2008: That was the year that was...

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2008 is a year few of us will forget in a hurry. But as the credit crunch rolls into recession, it has been interesting to hear so many voices stress the importance of investing in skills. So how has L&D fared over the past 12, turbulent, months? Rebecca Midgley asked some key industry figures about their take on 2008.

Photo of Bob SeldenBob Selden, author and coach

I had quite a few personal highs during 2008, for example the launch of my first book. However, the thing that stood out for me, was the greater emphasis trainers are now placing on learning in the workplace, and particularly coaching managers on 'learning how to learn'. Over the years we've seen the move from pure classroom training to elearning, to blended learning and now social learning – learning occurring informally through social interaction both person-to-person and via internet networks. But it's the ability of trainers to provide learning processes and forums that enable people to find out their own best way of learning that is exciting.

I was interested in Jay Cross's comments recently about the use of social networks replacing the traditional trainer. In some ways I agree. The missing link is the understanding of how each individual learns – this is what trainers need to be providing.

Photo of Garry PlattGarry Platt, training consultant

In terms of the training and development community the highs and lows for me have predictably been around our collective response towards evaluation of the work we undertake. The low is that we are currently in an economic climate where people are losing their jobs, livelihoods are being destroyed and lives wrecked on a weekly basis. And yet still some people insist that ensuring training makes a financial contribution is a worthless task. What planet do these people live on? They are akin to those individuals who sat on the side of the volcanic island of Krakatoa while the lava poured down around them, boiling pumice pelted them and poisonous gasses swirled around their flaring nostrils and yet still, still, they professed that it was nothing to be concerned about. The high is that these individuals sound and look like real idiots and have strangely gone very, very quiet. Oh the Schadenfreude!

Photo of Nigel PaineNigel Paine, L&D commentator

The clichés pour out: what an amazing rollercoaster of a year? Who could have predicted at the beginning of the year where we would end up at the end? But the truth is more illuminating. The year rolled on from over-optimism – learning and development is being taken seriously, and some serious money is behind it – to despair, when whole (excellent and innovative) L&D operations bit the dust, particularly in the US where things looked bleaker faster, and reactions were quicker and more savage. I have finally come to rest more overwhelmed with the opportunities and challenges than the negative aspects of the immediate future. On balance, learning and development has been given a breather to come up with something special and prove that it can engage in difficult times as well as good times, and this is an opportunity the whole industry may look back and actually welcome.

The coming year will be one of contrast: real chances to innovate, get close to the business, try new models as the old ones are increasingly broken, increase the velocity of delivery, and demonstrate relevance, coupled with some frankly bad decisions to push L&D back where it came from and see it as a soft cost that can easily be trimmed. I hope that the difference between those two approaches will determine success and failure for the organisations concerned!

Photo of Martin AddisonMartin Addison, managing director, Video Arts

It's not healthy to dwell on the lows too much but, needless to say, 2008 has removed any lingering hope that we had that credit crunch was just a fancy new brand of breakfast cereal. On the plus side, it reminds us how important it is that we continue to demonstrate the value of learning and development when we're making our case to the finance director. Luckily for us at Video Arts the highs have outweighed the lows this year. The continued rise of YouTube and the BBC's iPlayer is feeding the demand for video streaming. The same goes for social networking and we've been lucky enough to work on some great projects - taking the best applications in Web 2.0 technology to create genuinely blended learning. The result is that we've had much fun collaborating with all kinds of customers to help them create their own unique courseware.

Photo of Annie LawlerAnnie Lawler, Breathing Space for Business

2008 started off with a bang and I was busy with 'non-smoking', 'positive mindset' and 'better health' workshops for my corporate clients, as well as one-to-one coaching and counselling from the word go. Usually January is quiet, but not so this year. The year has continued with the one-to-ones but less so with seminars and workshops. Perhaps understandably, it seems in the last few months, stress management, health and well-being have been low on the agenda, whilst companies struggle to cope with business losses and redundancies. However there's still a keen interest in the one-to-one counselling, which is needed more than ever as people face the current business climate.

Photo of Olivia StefaninoOlivia Stefanino, author, speaker, coach

2008: A tough year or the stepping stone to greater possibilities? As with most things, it's a matter of perspective. As a leadership trainer who practices her art in financial institutions and their ilk, it's been tough seeing clients put a stop to 'all non-vital expenditure'. What could be more vital than keeping your people motivated? But hey, if the money isn't there, it isn't there. So, the choice is to lick your wounds and play the victim (satisfying in the short term but it doesn't pay the mortgage) or decide to get creative and find a new way to approach the market (and successfully appease your bank manager at the same time). Hint: Go for option two. Dare to think big. Remember, nobody ever gets excited by the next small idea.

What have been your highs and lows over the past 12 months? How do you feel L&D will fare in 2009? Post a comment below.

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