Direction for Uncertain Times

While the future is uncertain for many learning organizations, there are real opportunities.

Predicting the future is a tricky business. But in the second part of a wide-ranging conversation on the state of enterprise learning, we asked Chief Learning Officer columnists Elliott Masie and Josh Bersin to gaze into the crystal ball and tell us how 2009 will change learning.

Their advice: Buckle your seat belt because it’s going to be a bumpy ride.

“I actually think we’re going to see a deconstruction of some very large learning organizations,” said Masie, chair and CLO of The Masie Center’s Learning Consortium. Widespread layoffs and unemployment will change how companies approach their strategies, with significant implications for learning organizations.

“We’re going to see a war footing in our organizations,” he continued. “A lot of things that were nice to have are going to get way more down to, ‘OK, now how do we stay alive? How do we redeploy people very quickly?’ It’s going to change the sense of urgency.”

Bersin, principal and founder of industry research and advisory services firm Bersin & Associates, said learning organizations will move to a more centralized model that is tightly integrated with talent management.

“That’s going to be an imperative for everybody at every level to understand: what talent management is and [how it will] play a role in that strategy,” Bersin said.

While the ride will be rough, Bersin and Masie pointed to significant opportunities in the coming year for innovation. Both said social learning and social networks will grow more important and organizations will mature in their approaches.

“It won’t be a ‘what is it and how do I do it’ discussion,” Bersin said. “It will be, ‘We’re doing it; we’re trying it. It’s working in this group; it’s not working in that group.’”

Developments in the political world also will affect enterprise learning. With a new U.S. president set to take office next week, Bersin and Masie said there will be significant potential to refocus on education as a core component of U.S. business competitiveness.

“We’re going to see folks who may use the transitions we’re all going through — regardless of how they voted —use it metaphorically to take a different look at leadership and a different look at culture,” Masie said. “I’m optimistic: Interesting things are going to happen. My only caution is that people better hedge their bets around budget plans and strategies.”

Listen in to a recording of their full conversation in the latest Chief Learning Officer podcast at Stay tuned for further highlights from dialogue with Masie and Bersin.