The mission of L&D leaders is to make sure their teams deliver quality learning experiences that are effective and in-sync with the times. In a world marked by accelerated market transformation, chronic shortages of qualified labor, and social and climate disruption, we can no longer afford to stick to the models inherited from the industrial revolution.

Instead, a way to stay relevant is mixing and applying the tools from learning science and digital technologies. Welcome to Next-Gen Learning.

Next-Gen Learning is a development for business based on a method that was originally conceived with kids in mind, called Next Generation Learning. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation describes Next Generation Learning as "the intelligent use of technology to develop innovative learning models and personalized educational pathways."

Focus on personalization

One powerful element in this definition is personalization. L&D's traditional focus has been the opposite, producing uniform learning solutions to ensure employees are up-to speed in their current roles or launch them in new roles they have been hired for. Examples are company-wide compliance training or department-wide new hire and cross-training programs, where the "one size fits all" approach is often the paradigm.

Next-Gen Learning introduces a novel element: the learners' ability to choose how to grow, in a way that aligns with their individual preferences and the organization's future talent needs. It moves L&D away from general learning for operational needs to a wider mandate that includes personalized learning for strategic talent development.

The challenge Next-Gen Learning faces

The core of the issue is illustrated in the latest World Economic Forum Future of Jobs Report. It estimates that the robot revolution will create 97 million new jobs worldwide by 2025. All of them will be in emerging professions, including some that don't exist today.

The report also warns that 85 million positions will soon be automated and disappear.

This leaves us with an apparent gap of 12 million jobs. A moment's thought will reveal, though, that the gap will be much wider—because we can't instantaneously switch the 85 million people losing their jobs to the new complex and specialized roles available.

As Yuval Noah Harari says in his book 21 Lessons for the 21st Century: "Creating new human jobs might prove easier than retraining humans to actually fill these jobs."

Organizations and societies need to find a way to make this transition as fast as possible. Doing nothing would put us in a situation with substantially increased unemployment and constraints on productivity that could put at risk organizations, the economy, and society as a whole.

What can learning leaders do about it?

Learning leadership needs to drive a change in the paradigm.

People are the most important resource of any organization, and a big part of our L&D mandate is finding ways to support employees' potential and interest, to evolve their skill sets. Advantages of doing this include investing in your existing talent, who already know the company and its culture, and saving on recruitment costs. Next-Gen Learning won't be a fit for all your staffing challenges, but it will certainly help.

What might a solution look like?

Consider adding to your L&D portfolio a "career center" function, where employees are supported through different roles as technology, the needs of the organization, and their personal interests evolve. This career center would be at the heart of connecting people with acquiring new skills.

There are already AI solutions on the market that give learning leaders the ability to create and curate these development paths. Another element that will help you succeed with your career center is the implementation of an LRS (learning record store), which will provide you with the reporting you need to know if people are effectively advancing in their journey to reinvent themselves and transition to the roles of the future.

Next-Gen Learning's use of technology also includes enriching the employees' ecosystem with engaging experiences that meet them at the point of need or interest. Learning leadership can achieve this by embedding the access to content, and the learning experience itself, in people's everyday tools and environments.

Use technology to improve the learner experience

The times when you had to go through confusing links, track down a course in the LMS (learning management system) catalogue, and complete a clunky registration form should be left in the past. Learners should instead receive, for example, "push alerts," with the content they need just a click away. They should perceive the transition from work to learning as seamless (even if a complex network of digital solutions is engaged at the back end).

Build on effective, evidence-based models

As important as these tech solutions are, they won't be of much help without effective learning models that apply cognitive science's best practices to increase the speed at which people acquire and apply knowledge.

A Next-Gen Learning solution should facilitate an environment where learners benefit from spacing the consumption of content, use new information in realistic contexts, and do active retrieval through questions to stimulate their memory. For anyone interested in understanding these and many other valuable approaches, I recommend reading Make it Stick (Brown, Roediger and McDaniel, 2014) and How We Learn (Carey 2014).

Next-Gen Learning is within reach

The cost associated with Next-Gen Learning used to be prohibitive, but new technologies are making it practical and economically feasible to develop education tailored to each employee, anchored in solid cognitive and behavioral science, and aligned with the organization's goals and strategy. If you are thinking this approach sounds like an interesting idea to consider, now is the time to get started and future-proof your organization.

Explore leadership issues with your peers

Shifting learning culture or adopting new training strategies can be an uphill climb; don't undertake it alone. Explore the strategies and skills required to navigate the needs of today's ever-changing workplace with your learning leadership peers.

The Learning Guild's Learning Leaders Alliance offers a vendor-neutral global community for learning leaders who want to stay ahead of the curve and for aspiring leaders wanting to build their skillsets. The Alliance Membership package includes access to exclusive digital events and content curated for today’s modern learning leader, as well as opportunities to attend in-person learning leadership events held around the globe. Join today, and participate in our October 27 Meetup, focusing on how Dell Technologies is implementing Next-Gen Learning, with presenters Bruce Cronquist and Todd Stone.