The ancient Chinese saying "May you live in interesting times" has perhaps never been more relevant. As the 1990s draw to a close and the new millennium fast approaches, life is phenomenally interesting--and demanding. Professionals who are responsible for workplace learning and performance improvement are squarely in the center of the swirl of exciting possibilities--and requirements--that are emerging. The inextricable link between rapid technological change and the emergence of the global economy has created the necessity for profound change in the way people and organizations work. As a result, workplace learning is arguably more strategic to the competitive advantage of both individuals and employers than at any point in all of recorded history. So it's a great time to be in this profession. But along with the tremendous opportunity that this period of economic history has brought come unprecedented requirements and responsibilities. The same technological advances that are behind the rapid emergence of a truly global economy are forever changing both the demand for and supply of workplace learning opportunities. This article is the third of ASTD's annual reports that identify major trends that are affecting the field of workplace learning and performance improvement. The underlying trends that were identified in the first two of these articles (see the November 1996 and 1997 issues of Training & Development) are longstanding and not likely to change in the near term. Four particularly noteworthy demand-side developments are the growing effort given to managing knowledge, the integration of learning and communication functions, a resurgence of interest in leadership development and executive coaching, and the intensifying requirement among employees that career development become an integral part of their employment relationship. The supply-side developments to follow are those that hold the potential for revolutionizing the way in which work and learning occur: the Internet, intelligent tutoring systems, learning objects, and voice recognition. Two important developments in the marketplace for workplace learning, where supply meets demand, are the ongoing consolidation within the supplier community and the creation of an electronic marketplace where buyers and sellers of learning products and tools can meet virtually. Demand and supply--powerful, global forces that cannot be escaped but that can be harnessed to your advantage. So read on for a glimpse of what the world holds in store for you as the new year and the new millennium unfold. And as you read, keep in mind another old saying--"forewarned is forearmed."
The demand for workplace learning and performance improvement Periods of rapid change create a premium on learning--for both individuals and organizations. Prosperity and growth are the rewards for those who are the fastest at learning and putting their learning into action; stagnation and decline are the penalties for delay. In an era when it is knowledge rather than physical assets that increasingly defines competitive advantage, the process of managing knowledge becomes a central part of the learning process.
According to some observers, the industrial era's successor--the information age, in which white-collar jobs exceeded blue-collar jobs and entire industries arose just to help companies manage and process information--is already at or past the midpoint of its life cycle. The ever-declining cost of processing information has made it universally available. Indeed, information has become a commodity that is readily bought and sold. As a result, it is no longer enough to define competitive advantage. Gone are the days, for example, when banks could compete exclusively on the basis of which had the fastest information technology or which could slice and dice...