Learning formats in 2020

In preparation for an upcoming conference, Geetha Krishnan has asked us: "what kind of learning formats will be in vogue in the year 2020, specifically with respect to corporate training?" I'm delighted he's experimenting with crowdsourcing his forecast. You may want to help him out with your foresight too. His request proved to be a juicy question for me to consider that resulted in this large outpouring of predictions:

Continued dismantling of bundled media - Just as record albums are now sold as individual songs and large portions of print newspapers are available online at no charge, training programs will get unbundled too. Rather than taking entire courses through formal procedures of enrollment, learning will be offered buffet style. "Take what we want and leave the rest for later or never". The "sit-down seven-course prepared dinner" will become a luxury item only affordable by an elite minority. Just-in time, extremely focused, performance-support will be far more common than just-in-case, broad scope, advance preparations for future responsibilities.

Proliferation of different versions - Just as iTunes offers 10 million songs to download, training in 2020 will be nuanced for oodles of different use cases, applications, levels of expertise, and previous skill developments. On iTunes, some of my favorite songs are available as an original recording, a later studio production, several live concert recordings, an acoustic version, a duet with the original performer and cover versions by other artists. An online search for "fire prevention skills" in 2020 may likewise yield a list of modules for fire marshals, building superintendents, renters, office workers, factory team members, and home owners. Those many versions will also be differentiated by type of construction: high rise, low rise, campuses of separate structures, malls of connected buildings, steel and glass construction, concrete, wood frame, etc. There might even be different versions for taking preventive measures yourself, getting immediate acquaintances to change behaviors, or influencing large populations to prevent fires.

Start-up cost reduction: The costs have plummeted to provide in-store custom eyeglasses or film processing in one hour. Costs have also plunged to start radio stations, ecommerce sites and Web 2.0 platforms. The virtualization of front and back end IT Department services on cloud computing platforms is making it much cheaper to offer lots of free space to users, to scale rapidly and to accommodate expansions or contractions in traffic volume. This suggests that the horde of creative individuals currently uploading videos onto YouTube and coding widgets for Facebook could transition themselves to create revenue-producing, educational offerings. This "long tail" of niche providers will likely formulate fascinating training games, narrative interactions, simulations and immersive scenarios by the zillions.

Convergence of laptops, PDAs and cellphones: Thin clients logged into online SaaS (software as a service) sites will proliferate as cloud computing becomes more prevalent. The need will recede for individual hard drives loaded with software, archived files and personal preferences. The personal interface with the ubiquitous cloud computing environment will be as streamlined as a Wii controller that senses location and movement. Training will be available everywhere all the time at the touch of our fingertips. What we hold in our hands to get trained will be a combination of our current mobile devices.

Consumer reaction to online losses: Cyberspace has made it too easy to speculate on financial gains and suffer staggering losses, as evidenced by the bust of 2000 and the current global recession. It's also become much easier to lose privacy, be hounded by past misdeeds, get spammed, experience identity theft, become addicted to online games, fall prey to predators, shop for non-essentials excessively and jeopardize employment prospects. All this suggests that most people will back off from the current level of indiscriminate Internet usage and become more selective in the future. I suspect this revulsion from the dangers will also yield a resurgence of F2F contacts, community involvement, and collaborative presence in physical situations. More training will occur in person with online support.

Smart grid distribution networks: It's becoming possible to live "off the grid" and sell excess power from personal solar or wind generation hardware back to the electric utility. I suspect the current wave of crowdsourced content being uploaded, shared, contributed and collaborated on -- is only the first generation. By 2020, this voluminous outpouring will have evolved into a wonderful combination of DIY and DIT training experiences. The self directed efforts envisioned as PLE's (Personal Learning Environments) will be complimented by collaborative efforts among many together. This next generation of generosity will balance self sufficiency with taking and giving back to the community grid. Training will become more social, exploratory, open-ended and unstructured. The results will provide higher quality, more lasting effects and increased momentum going into the next gathering.

Ready or not, here comes the future of corporate training!


  1. Tom,

    Thanks for this great set of predictions. I found it very stimulating to read and digest.

    I think corporations are getting better at experimenting with new ideas and of course some of the web 2.0 tools have led to new ways just appearing out of nowhere as employees have taken a tool (eg a wiki) and just started using it.

    However I do think that it will be difficult to articulate a business case around many of the new ways of working - something that we need to help corporations articulate in a way that encourages them to invest and change.


  2. Thanks for the added perspectives Chris.

    I agree that corporations can be a major source of innovation in the training space for the next few years. Tata Interactive's conference is exploring a very long time frame. That factors in issues like peak oil and failed states which may undermine the viability of corporate solutions over the next decade.

  3. It is interesting. I wrote a paper in 1990 that was a flexible framework to create foreign language training modules for the workplace. This came out of my work as a English Language Trainer for an Executive Language program in Costa Rica. We had so many companies with unique needs that wanted anywhere from 1 week intensive to 1 year non-intensive (once a month) and everything in between.

    Many of the elements you discuss here were elements in my framework. 20 years later, and reading your post, I realize that perhaps it is time to revisit the framework as it seems the time has come to think about it (as your post is projects the ways things will be 11 years from now)!

  4. Isn't it thrilling when something from our past now appears to be prophetic? Revisiting your framework ought to be fun and satisfying. Go for it Virginia!