Learning innovation in the digital age


Here is a brief excerpt from a commentary for the McKinsey Quarterly, published by McKinsey & Company. To read the complete article, check out other resources, learn more about the firm, obtain subscription information, and register to receive email alerts, please click here.

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As the workplace changes, so must education and training. Exciting experiments are under way—but are they enough?

As technology transforms the workplace, the need for innovation in learning and development is urgent. In a series of recent discussions, members of the Consortium for Advancing Adult Learning & Development (CAALD)—a group of learning authorities whose members include researchers, corporate and nonprofit leaders, and McKinsey experts—recently met in Boston for the second year in a row.

In a series of discussions, CAALD explored what is, and isn’t, being done to innovate in these fields. Many CAALD experts were skeptical about the ability of universities to respond rapidly enough. Some also suggested that as the workplace changes, the role of the college degree will shift as well—and that its value could even decline. Fortunately, innovation is taking place both at universities and businesses, including AT&T, edX, Microsoft, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Participants described the potential of these and other developments. And they agreed that while some companies are ready to explore new ways of developing talent, sorting through the options is complex and time consuming. The rapid growth of the gig economy creates additional challenges—and opportunities—for innovation efforts.

Here we present edited excerpts of these experts’ reflections, which build on related CAALD discussions exploring artificial intelligence and the future of work.

From gig economy to distributed teams

Inertia in higher education

Jason Palmer, general partner, New Markets Venture Partners: Our higher-education system is 25 years behind the curve. There needs to be a new set of institutions and programs that are jointly owned and managed by corporations or industry.

Betsy Ziegler, chief innovation officer, Kellogg School of Management: One of the flaws of the American higher-education system is that once you cross the graduation stage, we largely sever the relationship with you—with the exception of viewing you as a donor. Your connection and loyalty to the school haven’t changed but the relationship with the institution has. At Kellogg, we say, “Congratulations” and give them a discount off executive-education programs and lifelong access to the career-management center. But we do nothing with respect to “how are your skills and capabilities changing over time? And what can we do to help you meet these needs?”

Lynda Gratton, professor of management practice, London Business School: The universities will struggle to adapt to lifetime learning. At London Business School, we launched the masters in management as a one-year program for students at the beginning of their careers. We also have the Sloan program for midcareer people. But lifelong learning is a more complex challenge, and while individual faculty are enthusiastic, from an institutional perspective it’s hard to see how this would fit with our current teaching practices or, indeed, how we could create a business model around it.

Misaligned incentives

Beth Davies, former director of learning and development, Tesla: I remember talking to some community colleges that we were working with. I was asking them about creating a certificate program, say, for manufacturing engineers. And they were a bit reticent because their funding is based on completion rate.

Lee Rubenstein, vice president of business development, edX: Think about that—the North Star there isn’t the student, it’s the funding.

Damian Ewens, project director, Opportunity@Work: I was in a six-month-long conversation with a big community college and one of the coding boot camps, and we were talking about how they might partner to blend the best of the demand-driven-skills training within an academic institution. Six months later, the idea finally got to the computer-science faculty. The chair of the department discussed with the head of the coding boot camp the need to align standards and outcomes.

“What are your outcomes?” the professor asked.

“We have a 90 percent job-placement rate,” said the head of the boot camp.

“No. No. What are your outcomes?”

“Everyone gets a job.”

“I hear that. I need to know what your outcomes are.”

A chorus of faculty began to chime in about learning outcomes, and the boot-camp leader responded, “We design the learning with the companies to make sure people get the skills to get a job. But the ultimate outcome is still the job.” The faculty was not convinced: “That’s not good enough.” Conversation over.

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