Learning and Development – The GAP is coming

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I can’t speak for everyone, but I will say, there are plenty of us, on both sides of the aisle, who went to bed, thinking one way, and awakened thinking either the same way or not.  We all are going to have to be patient, which in this day and age, is something of a lost art.

Patience has never been my strong suit. I never saw the old way of training with manuals, and F2F ILT as the way it had to be.  I saw as early as 1998, that the future of learning would be e-learning (online learning).  And as the years would pass, keep asking myself why can’t everyone else see this?  Why are people still using paper as a learning tool?  Why are people still big fans of face to face ILT, when the data already out there was showing that e-learning was equal to if not better for comprehension, retention and synthesis to classroom/seminar training/learning?

I spent a few months learning instructional design, when I jumped to the corporate market. Then, I looked around as the years passed, wondering why weren’t others – my contemporaries who did not know instructional design, do the same thing, and learn it?

Why was ATD so out of touch with the industry, especially with online learning and the impact of digital learning technology? Oh, wait, I still think that.

The truth of the matter is that if you look deep into the weeds you too will see what is coming for L&D in 2021.  The trends are all there and where they are pointing is not going to make everyone happy.  Plenty will disagree.

Plenty will point to the same perspectives they had in the past, forgetting that it is called the past for a reason, and secondly, the days of “the way of learning/training via e-learning in the corporate world” is gone.  COVID-19 was the impact that no one saw coming, of course, especially as it relates to learning, training, with online learning.

 The GAP

This will impact and such a rate that those employees/customers/members who fall into the latter category (presented here shortly) will not be on a level learning field as others.

The Gap is tied to two specific parts, both so intertwined, that one cannot achieve success without the other, and vice versa.

  • Digital Transformation – You likely have heard the word, but what does it really mean when it comes to learning/training?  I’ll explain in the next section.
  • E-Learning (Online Learning) –  A clear one that is expanding to new areas, that seemed years away, and no, I am not referring to VR here.  And for the record, the term distance learning does not nor has ever been the same as e-learning.  Two completely different modalities.

One might be asking themselves, how do these two items, lead to a trend called the Gap, and what exactly is the gap as it relates to L&D.

The Gap simply points to a reality, we need to all recognize, that those who either adapt who heartedly digital transformation and e-learning, will be producing better results when it comes to learning/training compared to those who go only with e-learning, ignoring digital transformation, OR embrace some aspects of digital transformation (but not all) and either all or some of e-learning.

One could fully support 100% e-learning, and lightly play with digital transformation – but they will end up on the lower side of the GAP, and by the end of 2021, that GAP will expand to such a level, it will be difficult to catch up.  Sure, you can do this or that, but until you embrace both to an extent it drives your learning or training, you will still be behind.

And of course, those who do neither, will be at the lowest rung.  The downside, is that folks who will see it the most and be impacted the most are their learners themselves.

Take a look at what you are doing now in L&D.  Are you buying into the data that says people want personal and professional development, and that it is a key to retaining them?   Do you buy into the premise and full potential of e-learning to such an extent, that once the majority of folks get a vaccination,  you are not turning back to yesteryear’s method of learning?

Do you see the potential opportunities for allowing your learners to truly drive learning or do you still see e-learning as a method of formal only, in that it is all about assigned learning, compliance and regulatory (for the record LXPs are heavy into formal with assigned learning, and even having L&D clients push compliance too).

If you do not see the potential opportunities, if you do not embrace e-learning as the essential method of learning for your employees, customers, members then you will slide in the GAP.

There are plenty of L&D folks who believe ILT is the best way to learn. They ignore a lot of data out there, but again, that data was from the past. Unless you have a blue-collar workforce or front line workers say in retail, ILT will not be the method of delivery of learning/training content.

And even ILT with front-line workers in retail and other areas, can be delivered via vILT or other methods of e-learning, due to something called a smartphone, which quite a lot of your employees have these days.

That alone will take a big chunk out of your ILT method of learning.

I note this, because in the GAP, a pattern clearly is developing – the embrace of technology.

A mobile device used for learning? Technology.  A desktop computer, laptop, 2 to 1 – technology.  Zoom or another web conferencing solution – SaaS wise – technology.

It isn’t just enough to say, yeah I use those items and therefore I am all about digital transformation.  Digital transformation is

  • Embrace wholeheartedly – Nothing half here, half there
  • Tap into the latest technologies that will drive your learning/training initiatives – If you buy into VR, then go for it, personally, I think we have a way to go with VR, but in digital transformation any type of virtual or artificial such as AR, plays into it.
  • Look for new technologies that can push the level of learning to a whole new level – they are out there, you just have to find them.  Gesture motion exists today.  BMW for example, is using it for their interactive screens in some of their newer vehicles.  It is far better today, gesture motion, that is, than say a year or two ago.   Voice to Text is getting better all the time – true it is not yet 100 percent, but 90% isn’t bad, and there are apps – a form of technology – that are getting there, for more so than you might assume.
  • Your learners for the most part, regardless of age, and already embraced technology. The range of the “gamers” are 35 to 40 year-olds.  Tik Tok once only for teens and sort of an outlier, now is the driver, with adults jumping whole heartedly into using it – short videos, engaging for the most part is it’s strength a method of technology combined with learning to be quite honest, if you truly look at it.

Digital transformation seems like something your CIO or CTO or whoever runs technology at your company or place of business will say to the CEO.  L&D typically okay always sits on the sidelines, and goes with whatever the company pushes out for technology.

The GAP says that will change, because white-collar workers, overwhelmingly will not be returning to office to at least, the end of 2021, and a chunk will never step back into the office.

That is the world of today.  Thus, digital transformation says you understand that, embrace it because it is here and will be throughout 2021 and beyond.  As an L&D leader or Training for that matter, knowing what types of technology your employees, customers, members use at their homes is essential.

L&D always seems to assume.  Which leads into the GAP.

We will end up with two types of L&D and Training Leaders 

The trend lines show clearly there will be a widening of the GAP by the end of 2021.  It is going to be slow and steady, but there will be separation and it will only get worse or expand out (depending on your perspective).

Those on the higher or closer to the GAP,  will push the boundaries of this new age of learning and training, and their learners will see that.   Those in the middle will either move into the higher tier as both areas (digital transformation and e-learning) evolve, OR will drop further down.  Then there are those who will stay forever on the lower rung.

Even if they start to move up, there will be enough of a GAP, that the probability they can reach the higher rung is quite low.

In the end, the GAP will get bigger between the two groups, and I say this, because I see that the “middle” will slowly disappear.

By the end of 2022, the GAP will be substantial.   And that lower rung, will drop farther and farther back.

It won’t be enough to add a learning system with its bells and whistles to get an L&D exec (regardless of their title – but this person runs your L&D department), to gain the upward swing to reduce the GAP, and jump into the upper rung.

Technology is not going to stop, just because you want it to.  Machine Learning is yes, a form of technology, but it itself, iteration plays a huge role, and not everyone is at the same level (as it relates to any e-learning solution that has machine learning in it).

Where will machine learning go? Deep Learning.  It exists today, but will be a driver that so far, not one learning system has truly tapped.  By the end of 2021, some systems and other e-learning solutions will start to leverage it (deep learning is a subset of machine learning).

And deep learning is a technology.

Bottom Line

Whoever is running L&D or Training must decide here and now, not next year, or in two years, where do they want their learning/training for their employees, customers, and members to be.

Are you going to embrace and support and explore technologies that exist today and down the road or are you going to stay the course, add e-learning, still tap into ILT, maybe some paper, or some other old school way.

Are you going to examine the technologies that your learners working from home are use to, or are using, and see how you can leverage that – and utilize in your learning/training or are you going to ignore or do a half-heartedly approach.

Here’s the end game.  The GAP will impact your learners.  Unknowingly they will see the repercussions.  They aren’t going to scream “change” or do this or that, because they won’t know.

Only you will.

E-Learning 24/7 


  1. Thought-provoking post.

    One point I would highlight a lot more is when you briefly mentioned that ILT is better for blue-collar workers, those frontline workers like retail (social workers, nurses, teachers). E-learning does have many advantages including being more accessible to diverse learners and being cheaper to deliver. E-learning works well for understanding info and learning concepts, but I’m not sure it works better than ILT for learning complex skills like dealing directly with other people. E-learning excels at the individual learning process but creates a lot of barriers for social learning.

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