A Look Ahead at L&D 2016 / 2017: Invisible, Contextual & Systemic






Stop us if you’ve heard this one before: L&D is in crisis. L&D must evolve or become irrelevant. We’ve heard this declaration so often during the past few years that it’s beginning to lose its shock value. Indeed, it seems this conviction has become common knowledge among L&D leaders: According to Deloitte’s Global Human Capital Trends 2016 report the gap between the importance of employee development and L&D’s perceived ability to meet that need has jumped by 430 percent during the past two years.[1]

The problem is not effort. You aren’t likely to find a more dedicated or idealistic group of people than L&D professionals. But somewhere around the turn of the last century, organizations began to prioritize efficiency—and as part of that movement, learning was confined to classrooms in order to make it more efficient.

The problem with that move is that work and learning are intimately connected. Workers who are able to quickly find and absorb information are more agile and more able to deliver the business strategy. In fact, in many ways learning is actually work and work, in turn, is learning. And ever since we separated the two, we have been trying to figure out how to bring them back together again. Anyone in the industry will be familiar with the many trends and buzzwords—informal! just-in-time! on-the-job! point-of-need! embedded! micro!—associated with this effort.

Organizations continue to get closer to this goal; however, as the statistic mentioned above indicates, small, incremental changes just aren’t going to cut it. L&D must make large, fundamental changes to the way it approaches worker development. In short, learning and development needs big ideas and new mind-sets.

During the remainder of 2016 and the early part of 2017, we will be updating our High-Impact Learning Organization research (a large quantitative and qualitative industry study) for the fourth time in its history. This work will result in a new maturity model and framework for understanding how organizations develop their workers. In the lead up to this study, we have been looking at the big ideas and L&D trends that we feel will get us closer to again recognizing learning and work as two sides of the same coin. Some of the trends we’ll be spending time on include:

  1. Invisible L&D
  2. The intersection of career management and worker development
  3. The rise of contextualization
  4. Systemic learner experience
  5. The expansion of the learning technology universe

Topic 1: Invisible L&D

Invisible is the term we use to describe L&D’s role in reuniting work and learning. Moving away from content creation, facilitation, and delivery, forward-thinking organizations (with the help of like-minded learning technology providers and vendors) are focusing instead on enabling learning or performance improvement wherever and whenever it occurs in the organization.

This means a shift in mind-set. Rather than considering coursework as the building block of learning, L&D professionals will instead need to consider the development of workers as a mind-set that exists in the work itself. Not surprisingly, the last round of our High-Impact Learning Organization research hinted at some of these changes. The difference now? Urgency may prompt many more of them into the mainstream.

We expect this trend to be one of the drivers that fundamentally changes the way organizations approach employee development. We’ll be exploring this idea throughout the fall and summarize our initial findings in a research report.

Topic 2: The Intersection of Career Management & Worker Development

We are publishing the results of our career management research this fall. We talked to over 50 companies to figure out how organizations are approaching this topic. Through this research, two things became clear: (1) Development plays a large role in how people move (or are allowed to move) through organizations; and (2) Development affects a worker’s desire to stay engaged and committed. As organizations move toward more flexible and open structures, and careers become less about “jobs” and more about “work,” we expect the overlap between career and learning to increase. Our Continuous Learning Model hinted at this integration, but our work going forward will more deeply explore how alignment to career affects what L&D should be paying attention to.

We will continue to expand on this theme through research bulletins and webinars as we explore how organizations use continuous learning and career management to develop employees.

Topic 3: The Rise of Contextualization

While content used to be king, in many cases it is now becoming commoditized. With over 900 content solution providers currently working with L&D functions, user-generated content continuing to proliferate, and a myriad of free resources available, contextualization is becoming as important—if not more important—than content.

What do we mean by contextualization? We mean understanding which content is the most useful, how to personalize it, and how it relates to other information. One of the aspects of contextualization that the industry has focused on of late is curation. Curation is an attempt to provide the best content in a contextualized way to workers. L&D organizations are beginning to realize the magnitude of this undertaking (which, given the proliferation of information, will only continue to grow) and are looking for ways to do this more effectively. Hint: It usually means deputizing the rest of the organization to help.

Later this year, we’ll write a short research report and conduct a webinar to help organizations contextualize their employee development efforts.

Topic 4: Systemic Learner Experience

Every vendor we’ve spoken with this year has shown us a shiny new user interface for their learning technology solution. But while the look and feel of an experience are definitely key, the overall learner experience is more than just a pretty face. In fact, learner experience encompasses every interaction a worker has with tools, systems, processes, people, or ideas meant to provide support to that worker.

Organizations are beginning to reconfigure decades-old learning processes and systems. They’re starting to consider the needs of the modern learner, and to understand the interconnectedness and overarching impact that learning can have on an organization. As a result, they are working to make learning a more cohesive, consistent, and continuous process. This means much more collaboration between L&D and IT. It also means more collaboration between L&D and other human capital practices.

Next spring, we will release a research report and webinar sharing leading practices for creating a cohesive learner experience.

Topic 5: The Expansion of the Learning Technology Universe

In 2015, we published an infographic called The Continuous Learning Technology Stack, the purpose of which was to get L&D professionals thinking about the full range of technology solutions that are generally utilized for worker development. We listed at least 50 types of technology, some of them purchased specifically for worker development, some of them adapted for development, and some of them commandeered by workers themselves for their own development. While some vendors continue to provide a one-stop shop for development, many learning leaders are searching instead for “best-in-class solutions” for specific functionality and finding ways to provide access to these disparate solutions. Workers are becoming more comfortable with finding various kind of information in different places. (Apps are a great example: While not all information will be found in the same app, all of the apps a worker uses can be accessed on the same smart phone.)

Learning solutions are also now beginning to incorporate a variety of technological advances, from the “quantified self” approach[2] to on-demand learning, from mobile apps to the Internet of Things (IoT). The result is that traditional notions regarding learning technology solutions are being challenged and organizations are being forced to retool and reimagine the solutions that will best serve their workers.

Early next year, we will provide additional tools that can help organizations find and choose the best technology solutions for learning strategy.


The modern learning and development function is indeed at a crossroads. Big changes are afoot. Decisions made in the next few years will determine not only the future focus and function of L&D departments but also what worker development looks like moving forward. The trends discussed in this report are the beginnings of a much more impactful way of approaching how organizations learn.

We at Bersin by Deloitte are excited and hopeful about these changes. During the coming year, we’ll continue to discuss these trends. The ideas discussed here will inform the information collected in our High-Impact Learning Organization study, and the information we gather will hopefully lead to answers that can guide the way forward for L&D.

Join the Bersin Research Exchange: Data in, insights out: http://tiny.cc/BRELnD

[1] Global Human Capital Trends 2016: The new organization—Different by design, Deloitte Development LLC and Deloitte University Press, 2016, http://www2.deloitte.com/content/dam/Deloitte/global/Documents/HumanCapital/gx-dup-global-human-capital-trends-2016.pdf.

[2] The “quantified self” is a movement to incorporate technology into data acquisition on aspects of a person’s daily life in terms of inputs (e.g., food consumed, quality of surrounding air), states (e.g., mood, arousal, blood oxygen levels), and performance (e.g., mental and physical).

Dani Johnson

Vice President, Learning & Career Research Leader, Bersin / Deloitte Consulting LLP

Dani writes about the evolving L&D function for Bersin, Deloitte Consulting LLP. She focuses specifically on the necessary changes in how L&D approaches its responsibilities and allocates its resources (people, time, and money) to have a lasting effect on both organizations and individuals.

5 thoughts on “A Look Ahead at L&D 2016 / 2017: Invisible, Contextual & Systemic

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  2. Finally an article that talks about the obvious and the truth: a lot of companies have still difficulties to understand that training is not just a cost factor but an investment into the future. And secondly, training doesn’t just take place in a classroom environment – but everyday, everywhere – most of it on the job. That’s why we’re experimenting with new technologies for years (video formats since 2008; learning nuggets since 2010; learning communities based on social media since 2013).
    Unfortunately, we have made all the small steps but have not been able to re-shape the learning culture and concept in our firm. I’m looking forward to get more ideas how to convince the decision makers that learning has a huge value and has to be changed rapidly in order to support the survival of many large companies.

  3. Very insightful, indeed! The technology, the differences of generations, the change of job roles in the organization have an impact on L&D roles going forward. Would like to hear more the way forward for L&D.

  4. After working in the training domain for over 15 years, primarily in the training technologies field, I have found that the vast majority of companies are stuck in antiquated approaches to improving on the job performance. With Generation Z entering the workforce, these companies are going to experience a growing problem with their training programs unless they modernize and take advantage of newer methodologies and technologies. Now is the time to rethink our training programs, in light of today’s capabilities and worker expectations. A great blog!! I am interested to see what follows!!!

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