900 years ago, organized religions provided the primary source of people’s values and soft skills training. People learned how to behave in society, how to cope with difficulty, and how to be successful, from their religious leaders and texts.
People didn’t have much choice on what they were taught, and everyone was expected to attend.
Adults were learning jobs though ‘on-the-job training’ by watching master craftsmen (often their parents).
Over the next 800 years, public and private education became available to teach a to children and adults, resulting in greatly increased literacy and ability for people to learn.
As non-religious organizations grew through the agricultural and industrial revolutions, so did people’s needs for more specific soft-skills guidance (such as how to be a leader of many people, or make processes more efficient).
The last 50 years
By the 1950s, great business writers like Peter Drucker were educating people on how to better manage & motivate employees. Organizations like Toyota were developing training programs that helped their employees to work more efficiently, identify and address issues, and continuously improve.
In the 1980s, training videos became popular for catering for specific employee’s needs for sales, customer service and communication skills.
The rise of the Internet in the 1990s meant that people could do their own research more easily, and be served with even more specific content to meet their training needs.
The next two decades brought huge innovation in multi-media training creation & delivery, customized & responsive e-learning, online assessment, and online community engagement.
It is now possible for someone in Lagos (Nigeria) to develop an online course about entrepreneurship in developing markets, make this available online (e.g. via Udemy.com) and allow people from around the world to find the course, enroll, and consume content in the forms of text, audio, video and ‘mashups’ (mix of slides & video).
Yet, with all the amazing opportunities for learning that are available, many L&D managers are finding that employee training attendance in organizations has decreased.
More so than ever before, people are more inundated with information, have access to a wider array of options, and have a greater understanding of the value of their time.
But this is no excuse for empty seats in your training programs.
This reduction in attendance is primarily due to L&D falling behind in its capacity to create irresistible offerings, promote these effectively to ensure they are attended, and build content that helps employees share what they learn.
If this problem is not addressed, we can expect the role of L&D to spiral downwards.
Employees will be left to find their own training: performing their own research, pitching their needs and how they will fill these to their managers, and making the case for budget.
This costs the business time and money, and employees deserve better than this.