The Globalization of Learning: The Shift from the Margins to the Heart of the Enterprise

The Mindset versus the Technology

Many years ago, when I was running an educational technology company, I always looked forward to my biannual trips to Silicon Valley. That was when I learned about what was coming next. In those days, Silicon Valley had at least a two-year lead-time on the rest of the world and that allowed my company to plan and strategize for what was eventually going to appear. In general, there was a huge amount of asymmetrical development in technology but particularly in learning technologies.

If we go back even further, the UK established the Open University in 1968 and in 1975 Germany established the FernUniversität. These second chance universities were spectacularly successful and both remain the largest universities in their respective countries. But any mention of either the OU or the FernU was met with incredulity when you crossed the Atlantic. There was no influence at all. The work done on open learning in the UK in the 80’s was reinvented 20 years later to become the open resources movement. That partitioning of the world seems almost unimaginable now. Everything that happens in Berlin or London mirrors what is happening in San Francisco or New York. News, as well as venture capital, traverses the world in an instant.

The Long Journey

Everything has accelerated. Talk to any big company about all the challenges facing leadership with no real answers or the ability to respond to all the potential disruptions that surround them to understand the profundity of these changes. It would seem disingenuous in this world of instant connectivity not to update how learning is delivered and the mindset that underpins that delivery.

If learning is to be at the heart of the organization, it has to profoundly interconnect with every aspect of the organization and be sensitive to the needs of staff at all levels. Learning teams urgently need to:

  • Interconnect with business decisions on all levels, and their human implications
  • Develop people faster than their external environment is changing
  • Help build a culture of self-directed, self-motivated, lifelong learners that learning people support and facilitate but do not control

This takes us far beyond skills mapping and competence assurance. There has to be a growth mindset, where the vast majority of staff take their own careers and destiny seriously. They need to believe in their own ability to learn and cope with change and be provided with the tools to be able to do this on a continuous basis so that their work becomes learning, and their learning becomes work. Just as technology touches most of everything they do, this process must also be drenched in technology.

The Organizational Gyroscope

Imagine a pilot trying to fly without a gyroscope to indicate the artificial horizon and the relationship of the plane to that horizon. The pilot will be flying blind, which would be undesirable and dangerous. If you don’t know where the horizon is, flying upside down is as easy as flying the right way up. In just the same way, learning is the gyroscope that powers and energizes the organization as a constant reminder of where the horizons are. It is crucial for organizations to navigate the turbulence of the present and build for the uncertainty of the future with a strong culture of learning that turns insight into action and builds a common agenda to tackle the tasks and challenges ahead.

Nigel Paine

Nigel Paine joined the GP Strategies Advisory Board in 2018 and has been involved in corporate learning for over twenty-five years. In April 2002, he was appointed as head of the BBC’s learning and development operation. Under his leadership, the team transformed the learning function and put it on the corporate map. He left the BBC in September 2006 to start a company focused on building great workplaces by promoting creativity, innovation, values-based leadership, and learning and exploring the link between them.

Nigel teaches in the CLO Doctoral Program at the University of Pennsylvania and has written two books, “The Learning Challenge: Dealing with Technology, Innovation and Change in Learning and Development” and “Building Leadership Development Programmes That Work.” He is currently working on a new book on building and developing a learning culture.

Nigel also presents a monthly TV series (Learning Now TV) and hosts a weekly podcast with Martin Couzins called “From Scratch.” He regularly speaks at conferences and writes articles for magazines and journals about development, technology, and leadership.
One comment on “The Globalization of Learning: The Shift from the Margins to the Heart of the Enterprise
  1. David Grebow says:

    Great article Nigel! It mirrors what Steve Gill and I wrote in our bestselling management book “Minds at Work.” https://www.td.org/books/minds-at-work. If you get a chance let me know what you think about the research. Thanks!

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