The Epic social learning debate for Summer 2011 states:
“This house believes that as social learning grows, so the requirement for traditional training departments shrinks.”
Let’s examine why they grew in the first place. Training on a massive scale was a requirement for preparing citizen soldiers for war and initial methods were tested during the second world war (1939-45). A systems approach did not become standardized until after the war, led by applied research done by Robert Gagné, as noted by Donald Clark:
One of the interesting system development projects discussed in Gagne’s book is building a revised course of instruction for armor crewman training at Fort Knox, Kentucky. The project was code named SHOCKACTION and undertaken during the late 1950s. The course trained tank crewmen to act as a tank commander, driver, gunner, or loader of the Army’s main battle tank. The course was considered important and worthy of considerable investment of research and development funds. It was noted by officers that the present course was not training armor crewmen to a level of proficiency.
The famous ADDIE model did not get adopted until 1975, just as the baby boomers were entering university and the business world. There was a need to train lots of people in North America and later elsewhere as economies grew. Training departments rose to the challenge.
For thousands of years people have developed work skills through apprenticeship. This worked for small numbers and developed into the highly structured guild system in Europe. Industrialization marked the fall of the guild system. The nation state and the industrial economy adopted a new competency development framework, from which we have modern training departments, professional associations, job competency models, etc. But the industrial economy no longer drives the developed world. Even the information economy is giving way to the creative economy.
In Social learning, complexity & the enterprise, I go over many of the factors that are forcing us to change how we think about learning and work, which is what training departments are supposed to focus on. The most significant change is in how we relate to, and deal with, information and knowledge. We no longer have to go to the library to get a book and we have access to a growing network of expertise from people (like bloggers) who are willing to share their knowledge for free. Instructional content is no longer a scarcity. Neither are “instructors”. Expertise is becoming ubiquitous though the likes of Wikipedia and social networks.
The draining of the hierarchical pyramid will change not only training, but also intellectual property and the social contract with workers. In a shifting networked world, every artificial structure will be affected, so why should the training department be impervious to these effects? Even money will change, as this article about The Bitcoin Epoch being akin to the Printing Press Revolution shows.
We are in a management revolution, testing out new models such as the social enterprise, democracy in the workplace, chaordic organizations and networked free-agents. Will the rise of social learning be the “cause” of the shrinking training department? Probably not. But it will be one of the effects.