Predicting the 2020 workplace


they might not be nuclear-powered, but they can clean elephants

With the technological advances that are being made, the workplace – and workplace learning – are certainly going to be very different in the year 2020 – the future reference point used by ONLINE EDUCA BERLIN keynote Jeanne Meister in her work. But what sort of changes are going on right now, how exactly are they going to change the face of workplace learning, and what new ways of communicating and innovating are employers offering their employees? Companies are developing their own innovative e-learning strategies to nurture their workforce – as Business EDUCA participants are due to find out.


Interviewed for the News Portal, Jeanne Meister identified three key technologies that would have the greatest impact on the professional environment in the future: mobile devices, massively multi-player online games and wearable computers. These predictions are not as “far-reaching” as they might sound, she pointed out, drawing attention to the statement by Ken Olsen,  Co-Founder of Digital Equipment Corporation, in 1977: “There’s no reason why anyone would want a PC in their home!”


The difficulty of knowing what is going to happen in the tech world is the source of many legends. There’s that old story (unfortunately completely discredited) that Thomas J. Watson, CEO of IBM, said in 1943 that “there is a world market for about five computers” – which, incidentally, would have been true for the next ten years. And then there is the more ridiculous (and equally unverified) 1955 quotation from Alex Lewyt, president of a vacuum cleaner company, that “nuclear-powered vacuum cleaners will probably be a reality within ten years.”


To help you navigate the uncertainties of the 2020 workplace, ONLINE EDUCA BERLIN has got together some rather more prescient professionals from around the world, the representatives of companies whose workplace learning plans are making Jeanne Meister’s visions of the 2020 workplace a reality. Meister herself will chair the session, entitled A Global Dialogue on a New Way of Working and Innovating.


Sebastian Kolberg, head of learning and training at German agriculture, healthcare and high-tech materials company Bayer, sees a future that is “much more virtual than today”, allowing for a better work-life balance, and less structured learning using intelligent software solutions to provide “knowledge when needed”.


Responsible for learning strategy, planning, design and implementation at Bayer, Kolberg has already begun to work towards such a future – introducing a whole range of e-learning components to employee training, including social media software and a video channel, and redesigning formal training away from the traditional model, with the introduction of World Cafés, virtual classrooms and action learning methods. “Being innovative and just trying things is key,” he says.


What companies need to create is an environment where training can go on anytime, anywhere, according to employees’ wishes and demands. E-Learning tools are important to this transformation in two ways: by supporting learning outside of formal structures, and by making learning tailored and convenient. “90% of the learning that happens among adults is taking place on-the-job, and only 10% is happening in formal programs,” Jeanne Meister says. “So the challenge is to develop a ubiquitous learning environment where access is as convenient as signing onto our Facebook and Twitter accounts.”


Christian Kuhna of Adidas’ Centre of Excellence Talent & Learning will also be present at the global discussion. Adidas are currently working on a “New Way of Learning”, with similar aspirations to Bayer: envisaging a work environment “where you can decide when and where you would like to learn, an environment that inspires you to choose how and what you learn based on your personal learning style and development goals, and where you can be an expert and teach others, or learn with and from your network through sharing and collaboration”.


These are just tantalising glimpses of a few of the schemes that are driving employee training forward towards the 2020 workplace. More will be revealed at the Business EDUCA session on Friday, December 6th. For information on other presentations in ONLINE EDUCA’s hugely popular Business EDUCA stream, click here; and to see the full schedule of events for the largest global e-learning conference for the corporate, education and public service sectors, see the programme page.

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