resource reductions or if L&D is moving towards the curation of content (rather than the creation and directing of learning), this finding represents an implicit distancing of L&D and the rest of the workplace, that should demand further investigation and attention.

Whether this apparent resurgence of the 70:20:10 doctrine (first identified in research by the Centre for Creative Leadership in 1996) is a case of necessity in response to a range of drivers (technology and economics being just the two most prominent) or of a good idea whose time has arrived some years after it has been hatched, the landscape of workplace learning is undeniably not the same terrain that it was in years gone by. And like any other aspects of business, it is not sufficient to be prepared for today – organisations must make sure that they are prepared for tomorrow and the day after.