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Enter The Matrix: A review of learning and development in 2023


Reflecting on the past 12 months in learning and development, Erica Farmer invites you to enter The Matrix. From the AI hype to tight budgets, what can L&D learn from 2023? And will you take the red pill or the blue pill as we embark on 2024?

20th Nov 2023

My 2022 reflections article and this year’s review piece have one thing in common: going down the rabbit hole. But we’re going to move from the magic and mystery that is Alice in Wonderland, to the futurism and dynamism of The Matrix. 

Pretty apt, I think, considering AI is the buzzword of 2023.

Yes, I’m once again leaning on my favourite stories for inspiration for my annual review, but I’m sure you’ll think it’s worth it.  As Morpheus reassures Neo on their first meeting: “Remember… all I’m offering is the truth. Nothing more”.

The ‘what ifs’ of artificial intelligence

You couldn’t find an analogy, in my opinion, better than the Matrix franchise, to describe the year we’ve just had, and where we think we may go in 2024.

I’m writing this on the day the UK hosts the AI Safety Summit at Bletchley Park, with some of the world’s most formidable AI and tech entrepreneurs and political leaders all in the room, talking about the ‘what if’.

If you headed to any learning conferences this year you would have seen AI keynotes and AI-fuelled learning management systems.

we must never forget is that we hold the power in the human-machine relationship.

I have already shared my thoughts on AI for the Average Joe, as amongst all the jargon of large language models, machine learning and neural networks, we are forgetting the really important factor, the human.

We’re on the precipice of the largest technological change we have ever experienced, yet learning and development seem to be, overall, paralysed by this. While we’re intrigued in how generative AI can be used to increase productivity, efficiency, and skills, we just don’t know how to get started. 

Will you take the red pill or the blue pill?

There are questions of trust, agenda, motivation and what the future may hold, with some narrative akin to what we hear and see in sci-fi classics such as The Matrix.

But what we must never forget is that we hold the power in the human-machine relationship. 

So are you going to take the red pill, which will enable you to understand what is actually occurring outside the illusion of the L&D comfort zone, or the blue pill, allowing you to return to experience the illusion of L&D ‘as is’?

As Neo says: “Choice; The problem is choice”

The choice is for each L&D function to make. Do you continue to oil the broken machine that is current L&D practices of chasing the ROI holy grail and rolling out impersonal training when it’s not always needed? Or do you rewrite the rules by employing some futurism and critical thinking, aligning your team and resources to L&D 4.0 to support workforce 4.0?

So 2023 has seen organisations grapple with factors such as the high cost of living, the continued fallout of the pandemic, and the flip-flopping of organisations attempting to bring the workforce back to the office.

Prep your teams and stakeholders with the mindset that failing fast is one of the key skills they’ll need next year.

Using the word chaotic seems a little drastic, but you would be forgiven to feel at times that choices have been restricted and perhaps you’ve not delivered everything on your plan due to no fault of your own. And that can be frustrating and a little sad. 

You may have unfinished projects, unfilled vacancies, long-term sickness, and performance issues. You may have had your budget cut, key stakeholder changes, and wobbles in organisational leadership.

But don’t forget you have choice, and you can take the wins from this year to prepare your team and organisation for 2024. 

Three L&D takeaways to prepare for 2024

So here are my top three pieces of advice for learning professionals embarking on the new year ahead.

1. Let go of how you’ve always done things, or they will be taken from you

This may sound a little harsh but after taking that red pill you won’t be able to go back.

Prep your teams and stakeholders with the mindset that failing fast is one of the key skills they’ll need next year, as well as letting go of the assumption that knowledge is power.

Agility is predicted to be one of the top three skills needed according to the World Economic Forum, and this will be able to help you to implement and continuously improve in record time.

Take the wins, ditch the ego, and embody radical candour. Lean in with compassion, evidence points, data and energy.

2. Understand what skills your organisation will need to adopt AI successfully

I’m not talking about prompt engineering. And I’m also not talking about competencies.

Taking a skills-first approach to preparing for change will drive confidence, engagement, trust and perceived value in your teams. 

3. Don’t just talk about change, get on and do it

Get out of your head, get out of your meetings and pre-meetings, and ditch those committee decisions following submissions of 42-page recommendation papers.

By the time you finish writing these, you’ll already be out of date in this AI-centric world.

In fact, you should be using gen AI to do this insight for you.  It’s time to be action-focused, real, authentic, and the L&D function your organisation needs you to be.

Remember, “there’s a difference between knowing the path, and walking the path” as Morpheus says to Neo when he is trying to get Neo to understand what’s about to happen. Never a truer word said, in my opinion.

Free your mind

So once again, I’m asking you to take the wins, ditch the ego, and embody radical candour. Lean in with compassion, evidence points, data and energy. You’ll have to let it all go – fear, doubt and disbelief. 

L&D – 2024 is the year to free your mind.

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