It is hard to imagine now, but there was a time, not so long ago, when we went to in-person conferences. We shook hands. We shared meals and toasted our glasses.
I have no idea when my global network will meet again, and not through the distorted lens of a webcam. There is a sense of grief for the way things were and a nostalgia for what life was like. When I look back, the last “normal” conference I spoke at was Netex i-love learning in Madrid.
This event stands out for me because in February, the pandemic was not even a threatening shadow. Yes, we had heard about this mysterious virus far away, but there was no fear or visible impact. Likewise, Netex combined a lot of provocative content and research alongside personal storytelling.
It has been an interesting exercise playing back those discussions against the backdrop of our situation today. Suddenly, the importance of education, connection, and sharing information, has never been greater.
Margarita Álvarez P de Zabalza
Margarita Álvarez P de Zabalza spoke eloquently about what she describes as nomads of knowledge, or “knowmads”. She explained that knowledge is a form of currency and the more we learn, the more valuable we are to the whole. Additionally, this concept of a “knowmad” is heavily impacted by technology; the algorithms that target individuals, the inequalities of access to technology, and availability of data. These observations were highly topically in February, but in today’s circumstances, they are drastically accelerated.
As our world moves to digital, technology plays a critical role. In previous pandemics, there was no internet or economically feasible way to maintain connections. Now, we have these portals to share experiences and knowledge. However, it can come with a fatigue. It is unreasonable and unproductive for people to interact with screens for eight or more hours a day. To continue the growth of the knowmad in the time of COVID, technology will need to evolve incredibly rapidly to provide meaningful connections. Failure to do so will mean ideation in isolation. We will lose the potential of collective solutions because of a lack of connectivity. This is a dangerous scenario.
Elisabetta Galli, Global Head of Knowledge, Development and Talent Management, at Banco Santander, gave a compelling interview about their transition in L&D to support the radical vision of becoming a completely digital bank by 2025. The result was the development of a digital upskilling platform called the Dojo, where all employees could learn, contribute, and assess their skills. For companies now facing the need to transition L&D quickly to digital, Elisabetta’s work provides a strong roadmap for how to succeed.
Donald H Taylor
A highlight of the event was Don Taylor, Chairman of the LPI. He shared the results of his annual Global Sentiment Survey for 2020. This is a yearly open survey with over 2,200 respondents from 86 countries. Learning analytics finally crept into top spot, pushing topics like Personalized/Adaptive Learning and Artificial Intelligence lower. Social Learning and Learning Experience Platforms were also on the rise, although Mobile, Video, and Neuroscience/Cognitive Science fell.
We are only five months into 2020 (despite it feeling much longer). Given the severity of the situation, it is nearly impossible to predict what will be the sentiment of L&D for 2021. Already our standards of leadership are shifting from bold strength to selfless empathy, to reflect the movement more accurately from individual to societal priorities. What will be of importance to L&D and the learners we serve? Will there be something completely new? No matter what, I hope we are working together as an industry for the collective good.
The most memorable talk of the event was given by Ousman Umar, President of the Nasco Foundation. With unflinching honesty, he told his emotional journey from Ghana to Barcelona, in pursuit of education. I have personally reflected on his words since February and they are more important today. His message on the need to change the story for those in need is even more critical in today’s circumstances.
No one knows how this pandemic will end, but now more than ever, education is critical. As the economy shifts, people will need to train for new roles. New industries will emerge, such as sanitation, medical waste recycling, and supply chain optimization. These will all require the skills of L&D to help them pivot successfully. The more we can contribute our skills, and embrace innovation amidst chaos, the more we can help our communities thrive and return to health.