What the L&D Global Sentiment Survey tells us about L&D today

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Since 2014, the release of the results of the L&D Global Sentiment Survey has always been a special moment in the L&D calendar. The survey asks one obligatory question: “What will be hot in workplace L&D in the year ahead?” and in the past, people have waited, excitedly, to see what the world voted number one from a list of 16 options.

This year, though, there will be little doubt about the result.

The 2024 survey report, sponsored by Netex Learning, is released today, and in case you were wondering, the option that the L&D world thinks will be hot this year is Artificial Intelligence (AI) (see Figure 1).

Since the launch of ChatGPT in November 2022, AI has not been out of the news. Each week, sometimes each day there has been a technical advance, which has led to a deluge of reaction, prediction, and opinion. Given all this noise, there could only be one winner of the top spot this year. More than 3,000 voters in nearly 100 countries voted for AI.

But if the world’s #1 choice is no surprise in this year’s report, plenty of other things are.

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AI – both hero and villain

AI was not only #1 on the worldwide voting table, it was #1 in every region and across each of the five different work groups on the survey, including education, vendors and workplace L&D. And it was #1 by a huge amount: 21.5%, that’s 9.5% higher than the #1 vote received in 2023.

At the same time, when asked for their greatest challenge in L&D this year, how did people reply? That’s right: AI. The only term used more that ‘AI’ in these free text answers was the word ‘learning’ itself.

In the 11 years of the survey, no option has come close to these numbers, and none has simultaneously topped both the table for being hot and the list of things respondents are concerned about.

AI cannot continue to attract this much attention into the future. What is likely to happen in 2024 and in future years is this: we’ll see rapid adoption of AI, both in L&D and in the organisation as a whole. We will then see a shift of attention away from how something is done (via AI) towards the aim of the activity – most likely personalisation of learning, analysis of data and understanding skills.

Skills and data consolidate

The huge interest in AI meant fewer votes elsewhere, so almost all the other 16 options received less than their 2023 vote. The exceptions are revealing. Personalization/adaptive delivery and Learning analytics picked up a stronger vote, and Skills-based talent management dropped by just 0.1%.

This focus on data and skills is part of a longer trend that we have seen in place for a few years on the survey. In many ways, the top of the table for 2024 is very similar to that for 2020. And although Personalization/adaptive delivery has been on a downward trend for 6 years, it picked up interest this year.

What is happening?

Over the 11 years of the survey, we have seen a shift in the things that interest L&D. It has moved from a focus on content delivery to one that is more focused on data and skills. For 2021 to 2023 inclusive, Reskilling/upskilling headed the table. Is it possible that we are seeing a slow realignment of how the L&D profession sees itself?

The ‘pandemic effect’ is over

This interest in data and skills, however, has not been constant. During the pandemic, we saw a rise in two other options: Collaborative/social learning and Coaching/mentoring. While the latter option was new in 2020, in the same year, Collaborative/social learning was on its fourth successive year of losing votes.

Then, during the lock down surveys of 2021 and 2022, both these options picked up extra votes before falling this year by an average of 1.6%. (see Figures 2, 3).

In last year’s report we couldn’t be sure if this drop was a temporary dip. Now, after two years of falling votes, it looks certain that L&D rediscovered the importance of human interaction during lockdown. Equally – and perhaps sadly – it seems to have forgotten that now.

Does L&D really care about value?

Options on the survey typically trend downwards. This is natural. Something starts as ‘hot’ in people’s minds, and then either becomes business as usual (like mobile delivery and video) or loses its novelty (like curation).

In previous reports, I have noted that three options on the survey go against his downward trend. These are what I call the ‘value’ options: Consulting more deeply with the business, Performance support and Showing value. Ideally, L&D should consult with the business, carry out some activity (perhaps performance support) and then be able to show the business the value this activity has created.

For the past five years, these three options have not fallen, as the others tend to. They have held in the middle of the table. Not this year. This year they fell together, with an average drop of 1.4% (see Figure 4).

There are many possible ways to interpret this, but the most compelling explanation is that although L&D professionals think it’s generally important to try to work with the business and demonstrate value, when exciting trends like AI, data and skills appear, these professionals switch their attention away from the business, and over to the latest shiny idea.

Time to choose

AI dominates L&D’s thinking, but while the tools of our job have changed, our role has not. We still do something crucial for individuals and organisations: we help them fulfil their potential.

Now we have a choice about how to do that.

For decades, L&D has focused on the production and distribution of content. No longer. We can turn to our AI tools for that. Now we must choose how we use the free time that AI makes available. If we use that time to create still more content, we have wasted a great opportunity. Instead, we could use that time to build better ties with the rest of the business, to better understand it, and to plan how to support it into the future with the skills it needs. If we do that, then we are truly making the most of the liberating power of AI.

Donald H Taylor, lead researcher, the L&D Global Sentiment Survey


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Donald H Taylor

Chair at The Learning and Performance Institute | Driving better learning and performance in the workplace. Professional experience in learning and development, together with human capital and skills management.