I just returned from ATD 2017 in Atlanta, where I spent most of my time talking to vendors and training colleagues about how L&D is getting done today, how managers are coached (if they’re being coached), and how emerging leaders are being supported in their professional development efforts.  I’ve also been catching up with my professional reading as I settle back in the office after 6 weeks of working travel. One update publication caught my eye. Thomas Frey, a Colorado futurist and colleague, addressed the World Economic Forum, saying that by 2030, the largest company on the internet would be an education-based company that we haven’t heard of yet.

Really? Of all the educational institutions around the world already, Dr. Frey says most will be gone or small players because they’re hampered by old school methods. Like it or not, social media, the Internet, and Artificial Intelligence are transforming the way we teach, train, and learn. This transformational opportunity (and risk) is facing L&D departments and educational institutions.

Reflecting on What Dr. Frey provoked in me, I wondered how accurate he was. I presented often in the 1990’s at International Telework Association and Online Learning Conferences about trained a lot of managers to virtually lead telecommuters. Nearly 30 years later, I spent two weeks in Australia as a Learning Engagement master and fellow to bridge virtual classroom distance.  I’ve been working with Vocational Technical educators to better blend the classroom with online learning.

I also teach graduate students online at the University of Denver in both the Organization Leadership and Organization Development graduate programs. I continuously learn to “applify” my coursework to remain engaging. Even though HR.com lists DU’s leadership graduate program as the 4th best such degree program, will we continue to excel? I realize how fast my skill sets evolve just to stay current.

The digital revolution does mean the end of learning as we know it.

Expertise and good classroom management skills are not enough to be a good teacher. MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) are often a very good, and a fast-growing competitor. Search engines are dynamic, connecting the searcher to much more relevant information, faster than any smart instructor can do. Google “learns” us every time we search. dynamically responsive to its users.

Frankly, most teachers lose to Dr. Google and YouTube when it comes to sharing simple, on-demand, easy to digest information. Despite my decades of experience, I can never be as responsive to learners as AI, even though I’m “in class” twice a day.  Students depend on Alexa and Siri more than they rely on me as their temporary learning guide.

Are trainers and teachers becoming replaceable?

We need to bring more value to learning. Trainers are learning guides; we are the sticky factor. We connect learners to each other, their career, and learning, especially when learning online, but how?

We are the designers, the curators and guides. Ask yourself where your L&D department can better partner with digital resources to strengthen management development training.  How can you better use social media and apps? Do you include team activities and evaluation? Do you require robust online discussion forum participation? How much do you incorporate peer learning into the management courses?

Here are 5 Easy Engagement Actions that all L&D professionals can take beginning today:

  1. Connect learners to the course’s learning path, structure, and logic. Ensure your LMS and course path makes sense. Use story and gamification principles to connect the learner to the material.
  2. Connect with learns as whole people, authentically. Share your personality and appreciate theirs. Welcome humor, learn everyone’s professional goals, experiences and strengths, their quirks, and where they need extra attention.
  3. Meet students where they already are, which includes social media like YouTube, Instagram, Pinterest, Facebook.
  4. Provide specific, timely, and frequent learning feedback, especially for on-demand self-paced learning modules. This is always important, and especially so with Millennial and Z Generation learners who expect frequent feedback, even more important when class is virtual.
  5. Bridge virtual distance with online team learning experiences and discussions. Connect people to learn in groups, and help them learn how to become connected team players.

Pick at least 1 Ease Engagement Action to focus on so that you positively impact the learner experience in ways that Google, YouTube, and self-paced MOOCs cannot (at least yet). If you’re a leader-coach, adapt these 5 actions to be even more focused in your coaching.