Learning in times of economic meltdown

by Jay Cross on January 11, 2009

They got it
At Online Educa Berlin last month, I hosted a small discussion on Learning in Times of Economic Meltdown. A dozen of us talked across a round table over lunch. Here are my notes:

    Massive, disruptive change is underway. This change is fundamental: the network era is replacing the industrial age. Things will never be the same. A “new normal” is on the way.

    Life-threatening crisis unfreezes organizational structure. This fluid state affords re-organizing, re-arranging, and replacing the status quo. Survivors develop and present agendas for change while things are in flux. Doing nothing is a sign of holistic corporate dyslexia: the inability to read the handwriting on the wall.

    The challenge for organizations is to use smart delivery, to replace classes with technology, to embrace open source, and perhaps to adopt a software-as-a-service model. Since adaptation is the key to survival and learning is the enabler of adaptation, the learning function may be able to get on to the CEO’s agenda. People have become the primary means of production; it’s time to give the people functions in organizations equal standing with finance, sales, and production.

  • Temporary workers and the “company of one” will be providing more service — and corporations need to figure out how to develop these non-employees.
  • Tough times will force the training function to focus on value.
  • The drive for value will increase demand for learning in smaller chunks. “Just give me what I need to know.”
  • Companies will eliminate measurement and control systems that do not deliver value. Good bye to the fancy LMS.
  • Travel is easy to ban and yields an immediate, tangible cost saving. Virtual delivery and meetings will boom.
  • Specialty areas, for example language learning, will be outsourced.
  • Bottom-up learning will come into its own. Personal challenges (think of the Volkswagen 5000 program and Google’s policy of dedicating 20% time to independent innovation projects) will be come more common than costly top-down attempts to impose projects from the top.
  • As we have seen with mergers and acquisitions, project management skills will be in high demand.

Inge de Waart blogged the conversation.

All of us agreed that the economic crisis will be here for a couple of years, resulting in job losses. Seeing that in the past the learning department was one of the first departments to be cut in companies, estimates are that nearly 70 to 80 % of the learning budgets will be cut in the next couple of years. So we all better gear ourselves to overcome this crisis, both on a personal and on an institutional level.

Inge captured some points that didn’t make it into my notes, among them:

  • more emphasis on open source/open resources;
  • shift in company ethics, durable (energy) solutions;
  • equiping people to manage the recession => that would be a business worth investing in.
  • dare to invest time to seize the day the opportunity to be prepared for the long-term future.
  • in times of crisis you go in search of the essence of what you have and what you need => a personal process;
  • learning is personal.
  • being confronted with dire straights inspires, the ones that dare in these times flourish.
  • personal knowledge/learning techniques will benefit the whole or the communities to which the learners belongs.
  • personal learning is essential in addition to managemental learning change.
  • learning touches all societal issues.
  • outsourcing the learning department to some extent might be a possibility.
  • increase the consciousness that learning has a definite positive impact on the complete organisation or/and person (if you cut a department, it will effect the whole; if you cut knowledge, everyone will be challenged).
  • knowledge on new learning techniques should be increased.
  • more really tailored content has to be provided. In many cases we now buy a complete package from which we only use a small percentage, because only this content is of interest to us. So focus on small content tailored for the user and standardized so it can be build on.
  • learning touches all the society.

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