More than 3,000 respondents from all around the world replied this time and we discuss the results.
Check out the the audio above, or the full transcript beneath…
Jon Kennard: Welcome to another episode of UNLEASHcast. For the very few people who may not know you, Don, can you give us a brief kind of outline of who you are and what you do?
Don Taylor: Briefly, I create spaces where people have useful conversations. That’s how I try to sum it up. So I chair the Learning Technologies conference, I do writing research in the field of learning and development.
I also help startups either by Emerge Education, a VC fund for startups, or individually, I work, for example, as non exec director at Filtered and I help advise other companies as well, until March of 2020, when I was the chair of the Learning and Performance Institute, which I continue to support.
That’s me in a nutshell, 40 years in our field Jon, boiled down to a few sentences.
JK: There’s also quite a major other thing that you do, which we’re going to talk about today, which is the Global Sentiment Survey. It’s been running now for how long?
DT: Nine years. This is the ninth year.
JK: And you’ve got – I mean, it’s an incredible sample size – you basically ask one question, and that’s ‘what will be hot in workplace L&D in the given year that we’re talking about’? This year, you had more than 3,500 people take part…
DT: From 112 countries.
JK: 112 countries. So I’m saying that’s a pretty good sample size to take the temperature of the planet, as it were?
DT: Well, it is but I’m never satisfied. In particular, we are underrepresented in Asia, we’re going to tackle that next year. This year, it was the turn to really focus on Africa, we got a great vote from Africa 404 votes in from 23 countries. And the year before it was South America. So each year, we’re trying to make sure we are representative of the world. It was increasingly apparent, Jon, is that yeah, 3,500 people, it’s great. But the voting does really matter, according to which country you’re in, and which continent you’re in.
And indeed, even within a continent, which part of that continent you are in, it really does vary. So I’m going to keep trying to push up year on year that sample size so that we can keep getting good representations from each part of the world that we’re in.
JK: Right? I mean, that’s interesting, because every year you have the list of the top 20, I think? 16 options?
DT: Top 15 options, and one of which is ‘other’.
JK: Okay, so from the top 15. We’ve got a fairly settled top three. But within that, a few moves around – learning analytics I see has dropped the position three last year to position five this year. Personalized delivery, or personalization, adaptive deliveries has gone up a place. Just off the very top, what can we read into this, about the results this year from the top five?
DT: I look at these results as they come in. It’s typically a two-month period of the poll. I then dwell on them. The poll finished a month ago, but I’ve been thinking about it every day since I could literally discuss just the top three for several hours with you, but I’m going to try to boil it down.
Firstly, number one is rescaling and upskilling. It’s the same as the number one last year but it has a slightly smaller vote this year. And the vote is not as unanimous as it was last year. Last year, every sector of people according to where they work, voted for it to be number one, and almost every part of the globe did apart from South America led by Brazil. So this year, it’s less clear that everyone’s behind it – education didn’t vote for it being number one, although workplace L&D vendors and self employed people did. And it wasn’t number one in a number of countries, New Zealand springs to mind where it was number four, quite unusually. I think four or five key countries where it wasn’t number one.
So it continues to be important but not dominating. The other two, it looks like not much has changed. Number two is collaborative and social learning and number three is personalized and adaptive delivery. What’s interesting is in the top half of the table, which is really where the action is where things are important, there are only two options which have gone up this year against last year, one of which is collaboration, the other which is coaching and mentoring.
The rest of the options have all gone downward, which actually is what you expect. Year on year, what tends to happen is that something initially is exciting, gets more exciting, more people think it’s hot, and then it dies away over time, you kind of expect that. So for two options to go up year on year, and in fact, to go up not just this year, compared with last year, but actually compared with 2020 they’ve gone up, again, it’s collaboration and coaching we’re talking about, that’s actually pretty unusual. So I think that’s the thing to focus on, even though collaboration stays in the second spot. It’s making its way up in terms of the share of the vote. And yeah, you’re right, personalization has gone up a spot this year from for last year to three. But what’s really important is that it’s come down in that share of the vote.
So the vote has opened up actually between the collaborative approach and the personalized approach. So the gap is now 1.5% on this overall tale of 3,500 people voting. But actually, if you look at individual countries, individual regions, there are huge variations in the gap between those two particular options, which tells us quite a lot about how different cultures I think see learning.
JK: That is interesting, I guess we’re talking about the different ways you can cut the statistics here, but reskilling, as you say, can stay number one, but take a smaller share of the vote as kind of the other options are spread around perhaps, what do you see? So do you see across different countries that there are particular commonalities? And are any of the results what you expected to see? Or more interestingly, I guess, what are the results you didn’t expect to see?
DT: Again, I can throw you all sorts of weird anomalies here. One thing that’s been consistent over time is that since 2017, North America, which is of course, dominated by the United States, has always ranked personalization above collaboration. And that’s happened again this year.
So in that case, the the gap is something like 2.3%, I think for North America, between the vote for personalization, and for collaboration, whereas in South America the gap is the other way around, they rank personalization, below collaboration. And the gap there is 7.2%, it’s absolutely massive. So although as I said on the aggregate table, personalization and collaboration seem quite close together, that’s the aggregate masking a lot of variation between, in this case continents, but also, there’s variation between countries as well.
If you look at Sweden, for example, they had a huge vote, over 17%, for rescaling and upskilling. And what’s peculiar about that is not that it was necessarily a large vote, it’s that it was so much larger than the previous year. In previous years, Sweden has always voted very heavily for collaboration, and social learning. But that’s part of the Swedish tradition of ‘folksbildning’, which is my bad pronunciation of the tradition of people coming together and helping each other learn, particularly after they finished formal education. And I was completely puzzled by this for two years, we’ve had Sweden very steadfastly voting that particular option as very high up its table and actually being the table being the country in the world that votes for it for most. This year, it switched entirely and Sweden was the country that voted the most for reskilling/upskilling it was a complete change, and I could not work out what happened.
I discussed this with some Swedes recently, and they said, Oh, yeah, Don that’s because of this new book that’s come out from…if I can get the pronunciation right, from Pär Lager, sorry for the pronunciation. I said, Well, what’s the title of the book? Well, the title of book is ‘upskill/reskill‘. Right? That book came out in the autumn of 2021. Just as we were going into polling, it got a lot of publicity. It was on people’s minds, and it swung the vote. And it goes to show that although we have, as in Sweden, some cultural things, which definitely make a difference to the vote, what’s on people’s mind at the time that they received the poll makes the huge difference. And in that case, it was just that this book had got a lot of publicity and hugely changed the vote.
JK: That is interesting. Something else that I’ve picked up on – ‘skills-based talent management‘. Brand new in the top six. So is this something that’s a genuinely new topic? Or maybe it’s a different way of framing something that’s been around before? What do you think?
DT: Well, Jon, come on. We’ve both been in this field for a long time. We know that a lot of these terms are ways of rephrasing what’s been around for a long time. Look, I used to work in a talent management software startup back in the 2000s. And we were doing this stuff, trying to find out what skills of people got, what skills do they need for the job, either now or in the future? What’s the gap? And therefore, how can we bridge that gap with typically learning? There’s nothing new about it; what’s new is the technical capability of filling that gap. But also, some people would say the technical capability to discover what skills people have got. There’s plenty people out there, claiming that it’s possible to understand people’s skills, not by asking them about their skills, but by observing their behavior, typically, in emails and elsewhere.
I think that’s a pretty bold claim. And my concern with skills-based talent management is not what it promises. Logically speaking, you should be able to do this. The promise you get out of this is a tremendous amount of value – you can finally get a skills audit for your organization, know where you’re weak, know where you need to build for the future. That’s all great. My issue is around the claims for the ability to do a lot of this work automatically using AI.
For me, I think it’s a dangerous claim to make, to claim that you can do it entirely and perfectly. To claim that you can get some way of the way, at least initially, I think it’s a fair and valid claim. But my concern is, this is going to get very exciting and very hot very quickly next year in the year after. And then, like every other trend, we’ve seen from learning experience platforms to artificial intelligence, and so on, people will pile in, they’ll claim to be doing it, even when they’re not. The message will get diluted, the value will get muddied, people will turn away from it. And we’ll have the classic crash from the peak of inflated expectations down to the trough of disillusionment. In the end, I do believe these systems are going to be part of how we do learning and development and people management generally. But I think we’re gonna go through some rocky road over the next four or five years before we get there.
JK: One other point you make about this year’s list is, well, point four on the blog post I’m looking at is ‘the pandemic casts a long shadow’. It’s difficult to predict these things as we found out, but how long do you think that it will cast a shadow over these results and/or permanently change where people are kind of putting their time and investing with their people?
DT: We’re not going back to December 2019, ever. The world has changed forever as a result of COVID-19 in so many different ways, one of which is how people learn at work. Another one, which is of course, just how people learn how people work anyway. One of the optional questions that I asked people was, what are the challenges that you face in the coming 12 months. And it was very interesting noticing that the categories I could put those answers into – and by the way, 40% of people answered that So there was a there was a lot of words, 16,000 words to read through about this – and I could put them into categories of which the biggest category was ‘engagement’, people felt that the people that were trying to help learn were insufficient engaged, partly because they were very busy and they couldn’t make time for it and prioritize it, partly because they were just tired and sitting in front of their screens all day. And they didn’t want to do that, in order to learn as well as everything else they had to do. And partly because actually, they’ve been put off the experience of learning online as a result of some fairly low quality stuff that had been going on. So there’s a long term change.
Look, we are having to adjust to the world of the hybrid environment. But there’s a short term change as well, which is, as we come out of COVID-19. How will learning and development, How will people we are supporting and how would management and executives change their expectations of what we’re doing? Because what’s happened is, people haven’t had the resources to do a great job of this, they’ve done a good enough job to get through the pandemic, now, of course, there’s not demand typically has ramped up. They haven’t gotten the resources to deal with the new demand. And they hadn’t been able to take time to go through what everyone did just to get through the pandemic and sort out the good from the bad. And so we’re moving into this slightly murky post-pandemic world without the resources and with a collection of tools, which really aren’t quite right for the job, and with the changes expectation, so it’s, going to be a tough 12 months for everyone in learning and development, I think.
JK: To ask you one final question, I think actually, to wrap it up, I know this this list isn’t. I don’t know if you mean it to be definitive…
DT: Honestly, the first list was me in a pub, having a chat with some people. I got a bit more scientific about it since but you can’t be definitive. You can’t. You can’t try to pin down L&D in 15 words plus other; what I do do is I do keep track of things over the course of the year, and I build up a shortlist of what should go on to the list this year. And then I have the awful business trying to choose typically for a list of about 12 things, the one or two things I’m going to add to the survey. Sorry, I interrupted you, what were you going to say, it’s not a definitive list…
JK: Not at all, I was just going to say, how would you most like people to see people use this list in their work?
DT: I’ll tell you two things. There is a real tendency to look at this and say, oh, that’s the answer. We should be doing this. And that’s very dangerous. It is dangerous, because what is right for you in your country, your company, your context, is unlike anything else. And you’ve got to assess what’s right in your particular position, before you look at something else for it.
Another thing that people tend to do wrong with the list is look at it and say, oh, I can see this small thing here. That proves I’m right. There’s no question being right or wrong here. I mean, look, ‘collaboration’s gone up this year, great. Does that mean that the world should all be doing collaborative learning?’ We do it anyway, regardless of whatever anybody might say in a survey, it’s naturally how we learn. But does it mean that there’s now a new tidal wave, we should be surfing, no it’s much more complicated than that.
So what I want people to do is not treated as the proof of what they should be doing or treat of proof that their prejudices about something is right. But rather, what I want people to do is look at it, and I come back to the point I made right at the beginning, I said, what I do is I help people, I try to make space for people to have useful conversations. I’d like this to be a conversation starter. Oh, look, coaching and mentoring is up. I wonder why that is? Is that because of this? Or that? How would it work for us?
I do it to stimulate conversation in your business, and with your peers, and try to get an understanding of why things are changing, and what that means for you. Rather than regarding it as being the end of a conversation. This should really be the start of a conversation to help you better understand how things work in your particular context.
JK: Well, we’ve had the conversation I’m interested to, oh, wait, why look at every year, I’m interested to see what it’s going to include next year. But more than that Don, just thanks very much. Really good to see you. And thanks for your time.
DT: Always great to chat. Yeah, hopefully we’re back again next year. And look, who knows, I never reveal what’s going to be on the list next year. But I can tell you what, unfortunately, this year ‘curation’ is almost certainly going to have to drop off the list. I’ve held on to it. But it’s, you know, nobody’s voting for it. It’s gonna have to come off this next year. Sadly.
JK: I mean, maybe it’s one of these things. I’ve thought this for a while, and I can’t really back it up with anything. But I’m wondering if a term like ‘curation’ is perhaps come off the list because it’s become part of our just what we do part of our language.
DT: There are two reasons why things tend to fade away over the table over time. One is that they become part of the furniture, business as usual. That’s definitely a ‘video’ which came up last year and for ‘mobile delivery’, fine. I don’t see people running around learning and development doing curation really well, really widely. It is done. In some places. It’s increasingly done automatically. But I think it’s what I call a ‘wallflower’. It’s something to get excited about they invite it to the dance, but never quite gets involved. And that’s happened with a few things on the list over time. So I’m afraid it’s gonna be goodbye curation, and actually goodbye to mobile delivery again, as well, next year. Well, look, it was number one in 2014. I’ve held on to it. I have an affection for it has been with us all through the time we’ve been polling. But finally it’s time to say goodbye to new things next year. What will they be? You’ll have to take the poll and find out.
JK: Interesting – good plug! Well done! Thanks so much for your time, and hopefully I’ll see you at an event or another very, very soon.
DT: Either at an event or a bar, I feel it’s inevitable.