Digitalization transforms our way of living, working, relating to others. It also changes the way we train ourselves. We have known for a long time that technology is not merely a tool that we use like in the previous industrial revolutions, but a reality that interacts symbiotically with us, changing whoever uses it. The question is no longer about what we can do with technology, but what technology does to us. As recently pointed out by The Economist, brain-computer interfaces can change what it means to be human. The next technological frontier is right under the skull. It is time to examine the role that corresponds to us as humans in this process. I will put forward some reflections on the new role we are going to play in training:
- Digitalization is unstoppable. Anything that can be automated will be automated, when the costs of a technology solution are lower than for tasks done by a human operator. This advance leaves no room for nostalgia of bygone times or even a sterile resistance to changes that will be imposed anyway.
- Digitization has only just started. The impact it has on our way of thinking and working still has a long way to go. In its first stage, e-learning was understood as a channel, a set of tools that enabled knowledge to be disseminated more efficiently. E-learning was part of the delivery, of the processes through which knowledge reached its recipients. Now we observe that technology not only intervenes in dissemination, but also in the generation of knowledge. Upstream technology implies that training contents are selected, structured, and produced by automated systems. Downstream technology implies that the impact and profitability of training are measured by big data analysis and tools that establish correlations between the individual and organizational performance with training actions. Everything upstream and downstream is probably documented through technologies like the Blockchain.
- The growing technological disruption in training activities is an opportunity for human beings, not a threat. Within the training process, tasks traditionally performed by people will be executed by automated systems. It is then when we will discover what our competitive advantage is, how a man or a woman actually contributes value as individuals of the human species. We will stop dedicating ourselves to tasks in which we can be replaced to advantage and we will focus on tasks to which we can bring a difference. For example, machines will surpass us in the tool-based knowledge transmission but they will not be able to compete with us in the definition of objectives and in the configuration of our values. Let us leave the means to machines, and let us tackle the ends.
- Face-to-face training has higher direct and opportunity costs than e-learning. For this activity, it is much more difficult to generate economies of scale. It is much more difficult to generate economies of scale in this activity. In future, conducting classroom training activities have to be justified. Whatever can be done online, that does not need people to be present simultaneously in the same physical space, will be done online. That does not mean that face-to-face training will disappear. To grapple with a rising powerful competitor, this will simply improve. When designing a face-to-face course, the question will be what must happen in the room to justify several people travelling to the venue and turning up at the same time? If what happens is something memorable, something that is very difficult to replicate through other procedures, then that training action will be well justified.
All these questions are addressed in the programme of the XVII Expoelearning congress in Madrid. I am convinced that the debate among training professionals about a future already here is the best way for the sector to evolve at the pace that society and the market demand.