In this exclusive interview with Learnnovators, Jane Hart shares her insights on the disruptive trends that are presently influencing workplace learning.

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Jane Hart is the Founder of the Centre for Learning & Performance Technologies (C4LPT) – one of the world’s leading websites on learning trends, technologies and tools.

Jane has been advising businesses for over 25 years, and currently focuses on helping organizations and learning professionals modernize their approaches to workplace learning – not just by updating their training practices but by enabling and supporting continuous learning.

Jane is the author of a number of online resources including Modern Workplace Learning 2020, as well as ‘How to become a Modern Learner’. She is an international speaker on modern approaches to workplace learning.

She is the recipient of the ‘2013 Colin Corder Award for Outstanding Contribution to Learning’ instituted by UK-based Learning & Performance Institute (LPI), and the ‘2018 Distinguished Contribution to Talent Development’ award instituted by ATD (Association for Talent Development).


Crystal Balling with Learnnovators is a thought-provoking interview series that attempts to gaze into the future of e-learning. It comprises stimulating discussions with industry experts and product evangelists on emerging trends in the learning landscape.

Join us on this exciting journey as we engage with thought leaders and learning innovators to see what the future of our industry looks like.


1. LEARNNOVATORS: We are great fans of your work, Jane. You are a thought leader who has been continuously striving to inspire the community to ‘modernize’ workplace learning. It’s an honor to have you here today to discuss the past, present, and future of workplace learning!

The community considers you an exceptional thought leader in the field of workplace learning. For many years now, being in the role of a learning strategist, you have been inspiring the community with your insights on workplace learning trends, technologies, and tools. According to you, in today’s workplaces, there is a need for a ‘new approach’ to workplace learning that you call ‘Modern Workplace Learning’. What does your research spanning many years indicate about the changing nature of learning at work? What do you see as disruptive trends that are presently influencing workplace learning? How, according to you, are workplace learning practices evolving in sync with these disruptions? In short, why is a ‘modern’ approach to workplace learning required now?

JANE HART: Firstly, thank you for the kind words.

So, to answer your question very briefly, traditionally, learning in the workplace has been all about training people to do their jobs, i.e., telling them what to learn, how to learn it and making sure they do it. In recent years, however, although the term ‘workplace learning’ has come more into fashion, it is largely still based on a ‘modern training’ model. In other words, although there has been a trend from classrooms to e-learning to ‘learning in the workflow,’ it is still a ‘command and control’ model of knowledge transfer and monitoring what people have done and learned.

However, from my own research, it is clear that most learning at work takes place outside of all that – as people do their jobs and have everyday experiences from which they learn, from informal interactions with other people (team members and colleagues), as well as by finding out things for themselves. I call these the 4 Ds of Learning: DOING, DISCOURSE AND DISCOVERY together with DIDACTICS.

And, in fact, my recent survey has shown that people believe that only 13% of what they learn comes from DIDACTICS, but around 20% comes from DISCOURSE, 30% from DOING THE DAY JOB, and 37% from DISCOVERY. (See more HERE).

So for me, Modern Workplace Learning then is not just about telling people what to learn and making sure they do it (i.e., DIDACTICS), but supporting all these four ways of learning.

Now, while L&D can ‘command and control’ the DIDACTIC approach, that approach doesn’t work with the other three. So their role is more about enabling and supporting all these ways of learning – and in particular, ensuring they are seen as important and valuable in the modern workplace.

2. LEARNNOVATORS: Being a huge proponent of social learning, you feel that in order to be successful at it, organizations need to ‘Walk the Social Talk’. We agree with this and also believe that today’s L&D teams need to play a key role in helping their own organizations embrace social learning by playing the role of ‘learning enablers’ rather than being mere ‘training providers’. How has the potential for social learning at the workplace changed during this remote working scenario? How is L&D faring in supporting this across workplaces? Do you have any inspiring stories that you can share with us?

JANE HART: Social learning happens when people interact and learn from other people in all contexts. This might be in a formal training event – but as I explained above, it happens more frequently in everyday (informal) interactions. And, as I’ve also implied, learning in this informal way is often not recognized or valued as learning.

So, this is a new area where perhaps L&D can help – although they will need to shake off the need to have to control the whole activity and process – and rather help, i.e., facilitate or guide, people to share resources and experiences with one another as a natural and integral part of daily work.

Social learning is not a separate activity at work; it is one that is a vital part of daily work. So, if something crops up as you work, e.g., you might read something or hear something or do something that others might benefit from, then it’s important to share it with them.

Having said that, it’s also important to share effectively and discriminately – and not over-share. It’s about adding value to other people’s working lives and not overwhelming them with stuff, and certainly not about trying to reach the top of some artificial leaderboard that rewards those who post the most! But unless L&D does this themselves in their own teams, they cannot help or role model this behavior in others.

3. LEARNNOVATORS: For you, continuous learning has always been “a key aspect of workplace learning that can be enabled and supported in the workplace.” You feel that “organizations are beginning to recognize that learning and development in today’s world is more than providing training and online courses, and that they now need to offer a more flexible approach to continuous learning at work.” However, you are also of the view that “most people’s personal learning has taken a bit of a back seat during these work-from-home times,” and you attribute this to a lack of time or interest in self-development on their part. How do you think L&D can support employees in mastering the skills they need to thrive in today’s workplaces by cultivating a self and continuous learning mindset during these challenging times?

JANE HART: Many people recognize they do need to take control of their own continuous learning and development and can’t rely on their organizations to ensure they are ready for the future.

I think the COVID interruption has meant people have had their minds on other things over the last six months (both family and work), and other online demands on their time have taken priority. But as things return slowly to some sort of normality, it will be important for them to think again about their own future – in a new, very different, and volatile world.

And L&D can help with this – empowering and enabling and (indeed) supporting them to do much more for themselves. After all, L&D can’t create everything everyone needs at work or prepare them for the future.

However, L&D will need to take on a very different role in the workplace as advisors, consultants, and supporters – or Modern Workplace Learning Practitioners as I call them – who support all 4 Ds of learning.

See more HERE.

4. LEARNNOVATORS: Workplace learning is changing more dynamically than ever before, and as a result, there is a fundamental shift in how organizations perceive it. Like us, you too seem to be a fan of Future of Work Strategist, Heather McGowan, and have been sharing her thought-provoking insights such as this: “The end state of being “educated” is just no longer meaningful. An individual must have learning agility – the ability to learn, adapt, and apply in quick cycles.” As an ardent practitioner of continuous learning, you advocate that we workplace learning professionals should lead the charge. What are some of the key things that we should do to help our organizations become ‘learning organizations’ that are truly prepared for the future of work?

JANE HART: The only way to do this is for Modern Workplace Learning Practitioners to role model what this means. To show their people how THEY are agile learners and constantly do something for themselves and take some time – even just 20 to 30 minutes every day – to discover (and learn) something new. It’s all about “do as I do, not do as I say.”

5. LEARNNOVATORS: The learning community is indebted to you for your efforts in publishing the ‘Top Tools for Learning’ survey report continuously for the past 14 years now! We have always been fascinated by this list since it provides great insights on the tools available in the market. We have been following it for quite some time in our quest to keep up with the rapid changes happening in how people learn at work. In this context, we find this thought from Will Thalheimer quite intriguing: “The explosion of different learning technologies beyond authoring tools and LMSs is likely to create a wave of innovations in learning. Organizations now — and even more so in the near future — will use many tools in a Learning-Technology Stack.” Here are a few questions that we would like to have your thoughts on: What are the key findings from your annual survey published this year? What trends do you see with respect to the tools people use that help integrate work with their learning, both before and during the lockdown periods?

JANE HART: This year, it has unsurprisingly been web meeting platforms like Zoom and Microsoft Teams and collaboration platforms like Microsoft Teams and Slack that top the list. But I’ve also noticed a return to some of the old favorites like Office tools, and even email has become more popular this year.

L&D have had to convert their training offerings into an online format pretty much overnight — and many seem to have found that e-learning authoring tools and sophisticated content tools require too much time and effort to create (so these have gone down the list this year).

See my full analysis HERE.

But certainly, the increased popularity of enterprise work-based tools and platforms shows that it requires a much larger technology ecosystem than just the traditional learning platforms and content development tools in order for all ways of learning to be underpinned in the workplace.

See more HERE.

6. LEARNNOVATORS: You have been voicing your concerns on the poor quality of e-learning courses. It is thought-provoking to hear you say: “There is a growing frustration with current e-learning. As a result, some employees are now paying their children to take their e-learning for them.” We know that e-learning hasn’t yet started leveraging the incredible power of the internet or the web. For example, we still do not see successful e-learning implementations that are powered by real-time interactive and collaborative learning modalities. When it comes to e-learning, we are locked up inside a dreaded silo, whereas the games that keep kids as well as adults engrossed today are ‘real-time’ and ‘multiplayer’. Not a lot has changed with respect to e-learning in all these years compared to the advancements that have happened in other aspects of our lives. Would you subscribe to the thinking that e-learning is yet to evolve to remain relevant in this digital and social age? If yes, what would be your suggestions for e-learning to step up?

JANE HART: The term ‘e-learning’ just like the word ‘learning’ means different things to different people. For many people, e-learning equals linear, click-next, online courses which is what they have grown to detest for many different reasons. I actually try NOT to use the term e-learning anymore because of all the negative connotations the term has.

I think the problem has arisen due to the abundance of e-learning authoring tools that just promote and replicate old thinking.

7. LEARNNOVATORS: Back in the day, formal learning was the only source of information or expert knowledge. However, that’s not the case today. Google and YouTube have changed the game. The focus is on learning how to solve problems on the go. There is a fundamental shift in how organizations even perceive workplace learning. The focus has shifted from ‘owning knowledge’ to ‘knowing how to access information to construct knowledge’. But today’s e-learning continues to be tedious. We google first for ‘helpful resources’ on the topic and maybe check with our peers at the workplace next if required. We, at Learnnovators, agree with the school of thought that advocates a purpose-built ‘resources first approach‘ that respects the intelligence and the prior experience of learners in place of the conventional ‘e-learning first’ approach for immediate effectiveness at work. In this context, it is exciting to see you too advocating the creation of short, flexible online resources in varied formats that can be used for different purposes including just-in-time learning and performance support in place of heavy, online courses. Given this scenario, do you think e-learning in its original format is dead or has become irrelevant? What would be the best approach to move away from ‘learning’ to ‘resources for performance support’ to find newer ways for people to learn and perform at work?

JANE HART: All the while people have e-learning authoring tools that drive them in the direction of linear, click-next courses, that’s what they will produce.

So, one way to break out of this thinking and focus on the creation of resources is to avoid them completely and use other simpler tools like Word or PowerPoint.

Yes, PowerPoint! This is an underrated, versatile tool that due to bad press is often overlooked, but it can be used to create many different types of useful resources very easily and very quickly.

8. LEARNNOVATORS: It is inspiring to hear you say, “…people will be emerging from lockdown with very different expectations of how they want to work and learn in the future. We are all going to have to adapt to new practices, habits and behaviors when we are back at work, so this is prime time to start preparing for the new world of workplace learning.” It is great to see you on this inspiring journey to help drive change in how people learn at work. Just like you, we too are excited to visualize the future of learning; it looks very bright. We believe that learning will evolve much further than leveraging the power of emerging technologies to some incredible dimensions. What are the trends that will shape the future of workplace learning in 2020 and beyond? And what is your vision for the L&D community?

JANE HART: Well, it’s not been the rebels or disruptors who’ve brought about a change in thinking about workplace learning; it’s been COVID that has done that!

But like every industry that’s been affected by the restrictions in place, I think this is the time to rethink L&D’s mindset and approaches.

It’s not going to be about buying shiny new learning platforms; instead, just use the (mostly) work-based tools and platforms that are in place well. I think it’s time to take stock and re-focus on the fundamentals of L&D’s role.

I wrote an article called Back to Basics: 10 lessons for Virtual L&D, which provides some guidance on this.

See the details HERE.

And I’m also currently preparing a new resource. It’s called Back to Basics and is an extension of my MWL resource.

Find out more HERE.

9. LEARNNOVATORS: Our hearty congratulations to you on being selected as one of the ‘Top 100 HR Influencers of 2020’ under the Leadership and Development category by engagedly. Though we are not quite sure if you were recognized enough for your contributions to the society, this, we believe, is an absolutely deserving recognition for your incredible work in inspiring the learning community! How do you look at this honorable achievement? How do you think these kinds of recognitions will help fuel your vision for the L&D community?

JANE HART: Thank you. It’s often just the negative voices that make themselves heard the loudest – so it’s good to hear that people do find value in what I do. It spurs me on to do more.

LEARNNOVATORS: Before we sign off, we thank you so much for your time today, Jane. We’ve had an amazing time listening to your great insights with many valuable takeaways. We’ll take these learnings to foster our commitment to practice and promote continuous learning and innovation at work. We eagerly look forward to collaborating with you on some exciting initiatives in future. Thank you!

JANE HART: Thanks for inviting me.

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