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Three Reasons Why Corporate Training Departments Could Become Extinct

Fonzie Jumps the SharkFor some, the idea that a major corporation could do without it’s training department is unthinkable.  But, there are clearly trends pointing to the disappearance (or at least the dramatic shrinkage), of the traditional corporate training team.

How will training be produced and delivered in the future?  Most likely by small, specialized teams focused on business results.   Teams will be project-driven, closer to the customer, and more focused on giving workers knowledge and skills while they’re working, rather than creating ways to take them out of their work to consume “training.”

I should acknowledge here that there will continue to be some corporate function responsible for performance improvement, but traditional training departments will – at minimum – continue to be downsized and further decentralized.  In fact, for many training professionals who have been downsized or re-deployed recently, this entire blog post may sound like old news.

3 reasons for the trend away from traditional, centralized training functions:

1.  The democratization of content-creation

One of the most notable aspects of recent advances in technology, is the democratization of creative output.   Take the film industry as an example.  It wasn’t long ago that it took months, or years, and at least tens of thousands of dollars to produce the most bare bones, budget-conscious feature film or television show.  Want to create something with a little higher production values?  A million dollars would barely get you started.  Today, broadcast quality video can be shot on a digital SLR camera that costs less than $2,000.

A similar trend is taking place in the learning and development industry.  Less than a decade ago, the technical aspects of eLearning development were the purview of a select group of developers, schooled in the art and science of HTML, Flash, Dreamweaver, and other relatively high-learning-curve disciplines.

Today, dozens of rapid authoring tools have sprung up that require little to no technical expertise.  As a result, many business leaders no longer rely on the training department for performing, or outsourcing, technical eLearning development.
But who will produce the training?   The answer is simple:  everyone.  Professionals in every area of the business – Finance, Operations, HR – will produce and deliver their own training.

It’s true, this training-by-everyone may not result in high quality (see Point 2, below: Lowered Expectations), but eventually, it will become the norm.  Tools like Mindflash and Brainshark are quickly gaining traction in the marketplace, as ways to turn everything a company has “laying around,” like Powerpoints and videos, and turn them into training.  Check out this article in Fast Company last week called How Mint Exec’s New Company is Going to Make Teachers Out of Us All.

2. Lowered expectations

The second reason it will be possible for everyone to produce training, is that traditional expectations, like fancy graphics and animation, are going away.

Don’t believe it?  Just look at YouTube.  Every day, thousands of videos are uploaded, most shot on home video gear, with production quality that is – by broadcast video standards – absolutely dismal.

Yet despite the horrendous production values, dozens of YouTube videos garner audiences every day that rival television shows with million-dollar production budgets, at least on a dollar-per-viewer-acquired basis.

For example (and you really should check out this link) this guy, who blows stuff up with automatic weapons, is so cool (at least to his viewers), he’s like a modern-day Fonzie.

Fonzie Equals Gun Guy on YouTube

This de-evolution of expectations will, like most on-line consumer trends (e.g., Facebook), eventually find its way into the corporate environment.

Many long-time training professionals will look at content generated by tools like Mindflash and Brainshark and protest with statements like:  “But all they’re doing is stringing together Powerpoint slides, (Mindflash) how is that training?”, and  “Voice-over recording use a telephone?(Brainshark) Are you kidding? My company will never go for it.”

Well, they’re going for it, and in a big way.

3. Money

training-budget-cutThe third reason training departments will play a different role in the future:  budgets.  Once executives see that performance improvements can be gained by giving teams responsibility for their own training, they may see redundancy with the training department and cut budgets.

It is true that much of this change is not budget cutting so much as budget re-allocation, but the result for the traditional, centralized training department, is the same.

What To Do About It

What can learning professionals do to secure their places in a future where traditional training functions are being decentralized and democratized?  Here are a few ideas:

  1. Understand your company’s business. You can make yourself indispensable by understanding how your company makes money, and how human performance impacts your company’s bottom line.  With this understanding, you can secure opportunities to work on project teams with specific business objectives like process and quality improvement, ERP implementation, or marketing automation.  To contribute to these teams, you will need to stretch yourself beyond knowing how to build a training course, but the challenge will reward you many times over.
  2. Don’t become too aligned with any single technology. It’s great to become a specialist (in fact, simply learning how to use Captivate has created a lot of income for many learning professionals).  However,  tools change with amazing speed, and if you are not adapting to the latest, you’ll be left behind.
  3. Learn about Social Learning. Companies will continue to capitalize on the discovery that workers learn best from one another.  If you can put yourself in a position to facilitate that transition, your input will become highly valued and sought after in your company.

What do you think?  Do you agree that training departments (as we know them today) are going away?

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I have been involved in enterprise learning, in big companies and ... less big companies, for more than 20 years. My learning philosophy: don't make people tote around loads of information in their heads just so you can say you trained them. Instead, tell them where to get the information they need, when they need it. I like to read, make films and play guitar (in private). I am a member of the Dashe & Thomson running and biking teams, and captain of its small but emerging chess team. More about me here.
  • video production

    Jon, you make some good points.

    Democratization of content, for example, has harmed training video production.

    Sure, it’s cheaper to make training videos now, but they look terrible like YouTube, and they’re equally uneffective.

  • http://www.vitaltrg.com/home.php Soft SKills Training Institute India

    Hey hi..i just go through the post. i think there are so many reasons for extinct in training development. but from here i got great updates. thank you.