Scalable Learning Will Be the Strategic Differentiator in the 21st Century


At the 2017 Deloitte Chief Learning Officer forum, management consultant John Hagel said scalable learning is the new reason for large organizations to exist. It’s a big statement and it has profound implications for the role of corporate learning in the 21st century. Learning will no longer be an auxiliary function in corporations; rather, it will be the primary reason for large organizations to exist.

Hagel is the founder of the Deloitte Center for the Edge, a Silicon Valley-based research center focused on identifying emerging business opportunities that are not yet on the CEO’s agenda — and when he speaks, people listen. Hagel’s research on “the big shift” examines how the speed of technology is impacting business and value creation.

Preparing for the Future

In the 20th century, large organizations existed to provide scalable efficiency. They existed to make the same widget or execute the same process repeatedly. This size of scale drove down costs, led to greater efficiency and created competitive advantage.

But today, we live in a world of exponential change. As Thomas Friedman describes in “Thank You For Being Late,” we are experiencing exponential change in technology, globalization and the climate all at once. These macro forces are reshaping our world faster than we can adapt.

A world of exponential change creates near constant disruption; the things we did yesterday won’t be effective tomorrow. We need to constantly adapt. A world of near constant disruption requires near constant innovation. In a world requiring near constant innovation, doing the same thing repeatedly is a recipe for obsolescence. Scalable efficiency will lose out to nimble innovation, which may lead us to the conclusion that in the 21st century, large organizations will be replaced by smaller, more nimble organizations.

Hagel contends that large organizations aren’t going away; rather, their purpose is evolving. Large organizations need to shift from providing scalable efficiency to providing scalable learning. CLOs need to fundamentally rethink their position and purpose in the organization to catalyze this transition.

Scalable Learning

Scalable learning requires harnessing the power of a large network of peers to learn faster than we could ever hope to learn on our own. As individuals, our minds have a difficult time comprehending exponential change. But as part of a large organization of connected peers, our ability to discover new knowledge and tap into flows of existing information is greatly increased.

Scalable learning doesn’t just mean reading more books, taking more e-learning courses or watching more videos. We need to initiate a fundamental paradigm shift. Scalable learning requires a systematic process of discovering, digesting and disseminating new knowledge throughout the organization.

An organization that can scale learning will be better able to respond to change and innovate through disruption. Developing a scalable learning strategy is one of the most strategic things an organization can do, as it will be the biggest competitive differentiator in the 21st century.

How Do We Get There?

Scalable learning would be a massive shift in the nature of corporate learning. It’s a big, daunting, scary (and exciting) change. The good news is that in a world of exponential change, “small moves, smartly made can set big things in motion” (that’s a Hagel quote).

The smartest thing we can do today is to start harnessing the power of data and analytics. It’s impossible to scale something without having any visibility into what is working and what is not working. We need to start using data to drive a culture of continuous improvement. We can’t improve the way we learn unless we know whether the changes we make lead to actual improvement.

In corporate learning, we need to hold ourselves accountable by quantifiably demonstrating the impact our programs are having on organizational performance. Only then will the rest of the organization trust us to become a strategic function that sits at its core.

This is the first of a three-part series on learning analytics. In the next article, Rustici will discuss the transition to data-driven corporate learning programs.

Mike Rustici is founder and CEO of Watershed, a learning analytics platform that bridges the gap between training and performance. A 20-year veteran of the e-learning industry, he helped guide the first draft of Experience API, a learning interoperability standard. Comment below or email [email protected]

Filed under: Learning DeliveryTagged with: corporate learning, organizational strategy, Scalable Learning



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