The future of learning is already here

Precision, customisation and speed will be the new watchwords of learning in the realm of professional development, says Sean Pearce.

The nature of work is changing rapidly and radically. This enlightening (and in places alarming) report from PwC shines a light on some of the potential shifts ahead of us, predicting three possible scenarios for the future of the professional workplace, all of which are likely to combine and merge in unpredictable ways.

  1. The Blue World. Here, we see the integration of already huge multi-national corporations into entities that resemble the zaibatsu found in the novels of visionary science fiction writer William Gibson (who arguably foresaw the rise of the Internet). Employees are expected to almost literally sign over their entire lives (including providing deep access to their personal lives and health data) to their employer in exchange for job security, status and opportunities for career development.
  2. The Green World. In this reality, sustainable and responsible business becomes prominent and corporate goals become orientated with ethical values, particularly social and environmental ones. As such, job opportunities are expected to include room for an employee’s moral convictions to play an important role in their career development.
  3. The Orange World. In this third scenario, there is an increasingly fragmented market where small, specialised companies are able to outflank the mega-conglomerates by utilising pools of skilled labour on an ad hoc basis. This provides employees with a high degree of flexibility, likely meaning they will think of themselves less as ’employed by company x’ and more as ‘belonging to skill group y’, possibly resulting in the return of something like guilds.

Although less obvious in the Green World scenario, a common theme in all these projections is how important both employee flexibility and specialisation are going to become. In the Blue World scenario, top talent must do all it can to outcompete competitors, meaning those seeking high-level positions must clearly show the depth and multiplicity of their skills.

This means that professional development, with equal emphasis on flexibility, speciality, visibility and benchmarked competencies will become vitally important for anyone who is ambitious. The core idea of the Orange World is that the fragmentation of the market will mark a return to a skill-orientated labour pool, where the importance of specialisation and excellence is obvious.

No matter which one of these scenarios proves to be the most accurate, next generation learning and development strategies are going to have to play a very important role.

Professional development is ultimately about being able to adapt to the environment we find ourselves in, and development goals must reflect that. Regardless of whether or not one is simply attempting to hone one’s pre-existing skills or take on entirely new ones, the decisions we make about how we improve ourselves professionally must take into account the demands being put upon us. As we’ve seen, these demands are likely to force us to be more and more specialised and willing to adapt, and as such the platform we use for development must be one that is highly customisable − even idiosyncratic. This is where online learning can really come into its own.

At Brightwave we’re very keen on personalised e-learning; as our Head of Learning Design, Caroline Freeman, has put it before: ‘The age of one-size-fits-all e-learning is over.’ No two learners are alike; their needs are different, as are their strengths, weaknesses, preferences and talents. Only personalised learning solutions can respond to that in a way that meets the expectations and requirements of the learner. And as no two learners are alike, thus are no two career paths alike. We all respond to the world differently, we all have different demands influencing our decisions: in the realm of career development, it is vital that e-learning recognises this and becomes as customisable as possible.

This isn’t just speculation either. This survey indicates that the majority of graduates are prioritising training and development opportunities over salary when it comes to their first employment opportunities.

Nor is this something that employers can afford to ignore. According to this research, providing training and development options is vital to keeping employees happy and productive. Professional development will only become more important, and skills more specific.

What could this mean for the future of personalised learning for professional development? It means it will become central to how we work, how we grow our skills, and how we demonstrate our mastery of them. Learners want their learning to target the areas that need to be targeted (a scalpel over a bludgeon) – they’re right to want this, and it’s something that increasingly we can supply. As training needs become more specialised, and the need to adapt quickly more important, flexible and customisable learning tools will become a vital part of the professional development process.


Your company has observed a subtle, but important, shift in the market favourable towards wearable tech. You’re in marketing, and your boss wants you to spearhead an ad campaign to promote a new smart watch your company has in development. But you don’t know anything about the sector or the target audience. You’ve only a few days to put together a pitch, so you need precisely targeted information about the consumer base and their expectations.

Thankfully, your company has an adaptive, collaborative learning platform with an emphasis on social learning and individual learning pathways, and has modules packed full of information on historical trends in the wearable tech market, tips on how to gather consumer data for analysis, success and failure stories from other marketing campaigns…exactly what you need to rapidly go from novice to expert, all the while keeping fresh resources and information at your fingertips.
Like Gibson’s Neuromancer, it’s not a vision of the future – it’s already here.

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