Disruptive learning technologies: what does the future look like?

May 17, 2019

We’ve previously looked at how L&D teams are using newer technologies to support learning. There are three areas in which technology is seen as an accelerator of change: artificial intelligence and data analytics, social and collaborative learning and accelerating the shift from courses to resources.

These technologies are shifting the paradigm away from traditional corporate training. What was once a more formal, face-to-face course approach is being rapidly replaced by resources that support employees at work. That means learning that’s easy to find and access, available with a simple swipe or tap.

Depending on the context of their organisation and sector, L&D teams are experiencing this technology-driven change at different speeds. It’s useful to remember that for all the innovators in the technology adoption lifecycle, there are many more late adopters and laggards. The key is to understand what technology can do for your L&D offering.

So, what technologies will continue to disrupt corporate learning? Making predictions is a risky business, especially as technological innovation is so rapid. Tools such as the Gartner Hype Cycle provide some clues as to what’s coming in the next few years but we must acknowledge that these are predictions.  A useful way to think about what’s on the horizon is to consider the direction of travel for L&D and what, as a function, it is looking to achieve. This will help steer a course through technological innovation in the coming years.

Driving organisational performance with technology

If the aim of L&D is to help drive organisational performance in order to drive business success, then every technological innovation must be aligned with improving performance. This outcome will drive the innovation. There is a huge caveat here, however. And that is that L&D teams need to keep an eye on the growing impact of automation. Artificial intelligence will continue to automate routine tasks. This will continue to impact job roles and how work is done. For this reason, it is incumbent on all L&D teams to understand the broader impact of technology on job roles and how the organisation works.

By all means think about how technological innovation can drive performance. But don’t take your eye off how technological innovation is changing how businesses operate and how work is done. This is the new paradigm in which L&D now operates.

Personalising the learning experience

To continue to drive performance, L&D teams will need to harness the power of data and artificial intelligence. By doing so, employees will receive, and have access to, resources that will help them do their job in their moment of need. AI powered recommendations will also push resources based on an employee’s development needs and where they are looking to progress to in the organisation. This is the personalised experience that has been likened to the Amazon shopping experience.

New interfaces will help employees access resources more easily and quickly. We are already starting to see chatbots as a new interface for learning systems. Employees can ask the virtual assistant for what they need and receive help instantly. The AI powering the chatbot continually learns from the questions that are asked and how employees rate the answers. Over time the chatbot becomes more intelligent and provides a far easier interface than is currently available.

In our homes we use voice as the interface with virtual assistants such as Siri, Cortana and Alexa. It is very possible that voice could become a more popular interface in the workplace.

Technology will also determine what content is needed and how it is to be delivered. Just in time resources will need to be just that - resources that quickly help an employee overcome a problem or answer a question. Virtual reality scenarios will require completely different content as will content that is designed to have learning impact - spaced learning for example.

The science of learning

It is worth noting that the science of learning is progressing too. For L&D, that means considering how technology can deliver experiences that have maximum learning impact. Learning science tells us that techniques such as spaced repetition and practice deliver better learning outcomes. The question therefore becomes: how can learning technology deliver these types of experiences?

Virtual Reality is a good example of a technology solution built on learning science. VR scenarios immerse employees in environments where they can practise new skills. This becomes incredibly useful in safety-critical environments, such as medical scenarios and hazardous environments, where real life practice is not an option.  These environments are also social and, being virtual, can be accessed by employees wherever they are in the world.

Embracing the technology agenda

In order to benefit from technological developments, L&D has to embrace the technology agenda. That means understand current learning technologies and explore future technologies that sit both within and outside of the learning sphere. Also, look to industry sectors that are innovating their learning offering using technology. Find companies that are taking new and different approaches and look at how they could be used in your organisation.

By understanding what technology can do now and into the future, L&D teams will be well placed to harness future disruptive technologies. And don’t be put off if your organisation has been slow to adopt from new technologies. Use what has worked for others and let that knowledge accelerate your digital transformation.

For more on the future of learning, download our whitepaper, The Digital Opportunity: Striking the Digital Balance for Better Learning Experiences.

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