The impact of wider technology shifts on L&D

June 27, 2019 Abigail Pears

As digital plays a bigger role in the workplace, we look at some of the key technology trends that are likely to impact on learning and the implications for L&D teams.

Four of the top 10 ‘hot’ technologies identified by L&D professionals for 2019 are just starting to have an impact on corporate learning. They are personalisation/adaptive delivery, artificial intelligence, learning analytics and virtual/augmented reality, placed first, second, third and seventh, respectively. Currently more familiar in the consumer world, this is a reminder that it takes time for technologies to have a meaningful impact across the corporate landscape.

Powering personalised and adaptive delivery of learning, AI is the big story here. The technology serves employees content and resources based on their current needs that algorithms have learned from previous activities. Similar to user experiences on Amazon or Netflix, the technology adapts to your requirements, guiding you along your career path.

What’s more, AI powered interfaces such as chatbots provide immediacy and interactivity that can help employees find what they need in the flow of work.

This type of technology experience is still relatively new in the consumer world. Chatbots are increasingly being used by banks and retailers, especially in what’s traditionally seen as customer service roles. The more questions and requests the chatbot receives, the more the AI learns and the better the responses become.

This interface can help organisations overcome the often ‘clunky’ user experience of trying to quickly find relevant information in a learning management system. But the opportunity doesn’t stop there. The education sector is considering chatbots for a whole range of applications, from learning to assessment and engagement. Chatbots could present a far more effective interface for corporate learning.

AI itself is not actually new. For more than 20 years, Google has been serving us its version of a personalised content experience. What’s interesting is that the corporate learning sector has been slow to provide employees with a Google-type experience. But that looks set to change as new AI tools provide the promise of accelerating faster, more adaptive and personalised learning experiences. Elon Musk’s OpenAI work is just one example of what’s becoming possible with AI.  And in the corporate learning market, suppliers such as Skillsoft are using AI to provide more personalised experiences.

When it comes to analytics, there is much promise in standards such as xAPI, but the market has been slow to move away from SCORM as the de facto method of measurement, especially in elearning. To realise the potential of learning analytics, organisations need to ensure they’re collecting the right data in the first place. Because if your inputs aren’t good (i.e. what you measure) then your outputs won’t be either.

To understand how consumer-driven trends, such as blockchain, might impact learning, it’s worth looking at the Gartner Hype Cycle for Emerging Technologies. This shows the time it takes for a technology to become mainstream. Gartner predicts blockchain won’t be mainstream for another five to ten years. And it will take two to five years for virtual assistants to become ubiquitous. Clearly some of this technology is still a considerable way off from being used in workplace learning.

The reality is that there’s a lag between hype surrounding technology trends and when they have real impact. In corporate learning, this lag provides an opportunity to really understand the technology and how it could benefit the organisation. That means considering a technology as a real disruptor that could completely change the way you deliver learning and development. A lot of examples of new technologies in corporate learning show the value is in cost reduction and scale. That’s making learning more efficient.

The real prize for L&D is to understand how technology can help overcome the challenges specific to their organisation. For example, virtual and augmented reality will have specific-use cases in learning for some organisations. Not all organisations will need it, but for those that do, it could be a game changer. L&D teams need to be the ones who bring that knowledge and insight to the organisation.


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