The defining attributes of the 21st-century economy and fourth industrial revolution are innovation, technology, globalization, and a rapid pace of change. Therefore, an organisation’s capacity to enhance the capabilities of its workforce and create a culture of continuous learning are vital to remaining competitive. These trends make an effective learning-and-development (L&D) function more critical than ever. I am the editor and co-author of this book, a compendium of 20 chapters co-authored by McKinsey L&D experts and colleagues. It addresses a range of topics essential to the future of L&D, including function structure and governance, digital learning, and developing lifelong learning mind-sets, among others.
A little more than 30 years ago—at the time when the first micro-computers arrived in the workplace—my career began in learning and development (L&D). It was very exciting to experience the first generation of computer-based training solutions and even the computer-based “management games” that were introduced for leadership development. In those days, the L&D function was called “training,” and most efforts were mandated for the workforce and focused on technical skills and training initiatives.
Almost all training was delivered in a classroom or conference center, and research on people-capability building and corporate training was at a preliminary stage. People involved in training mostly had a technical or business background (or sometimes both) that enabled them to bring expertise to a training event. The head of the training department was typically a senior leader with rich business experience who was given the role as a last step before retirement. During this era, most people in the workforce enjoyed long-term or even lifetime employment. Being loyal and continuing to bring the best of yourself to your job contributed in a significant way to a successful career, which was often spent at a single organisation or, at most, a limited number of organisations.
Fast-forward to today. We are at the beginning of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, which is fueled by advancements in technologies, such as the Internet of Things, machine learning, robots, the autonomous car, 3-D printing, and the mobile internet, to name a few. All these technologies have already had tremendous impact on what is required of people capabilities in organisations. The world and the workplace have changed dramatically. The good old personal computer has been replaced by the smartphone. It seems like the internet has always been around: people work virtually from a variety of locations, technology has introduced and disrupted many business models, and IT has gained dominance over the way we work.
During this time, training has evolved into L&D. Organisations that want to stay in business have realised they must continually invest in the development of their human capital, and about 45 percent of all today’s formal learning is delivered through digital solutions. In many cases, these channels have replaced traditional classroom programmes. Technology enables learning to be even more personalised and self-directed. The classroom of the 21st century is enabled by technology and provides people with immersive-learning experiences. The future is about high-tech and high-touch learning. Young professionals and leaders have told us that they benefit tremendously from time away from daily work, where they can collaboratively solve wicked problems, practice new skills, receive coaching, connect and learn from others, get inspired by new insights, and reflect on their own work and personal development. Additionally, individuals have realised that they need to embrace lifelong learning mind-sets to remain relevant and that their careers will involve multiple employers and roles.
Research in multiple fields has contributed significantly to the L&D profession. Thanks to cognitive neuroscience we know more about how the brain works and how people learn. This research has provided evidence that because of the brain’s neuroplasticity, people can continue to learn and grow throughout their lifetime. Many universities have performed ground- breaking research in the broader field of adult learning, and L&D professionals benefit tremendously from these insights on how to design the most effective and efficient learning solutions. We also have a better understanding from developmental psychology research on what it takes to change people’s behaviors. Finally, the very promising field of positive psychology looks at what enables organisations and people to flourish, and these insights have been incorporated into the design of learning programmes.
I am very gratified that over the past 30 years L&D has also matured as a profession. There are now several bachelor’s, master’s, and doctorate university degrees offered in this field, and a growing number of companies have acknowledged that L&D is a vital profession, akin to accounting, IT, and marketing. In these organisations, the role of a chief learning officer has become accepted, and the people appointed to lead L&D are specialists in this broad field of knowledge and expertise.
It has been an amazing personal journey to watch the L&D profession make such an impact over the years. As I am passionate about how I can advance the profession, I reached out to my colleagues and invited them to coauthor this book with me, focusing on a variety of learning topics that matter for every L&D professional. This book includes an introduction and 19 chapters with terrific perspectives from leading McKinsey L&D practitioners and thought leaders. This compendium of articles discusses every facet of professional development and training— from ensuring that L&D’s efforts are closely aligned with business strategy to elements of advancing the L&D function, designing learning solutions, deploying digital learning, executing flawlessly, measuring impact, and ensuring good governance. I couldn’t be prouder or more appreciative of all the amazing work that this team has accomplished, and I am delighted to present this book to you. For L&D professionals seeking to hone their organisation’s efforts, Elevating Learning & Development: Insights and Practical Guidance from the Field is the ideal resource and I hope that you and your colleagues will benefit a lot from the insights of this book.
All royalties from this book will be donated to my foundation which has provided over 20 million children (age 5-12) with free access to digital learning (online/offline) in elementary school subjects including Math, Science, Language Arts, Computers, Life and Health Skills.
On behalf of the e-learning for kids foundation, I want to thank you for purchasing this book.
Written by Nick van Dam Ph.D., McKinsey partner and CLO, Professor of L&D at Nyenrode University and the University of Pennsylvania
Nick van Dam will speak in the Opening Conversation of the LT track on Thursday, Dec. 6.