What can L&D folks take away from the 2021 Global Sentiment Survey? (Answer: A lot)

For the past 8 years, Donald Taylor has been taking the pulse of innovators and technology’s early adopters across the field of learning and development through an annual Global Sentiment Survey (download the 2021 edition here).

By asking the simple question: What will be hot in learning and development in the coming year, this survey sheds some light on some very interesting trends that any L&D practitioner should be keeping an eye on.

Transcript of the Conversation with Donald Taylor

Brian Washburn: Welcome, everyone, to another episode of Train Like You Listen, a weekly podcast of all things learning and development in bite-sized chunks. I’m Brian Washburn with Endurance Learning and today I’m joined by Donald Taylor, who is the author of the 2021 Global Sentiment Survey, which we’ll be talking about in just a few minutes. 

6-Word Biography

Brian Washburn: But before we do that, we always like to make sure that we have a brief introduction to each other. And so when I think of this idea of a Global Sentiment Survey, my own six word biography is “so much change in 365 days”. 

Donald, thank you so much for joining us. How would you introduce yourself briefly for our listeners?

Donald Taylor: I’d call myself “author researcher, organizer, worldwide”. I’d also point out Brian, that if your bio is “so much change in 365 days”, that’s actually 10 words. If you spell out 365, so you’ve already broken one of your own rules. 

Brian Washburn: (CHUCKLING) That is so true. The joys of having your own podcast, you make up your own rules. And so I used the number 365, which is hyphenated, which, at least, I’ll– that’s my claim. 

Let’s get into some of these questions. For those who are listening in who are unfamiliar with your Global Sentiment Survey, can you just share a little bit about what it is and why you chose to begin checking the pulse of the L&D’s field when it comes to sentiment about eight years ago?

What Is the L&D Global Sentiment Survey?

Donald Taylor: Absolutely. The idea originated in the conversation around why it was so difficult to understand where we were going in learning and development. I had done research previously where we asked people, “What do you plan to do next year?” The problem was it took quite a long time to complete the survey, and the result was always the same; people planned to do more of everything. Of course, they can’t actually do that, it’s just that they were enthusiastic about everything. 

So I said, let’s cut it right back to one question, give people 15 things, get them to choose three things that they are keen about, and then see where it goes. What I found over time was the trends started to develop. And I was collecting information from the people who are on the far left-hand curve of the diffusion and innovation curve – these are the people who are the innovators and early adopters. I look at them and I get their sentiment. Some of those things, not all of them, but some of them become popular later on. For me, the fun is trying to track what’s going to happen over time by having a look at what’s hot right now. 

Brian Washburn: I think that this is really fascinating, especially the– kind of, the core group of respondents. And we’ll talk about the early adopters in just a few minutes. But before I get to that, I want to get into, you know, when you pose the question, “what will be hot in L&D in 2021?” the top answer was re-skilling or up-skilling. Can you explain a little bit more about what that specifically looks like in the field of L&D? You know, is it simply just learning how to use zoom more effectively, or is there something bigger here that people might’ve been talking about? 

What Does Re-Skilling/Up-Skilling Look Like in the Field of Learning & Development?

Donald Taylor: There is something bigger, but the other thing to notice is that when you use the term, like re-skilling/upskilling, it’s a catch-all. So people will put it against a whole bunch of stuff that they’re doing.

Brian Washburn: Right. 

Donald Taylor: So, first off, what does it mean? And then secondly, why is it popular? 

What does it mean? It means different things to different people. So obviously, you re-skill people for new jobs, you up-skill them to do their own job in different ways. So yes, there’s a lot of stuff around doing existing jobs in a digital way. That’s true. But there’s also stuff about getting people to do new jobs and that comes to the second part of this. 

Why is this a popular phrase? And the reason it’s a popular phrase is that for at least two years, running up to the survey being run, which was in December of 2020 and running into January ’21, at least two years running up to that, we’d have people talking about re-skilling and up-skilling in the year 2020. That was largely about the impact of COVID. Prior to that, it was about the impact of AI. And prior to that even, it was about the impact of job shortages, generally. 

So, there are a whole bunch of different reasons why the same words kept coming forward. So people in learning and development found themselves talking about re-skilling and up-skilling and, meaning, maybe they were training people to do jobs, their own jobs, in a digital way. Maybe they were doing new jobs, very often in a digital way. Perhaps they were training people as a result of automation or AI. Perhaps they were trying to fill skills gaps they couldn’t fill by recruiting from outside. All of those things got shoved into those two words because we’d been bombarded with it for about two years or more.

So, that’s the background to it. It doesn’t mean it’s not valid, but it does mean it’s a portmanteau word being used for an awful lot of different things.

Brian Washburn: Yeah, yeah. And I think it’s so interesting to see that the same words mean so many different things to different people.  You know, in your key takeaways from this year’s survey, you stated that the aspirational was ignored over the past year. And, you know, that seems to make sense when people were in survival mode, you know, so “how do I hang onto my job?” “How do I transform, you know, everything that needs to be doing in-person to virtual?” But, as you peek into the future, you know, what kinds of aspirations should we be dreaming about as we grow more comfortable with the world of virtual work, as the world gets vaccinated and hopefully there’s some resemblance of normal that returns.

What Kinds of Aspirations Should Learning & Development Professionals Be Dreaming About?

Donald Taylor: Let’s firstly talk about the aspirational stuff that we put to one side. So the stuff that really got a hammering this year was artificial intelligence and learning analytics, but particularly artificial intelligence. That had been riding a high. It had been a very popular choice and it just plummeted down this year. And the reason for that, as you say, Brian, is people thinking, “I’ve just got to get this stuff done. I can’t be thinking about all the time it would take me to implement anything with artificial intelligence”. It doesn’t mean that artificial intelligence is gone. It will come back. Likely, it will come back as part of something else, incorporated into the algorithms for a new learning platform, like Microsoft Viva, for example, or incorporated elsewhere behind the scenes. I think it was initially something which was the great hope for learning and development and it will, in fact, make a huge difference in the future. But we won’t be buying it as AI, but bundled in with something else.

What Is Coming in the Future of L&D?

Donald Taylor: Having said that, yeah okay, what’s going to be big in the future? I’m hearing a lot of people talking about the following things. Cohort based learning is something which I’m hearing a lot about, as if it was new. Well, it’s not new. I mean, cohort based learning is you’ve got a bunch of people doing the same training at the same time. 

Brian Washburn: Sure.

Donald Taylor: But, the idea that you do a cohort online learning synchronously and asynchronously, and then coming together and being well supported in that, perhaps with algorithms, and by a rich source of content. That probably is a bit new. Anyway, it’s something that’s definitely gonna be taking off for the next year or so. 

Coaching and mentoring, which is also again supported by algorithms, chatbots, and AI. That is definitely happening now. You can do that very badly. You can also do it well. For me, the best implementation is when it’s done to support what the manager should already be doing in terms of helping people learn. So, I think you can expect that to be something very big in the future. 

Finally, looking a bit further into the future, I think talent marketplaces are something which are increasingly going to be important. In the U.S. you have a ton of marketplaces all the time. For example, a hospital trust, you might have seven or eight hospitals linked together and they need to be able to source nurses, doctors, specialists, janitors, everybody to support it, right? And those people may be employed full-time, they may be on a semi-full employment contract, they may be freelancers, contractors, and so on. That sort of understanding of what skills you need, that sort of ability to schedule people in and out, and in and out of teams will expand into other areas. It’s part of what I’m calling the “unbounded future,” where we’re no longer bound to particular jobs, where people aren’t bound to particular geography, and where organizations aren’t bound to a payrolled workforce.

There’s a lot of that loosening up happening in the future. I think that’s the big trend we need to be ready for in learning and development because it transforms what we do.

Brian Washburn: The wheels are turning so much right now, just with that concept in mind. And it makes so much sense the way that labor is being, kind, of reorganized these days. 

Now, I’m so fascinated with these conversations of people like yourself, who, kind of, take a look in and have their fingers on the pulse of maybe what’s coming. When you describe the survey respondents, you say that many of them are innovators and early adopters, which I don’t think that the bulk of folks in learning and development are. I think many of them are– many of us, I’ll group myself in there, are accidental trainers or people that were good in their role and have had training responsibilities added to their job descriptions. People who are maybe, kind of– they hear words like artificial intelligence, but they’re waiting to see, you know, what’s a shiny object versus what is actually going to be something that comes real and is it going to be important in what I’m doing? So, for folks like us, what lessons can and should more mainstream learning and development practitioners draw from this Global Sentiment Survey?

Lessons To Be Learned By L&D Professionals from the Global Sentiment Survey

Donald Taylor: I think the key thing is there’s no need to change anything about what you’re doing because there’s a natural progression of ideas. You have the innovators who are just thrilled by anything that’s new. Then you have the early adopters, who want to know if that new thing can be of value to them and they’re prepared to try stuff that’s new. And then you have the early majority, which is probably where you and most of the people listening to the podcast sit, who are saying “well, that’s all very well, but I’m not going to take the risk. I want other people to do the failures,  work out where the pitfalls are, where the bear traps are, and then when they’ve sorted that out, yes, then I’ll go into it”.

Actually, in my regular life that’s where I am. I’d never buy a brand new car or a brand new investment vehicle. I would always wait for somebody else to try it out first.

Brian Washburn: Sure.

Donald Taylor: So I will always do that, and I think it’s the right way for most people. So, don’t change anything in terms of the process though. Just keep your antenna out though. And very importantly, make sure you’re not just listening to the same old people and not just in learning and development. Make sure you’re listening to people from the world of, perhaps technology, perhaps HR, perhaps other areas as well.

And also I think it’s really important to be in tune with the wider business world. In the UK, if you hadn’t been attuned to what was happening with Brexit, you would be completely blindsided by what’s happening. So, you have to know what’s happening there, even though it’s got nothing to do with learning and development. So all of us have to be aware of the big picture. That’s all I’d say, don’t change the process, but widen your sources of information. 

Brian Washburn: I have so many other questions, but we’re going to have to kind of leave it there. 

Donald Taylor: (LAUGHING)

Get To Know Donald Taylor

Brian Washburn: Although we do have a little speed round for our listeners to be able to get to know you and some thoughts, kind of on a quick format.

So, my first question here in our speed round is what do you think –you talked about a bunch of different trends, what do you think is the most important training trend that people should be paying attention to? 

Donald Taylor: It’s not really a trend, nothing to do with technology. Have uncomfortable conversations in your organization and really listen to what you’re hearing. That’s what I’d say is the most important thing you can do in training. 

Brian Washburn: That’s so fascinating. You know, we talk about this all the time, the idea of getting away from this order-taker role and really being a consultant or a partner with the folks that you’re supposed to be working with, as opposed to just saying “Yes, sir” or “Yes, ma’am” when somebody says “I need a training developed”. And I know that that’s not necessarily a speed answer, but I think it’s such an important point that needs emphasis. We can’t be order-takers. 

Donald Taylor: I’m on board with that completely, Brian. It is uncomfortable, as I say, but it’s the only way we develop ourselves professionally and individually.

Brian Washburn: Absolutely. What’s a piece of training tech that you can’t live without?

Donald Taylor: Simple anwer: pen and paper. That’s where I do most of my thinking and it is technology. It’s just so common we don’t think of it that way, but hey, it needs machines to make it; it’s a technology. 

Brian Washburn: And you’ve mentioned that maybe we should be getting outside of our own box of learning and development. What do you think that people should be listening to or reading these days? 

Donald Taylor: Well, okay, I’m going to give two recommendations, which are from within the learning and development field. In terms of reading, I’d recommend reading Evidence-Informed Learning Design by Mirjam Neelen and Paul Kirschner. In terms of listening, apart from your own fantastic podcast, of course.

Brian Washburn: Of course. 

Donald Taylor: I would listen to Michelle OckersLearning Uncut podcast, where she talks to people doing stuff, and really gets down to the detail: what are you actually doing? 

I’d also say, read fiction. Tom Peters said this on Twitter the other day. The best management book you can do is go and read fiction because it gives you an insight into other people’s lives and it’s the best way to do it. 

Brian Washburn: I love that. And then before we leave, do you have any shameless plugs for us? Anything that you’re working on? 

Donald Taylor: I’d just say download the survey, please go and have a listen– go and have a read of the survey. Download it. I’m sure you’ll have the link in the notes, but it’s http://www.bitly.com/GSS21-summary

Brian Washburn: Yeah, it is fascinating the information that’s in there and kind of where we’re headed. So, I second that wholeheartedly, in terms of what people should be looking at.

Donald, thank you so much for joining us and thank you everyone for listening to another episode of Train Like You Listen, which can be found on Spotify, on Apple and iHeartRadio, or wherever you get your podcasts. If you like what you hear, go ahead and give us a rating because that’s how other people will find us. Until next time, happy training everyone!

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