Learning Scenarios – challenging the way we think about the future

by | Dec 12, 2011 | Articles | 0 comments

A review of new learning Scenarios developed at Online Educa Berlin 2011

Despite the predictions of great thinkers in our industry, nobody can be 100% certain about what work will look like or how we will be developing skills within the corporations of the future. This can make it very difficult to plan effectively today. As learning professionals we have a certain level of control in our immediate working environment – we can influence our employees, our suppliers, our business leaders even. But all of us are working in an environment where external factors such as legislation, technology, the economy and demographics are constantly changing. These drivers are outside our immediate control but play a critical role in defining the future of work and learning. So how can we prepare effectively for the future of corporate learning when nobody can be certain about what it will look like?

This was a question running through this year’s Business Educa strand at Online Educa Berlin that gathered over 2000 participants from business and education together from 96 countries at the beginning of December. Business Educa was established last year to specifically address the needs of those working in corporate learning. The business agenda was extended in 2011 to focus on scenario planning as a way of leveraging all of the “brainpower” at the conference (and beyond). The intention is to create a tangible resource to help organisations prepare more effectively for the future.  The scenario planning process was led by Willem Manders and Hans de Zwart from Shell. As an organisation, Shell has been involved with the development of scenarios over a number of years as a strategic business planning tool, where they are used to open up conversations prior to formulating future strategies.

Scenario creation is a useful aspect of future planning for many organisations but, until Business Educa, the approach had not been adapted to consider the future of corporate learning.

“Scenarios are stories about the future, but their purpose is to make better decisions in the present” – Scenarios: an explorer’s guide, Shell.

What are Scenarios?

A scenario is basically a story that describes a possible future and their aim is to broaden people’s perspectives on the future to help us to become more adaptable in the face of change. At Business Educa participants gathered in a pre- conference workshop to start the scenario process, considering the driving forces for change and identifying the uncertainties associated with those key trends. These were then used to construct 4 example scenarios – see table below:

Challenging our thinking about the future

As the conference progressed, it was clear that both delegates and speakers found that the scenarios challenged the status quo (which is what they are designed to do). Many of us have a fixed view of what we think the future will look like, but across the conference the scenarios started to open up new conversations as delegates identified where they currently sat and what changes they could see coming.

Nic Laycock, spoke at Business Educa about the learning journey at Eskom, who generate 95% of the electricity in South Africa. Nic subsequently reflected on how the scenarios helped him to understand the journey that the company is currently taking:

‘Having been part of the scenario development workshop at Business Educa, the output from it is helpful in understanding where Eskom, with whom I have worked for some time, stands in its journey in learning. Its start position, a few years ago was clearly in the OLD BOY NETWORK segment, dominated by traditional structures and the engineering discipline mentality.

Steps have been taken to introduce more systems into HR and learning to help capture data to drive decisions (BIG DATA) but this has not taken off, failing to deliver the flexibility needed. Social networking and the information explosion are currently making a big impact in the business, loosening of some long held tenets around systems and structures.

The company is clearly moving step by step and in an experimental and exploratory manner into IN CROWD territory. However the fundamental question the organisation faces is balancing the IN CROWD culture with an industry structure built for very good reasons (safety) on procedure, protocol and compliance. These scenarios provide a useful snapshot to help us consider how to track and monitor what happens in the future.’

How to use scenarios to help you plan for the future

Preparing for the future is always tricky particularly when you don’t know where your ultimate destination will be or what you will find there when you get there. One key to preparation is to keep an open mind. As in the case at Eskom, it may not be an either/or situation – many of these stories could exist in one organisation but using the scenarios to test and review our current plans will mean we are better equipped for whatever the future might hold.

Here are some ways that you can use scenarios to help you prepare for the future*:

1 Consider how your potential decisions will play out across the different scenarios before you make them, for example what are the risks and opportunities:

• When you are taking decisions on a long term basis
• When  you are considering a major investment
• When restructuring your learning team

2 Use scenarios to develop new conversations  and new ways of thinking within your team and across your business:

• What does learning innovation look like within each of the 4 scenarios?
• Which scenarios reflect our organisation on a global basis or a local basis now?
• What evidence are we seeing that these scenarios might emerge in our business? In other’s business?
• In what ways can we minimise risk surrounding our decisions in each of the scenarios?

3 Look for evidence for each of the scenarios right now to help you develop your thinking further:

• Are there signs that one or more of these worlds are emerging in your own business?
• Are there signs that one or more of these worlds are emerging outside of your business?
• Test the evidence and advice you are receiving against each of the scenarios – does it work better in one world than another? would it need to be adapted for a different world

4 Contribute to the scenario development

• The scenarios are not static and should continue to be developed as the evidence is collated


* Based on observations from Willem Manders, Royal Dutch Shell

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