What the "tech" is going on in L&D?For its 2016-2017 Learning Trends report, the learning software provider Lessonly surveyed 35 thought leaders in the learning, training, and instructional design industries. They identified four key tech trends that those of us in the L&D industry should be aware of. They are:
- Virtual/augmented reality (VR/AR) and artificial intelligence (AI).
- Democratized, social, and peer-to-peer learning.
- Moving beyond learning management.
1. Virtual/augmented reality and artificial intelligence
Although they're far from being "new technologies" -“ even in L&D - VR, AR and AI have become increasingly influential. Virtual reality, in particular, has grown in importance, and several tech firms raced to launch new VR headsets this year, including Google and Microsoft. The opportunities that VR offers to L&D have led to some exciting developments over the past year. According to e-learning specialist, Ryan Tracey, "Engineers use VR to preview the hazards of mining, and electricians can simulate high-voltage switches. And someone I know in a rural fire service is looking into using 360-degree video to help volunteer firefighters get a sense of what to expect in a bushfire." L&D professionals have also begun to explore the uses of AR technologies that can superimpose computer-generated information and images on the real world. Learning technologist, Clark Quinn, for instance, believes that, "We can use AR to layer on the conceptual relationships that underpin the things we observe, to show flow, causation, forces, constraints, and more." However, while both VR and AR have certainly caught our attention in recent years, adoption of such technologies varies widely across the globe. As An Coppens, Founder of Gamification Nation, explains, "From our travels to train people in Malaysia, Thailand and Singapore, we're amazed at the amount of VR and AR implementation that's already been done. In European markets, although implementations are increasing, people are, generally, still talking about it rather than doing it." Elsewhere, increasingly complex algorithms, fueled by "big data," have been driving improvements in AI. Jane Hart, Founder of the Centre for Learning and Performance Technologies (C4LPT), suggests that AI can be used to help team learning through:
- Personalized learning and training course recommendations.
- Personalized feeds of relevant, curated content.
- On-demand, personalized productivity and performance support.
- Virtual learning coaches/assistants.
- Virtual learning concierge services.
Ultimately, although investment in these technologies is growing, they are still very much in the "early adoption" stage. As Mind Tools own Deputy CEO, Ollie Craddock, explains, although VR, "is getting a lot of uptake, and so definitely has momentum, it will still be interesting to see if this is viewed as delivering solid behaviour changing results in all areas of learning or just in those relating to hard skills."
Gamification has been pipped as one of the "next big things" in L&D tech. But, is it "game on" or "game over" for gamification? David Kelly, Executive Director of The e-Learning Guild, suggests several ways it could be used by L&D professionals: "The utilization of a smartphone's GPS to lead people through an exploration of a physical space has applications for learning. In Pokemon GO, actual physical landmarks are used as re-fuelling stops in the game. That same application could be used to help people learn more about a physical location, such as part of a new hire orientation program or new student orientation." Also, as e-learning commentator, Donald Clark points out, gamification has the potential to inject some much-needed fun into learning. Clark says, "A return to more appropriate forms of learning for things we actually learn by doing now in the real world will be a welcome break from the absurdity of the lecture, flipchart, page-turning e-learning and classroom, as the delivery channel for almost all learning." So, it seems that gamification will indeed be a major tech trend in the industry. As Gamification Nation's An Coppens explains, "A report, in 2016, from Big Market Research, suggests that gamification in the e-learning sector will reach $319 billion by 2020 - of which some 69 percent will be college education and MOOCs. "The gamification market, including providers and platforms, will continue to grow and consolidate, with platforms being acquired and consultants joining forces to respond to market demand," she adds. "There's now great demand for gamification from the Middle East, while growing demand in Europe and Australasia is driving developments. "'Internet of things' tools will be an area to watch, together with gamification and AR. Over time, these areas will merge, adding to the possibilities for learning and performance improvement in a corporate context."
3. Democratized, social, and peer-to-peer learning
Thanks to technology, accessing L&D content is no longer an issue. In that sense, learning is being "democratized" - learners are now creating content for their peers. Indeed, there's now so much L&D content available, that one of the biggest problems facing learners is being able to sort out the helpful and authentic material from the unhelpful and often "fake" information. In fact, nowadays there's as much "fake L&D content" available as there is "fake news." This means that curation has become increasingly important for L&D professionals. According to Elliott Masie, Head of New York think-tank The MASIE Center, learners will need to expand and hone their skills in becoming their own content "producers." At the same time, L&D professionals will need to find effective curation techniques that leverage this content to provide a more effective and efficient set of learning choices for the rest of the enterprise. Some of these problems are already being solved with enterprise IT products, such as Google Hangouts, Google Drive, Workplace by Facebook, and Slack. These tools enable colleagues to share content and ideas, view video content, and find relevant resources. And they will likely play a much larger role in digital learning in the future, so it's vital for L&D professionals to look at how these tools can be integrated into wider learning platforms.
4. Beyond learning management
Continued change - in the workplace, and in the L&D and tech markets - is impacting learning in many ways. For instance, increased uptake of mobile tech, along with the growth in user-generated content, means that we can access information anywhere, at any time. This is fueling informal learning, including social learning. Not all of this learning activity fits neatly into the corporate L&D framework that, for the last 20 years or so, has tended to rely on learning management systems (LMS). So, how will learning content be managed going forward? And is it possible to do it effectively with today's LMS software? According to Bersin by Deloitte's report, "The Disruption of Digital Learning," the answer is "maybe." The report suggests that, for some time now, corporate learning has been moving away from traditional LMS systems, which tend to act as compliance catalogs and are usually very expensive, and toward a more diverse range of learning platforms that offer a broad range of tools. These include curated, personalized content; tracking software; microlearning platforms; content libraries; and what Bersin calls Learning Record Stores (LRS), a new category of software that enables users to store, sort and share resources across the organization. The move away from traditional LMS systems reflects a wider industry trend away from learning management and toward learning automation, which is based on contextual, curated learning content that has been identified, provided, and personalized for individual learners.