What Will Professional Development Look Like in 100 Years?

It’s always fun to explore how life might change over the next century. Some people, like Google futurist Ray Kurzweil, make a living out of it. Most people dwell on how technology will change, whether we’ll be living in space stations, or whether we’ll finally get those flying cars.

But I find it most intriguing to imagine how learning and work will change in 100 years. After all, we spend a third of our lives learning and working. What will be different in 2117?

Work, jobs, and employment will shift with technology.

In the previous century, jobs moved from farming, labor, operatives, and craftspeople to clerical, technical, managerial, and service work. As technology took over much of the physical labor, people started focusing on inventing, maintaining, and managing the machines.

Robin Hanson, the author of “The Age of Em,” predicts that in the next 100 years, computer scientists will build emulations of human brains that work 1000 times faster than humans and will eventually become conscious and just take over. He predicts that jobs will simply go away and darkly hints that much of the human race may disappear as well.

But people have been predicting the rise of the homicidal robot for decades, and I think in the next century, we’ll continue to see machines do terrific work but humans will be needed to create, improve, support, and manage them.

Plus, people prefer to interact with other people. I don’t think that’ll change; a real human interaction may even become a premium service.

We’ll also see technology change our work environment. Virtual reality will let more people “work” in dangerous or hostile areas by operating robots remotely. Workforces will continue spread out over the globe as reliable virtual conferencing and even instant language translation becomes available.

James Altucher predicts that with the freedom offered by technology, we’ll see workforces shift to more and more freelancing and contract positions. I expect we’ll take our careers into our own hands, never assuming one company will be our bread and butter for years at a time.

So if all these predictions come true, what will happen to professional development as we know it today?

We’ll engage in lifelong learning rather than intermittent training.

Learning technology will advance like other sciences. Even outside universities and training centers, we’ll have access to sophisticated instructive programs and simulations.

College degrees will no longer be the key to a job because workers will be able to get a highly specialized education without one. We’ll also have to dedicate ourselves to constant learning as science and markets continue to evolve.

We’ll take responsibility for our own skill level.

As corporations shift to a more project-based workforce, their training and HR efforts will focus more on onboarding and helping people acclimate to their organizations quickly. People will be on their own to get desired skills and keep up with the markets.

However, I predict that in such a landscape, we’ll start to see employment agencies take over more and more of the traditional learning and development role. A freelancer may sign up with an agency who offers training in key abilities and then markets its skilled workforce to client companies.

Technology standards bodies may play an increasing role in skills development.

Over and over, futurists predict that our devices will all talk to each other and coordinate their activities for our benefit. For example, Charles Ebinger, Director of the Energy Security Initiative at the Brookings Institution anticipates we’ll have a “smart grid” linking all of our household appliances directly to energy distribution systems, so we pay less for energy used during off-peak hours.

But all that communication between software will require standards. Today, many professional organizations offer training, and some independent companies offer specialized courses around industry standards.

While there’s debate today about the value of such certifications, as the freelance population grows, we may see these third party credentials increase in market value and high-quality providers take leadership in their industries.

Learning programs will focus on experience and judgment.

Some futurists have predicted that not only will we have computers embedded in our bodies, but we’ll also have data downloaded directly to our brains. Learners of the 22nd century will not need to memorize facts, take quizzes, or look up cheat sheets to do their jobs.

They will, however, still need judgment and ingenuity. These come from experience and application. So rather than spending time on facts and procedures, development programs in the future will help people learn from experience, apply recently “downloaded” knowledge in the real world, and make well-reasoned decisions.

This process may rely heavily on virtual reality simulations but applied work, individual coaching, reflection, and collaborative learning will all play a role.

Change is scary.

Many futurists predict a gloomy jobs horizon for the next century, featuring excessive unemployment and a widening gap between the haves and the have–nots. But humans as a group tend to adapt.

Viktor Mayer-Schönberger, director of the Information and innovation Policy Research Center at the National University of Singapore, sees a brighter future in which “advances in technology will make us more empowered, motivated and active, rather than mindless consumers of information and entertainment.

I choose to agree with him, especially when it comes to professional development. What about you?


Carol Bleyle
Carol Bleyle
CAROL handles client services and marketing for Software, a training platform designed to promote experiential, on-the-job learning and development. She works to realize the vision of turning the 70% of informal learning we do at work into a powerful training and development tool. With an M.A. in Cognitive Linguistics from the University of California at Berkeley, Carol views skills development through the lens of cognitive science and psychology And over the past 23 years, whether in traditional classrooms or on-the-go mentoring in her own company, Carol has constantly searched for realistic ways to make learning more natural and engaging. As a writer, trainer, consultant, entrepreneur and public speaker, Carol helps business owners find practical solutions to employee performance. She and her husband reside in beautiful Loudoun County Virginia with three energetic dogs and two lazy horses.

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  1. The future I see is that most if not all of our work will be done through our smart phones. Working 24/7 we will not be tied to the clock but tied to the notifications that tell us when to wake up, work, sleep, and recreate. Physical labour will be augmented with smart robotics and machines. Human relationships will be augmented through our smart phones where we will have a pick of the various realities to include with our human experience; so much that we will not distinguish been what is real and what is virtual.