The future of learning

Being bold decision makers in the time of COVID-19

Being bold decision makers in the time of COVID-19

COVID-19 has shifted the way business is conducted around the world, and we must change the way we learn and work. Deciding how we do that is no easy task, but it is critical to succeed in an accelerated and dynamic work environment moving forward.

These were some of the main themes at a webinar organized by the Association for Talent Development-Middle East and North Africa Network and supported by Aramco’s Training and Development organization.

Futures and Foresight

Led by professor Jeff Gold of the York and Leeds Business Schools, the webinar focused specifically on the pandemic and the future of learning and development. Emphasizing the need to develop critical thinking and learning skills to prepare for the future of work, Gold introduced Futures and Foresight, and interdisciplinary approach that utilizes various methods to consider possible, plausible, probable, preferable, and potentially creatable long-term future scenarios.

Gold noted the impossibility of fully predicting the future, saying future challenges resemble wicked problems that can’t be mitigated through tried-and-tested solutions. With Futures and Foresight, the goal is to develop strategies through a process of rigorous learning in response to challenging times.

COVID-19 has drastically changed business needs, prompting companies to seek alternative and radical ways to deliver products, programs, and services.

The key to success, said Gold, is to not shy away from discussing issues and trends that will impact the way we perceive, interpret, and conduct work in light of technological breakthroughs. Meanwhile, human-to-machine interaction has become much more sophisticated than meets the eye and will continue to be the main focus in future work.

setting ourselves apart

“Developing future thinking through proactive learning could set companies apart to recreate and consider future possibilities and development,” Gold added.


As an example, successful companies have used action learning to identify and address difficult problems by involving teams that meet regularly through virtual platforms and critically question existing challenges and develop plausible solutions.

Team members learn not to dismiss any surprise ideas that appear unlikely but still possible. They engage in bold discussion and critique to make tough decisions. Action learning has resulted in practical outcomes where new capabilities and business ideas are identified for further development.

Jessica Li from the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign added that Futures and Foresight could be built into talent development programs and have employees work out future scenarios, using them as a resource for learning. “If companies can afford to implement an exercise like this, the benefits may be significant when we get out of the COVID-19 situation,” she said.

Ahmed Hassanein from Aramco’s Academic Programs and Partnerships Department said the webinar clarified how Futures and Foresight could be integrated into business plans, as well as what a future operating environment may look like and how we respond to it.

“The technique could serve as a strategic driver to help large corporations such as Aramco prepare for future changes,” he said.
man vs. machine: Following the webinar, professor Jeff Gold addressed questions from the participants, reinforcing that a fundamental shift in our mindset is necessary to embrace new ways of living and working in a post-COVID era. Responding to questions about whether humans will be replaced by machines, he noted that machines are just tools, but it’s humans that have the capacity to learn and innovate.





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