Disruptive learning technologies: where are we now?

May 17, 2019 Jenny Ayre

Over the last decade digital has disrupted how we shop, bank, listen to music and find a new partner. And that’s just for starters. In the workplace, it has disrupted how we find work, where we work and how we communicate. It has also disrupted how we learn.

Two things have had a profound impact on workplace learning – the launch of Google in 1998 and the launch of the iPhone almost a decade later.

Google’s search engine changed the way we find and access information, enabling people to instantly find information to help them do their jobs. The world’s information suddenly became available through a quick search.

With the Blackberry previously dominant in the corporate world. the iPhone was a game-changer. It effectively put a computer in your pocket and enabled you to enjoy all the benefits of being connected to the web, your phone, your camera, your music etc whilst on the move. And not only this, it was also built to host apps.

Fast forward to 2019 and we can see the impact of technology in every area of learning in the workplace. From creating interactive e-learning using rapid authoring tools, to social learning via intranets, technology continues to provide new ways of learning. So what are the new disruptive technologies that L&D teams are currently taking notice of?

Now in its sixth year, the Learning and Development Global Sentiment Survey asked what would be hot in workplace L&D in 2019. The top 10 technologies identified were:

  1. Personalisation/adaptive delivery
  2. Artificial intelligence
  3. Learning analytics
  4. Collaborative /social learning
  5. Micro learning
  6. Learning experience platforms
  7. Virtual and augmented reality
  8. Mobile delivery
  9. Consulting more deeply with the business
  10. Showing value

The report makes a telling point about the impact of disruption – the top three technologies mark a change in direction for L&D teams. Away from content creation and delivery and towards data and analytics. What’s more, artificial intelligence is a thread that also runs through analytics and personalisation.

These technology priorities are echoed in the latest learning technology research from Fosway Group. The learning approach that is the highest priority for improvement is learning outcomes, impact and success - in other words, data. And the second most important feature for improving digital learning is reporting and analytics. Learner engagement sits above that and mobile delivery and personalisation also sit in the top 10. The research shows that social and collaborative learning and micro learning are also priorities, as are AI and machine learning.

A similar picture emerges from Towards Maturity, with its research of 700 L&D professionals revealing the technologies that L&D is investing in today and planning on investing in the future.

Currently, popular learning technologies include live online learning, the learning management system, e-learning, job aids, mobile, video and enterprise social networks.

The research suggests that L&D plans to invest in newer technologies by 2020. These include apps, augmented reality, AI, continuous learning platforms, learning record stores, curation and user generated content.

Clearly, when it comes to more disruptive technologies, there are some common threads emerging.

Data-driven technology is becoming increasingly important

That means AI and analytics. These technologies will enable L&D to have a much better view of what employees need to do their jobs, what is most effective for them and what has the most impact. AI will also enable L&D to provide more personalised and adaptive resources based on immediate need and job roles, alongside future learning and development needs. This technology will also disrupt the traditional role of L&D as content creators and precipitate a move towards L&D as enablers of performance in which content creation will be one, smaller, part.

Social and collaborative learning continues to be a priority

Enabling employees to learn from and with each other is important, but for many enabling this through technology has been challenging. However, get it right and, like AI, the technology will disrupt the way L&D functions. What’s the role of L&D if your employees are learning all they need from each other?

A move to micro learning

There is a shift to shorter forms of content - also known as micro learning. For L&D teams, this represents a new focus on developing resources rather than courses. The technology needed to produce, host and share this content has a much better user experience (UX) than traditional learning management systems. This focus on UX is a disruptor for learning technologies. Employees want to find resources quickly and easily and good UX design helps do that.

Finally, it is worth noting that virtual and augmented reality are beginning to be used by L&D. These technologies have specific use cases, such as creating environments to safely practice procedures in safety-critical environments, changing the way L&D is delivered. As more use cases emerge, so L&D teams will be exploring how they can use VR and AR in their organisations.

This final point is important. Without identifying use cases for a learning technology, organisations can end up adopting technology that won’t work for them. A good example of that is gamification. Putting game mechanics in to your learning offering might be a great idea for your organisation, but only if your employees and wider organisational culture are suited to it.

There are fads in all areas of technology and learning technologies are no exception. L&D teams must do their research on all technologies to understand what has promise for their organisation. Context is critical here as what works in one organisation won’t necessarily work in another. But one thing is for sure, based on all the research we have covered here, and it’s that L&D needs to start to embrace data and the explore the potential of AI.

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