Learning technology: six steps to choosing the right tools
Too many organisations are focused on learning tools without understanding how employees learn. It’s time to start prioritising learners ahead of the solutions.
People use technology, not the other way around, and yet when selecting learning technology tools and platforms, very few organisations put the user first.
The challenge is that it’s not realistically possible to understand each individual user and their specific needs, so there has been a tendency to categorise people and label them – professionals, millennials, evangelists, retirees, teenagers, etc.
It’s very hard to pitch ‘everyone’ as a target, so when a new solution is launched it’s usually aimed at a specific target audience.
While you can’t understand what every learner needs, you can gather knowledge about what groups of people need before making decisions, and that should help to ensure that the majority are satisfied. Here are some things to consider in that decision making process.
Traditional campus-based learning can still be quite rigid, e.g. take a course, in a semester, in this room. People get to know you, having an elective gives learners a sense of choice, but in the main learning is not personalised.
Online learning is less rigid, so you can take a course in your own time and location, which adds a sense of personalisation.
Some technology allows for self-personalisation, when you get a stock item but it changes with you and becomes something you’ve helped shape. Your mobile phone’s selection of apps exemplifies this well - you made that selection based on what you wanted, and because of this, you’re probably inseparable.
When choosing a technology solution, it’s worth considering whether it is relatively adaptable to the needs of your users.
2. Understand the creators of learning tech
Learning is a complicated thing and the technology around it needs evidence and insight, otherwise the solution will always struggle to satisfy its audience.
Unfortunately, there is a lot of education technology where the educator isn’t involved. Even worse, a lot of technology is used in education that wasn’t designed for education at all.
3. Put teachers at the centre
Learners often use social networks to connect, share, ask questions and learn from one another, but social media wasn’t designed around any pedagogical principles - that is, the body of theory and evidence about what leads to successful learning (or not).
Social learning platforms however, are different, and they work because they’re designed around established evidence.
People want to be social and it can be a core part of learning. Sharing views on topics helps prepare someone to joining challenging discussions in new environments. This is not dissimilar to the workplace and it is a lifelong skill.
Difficulty needs to be a part of the learning experience, not the technology experience.
The teacher needs to be at the centre of the design process - they know how learning works and are in control of the design of each and every session they have with their learners.
Understanding who has built the technology can give you a real insight into who it’s really designed for and how seriously they take their audience.
4. Learning should be the challenge, not technology
A good teacher creates opportunities to challenge their learners. Learning should be challenging. There is a degree of desirable difficulty that comes attached to long-term successful learning outcomes, but don’t mistake this for the challenge of using the technology as the interface for learning.
Difficulty needs to be a part of the learning experience, not the technology experience. User design, user experience, and intuitive user journeys are all essential for learning technology that will lead to successful outcomes.
5. Time to say goodbye
Old technology is already legacy and by keeping it you’re sustaining something that is providing some level of benefit.
The decisions that were made for all the technology available to you were based on the knowledge, access, budget and tools of a past moment. All these factors have since changed. Some components may be working really well, but others could be holding you back significantly.
Moving from one old system to a new one is hard, as is changing the learner experience, but it’s inevitable that things will always change. Sometimes you have to take the harder road; let it go, embrace the change.
6. Problems and technology live in the same world
The culture of technology companies is to take a problem and make it go away. This means finding something one no one else has fixed yet, and to try and make our lives better with a new solution.
Learning lives in this world - we us it to nurture people into happy and productive members of the team. They need life skills to face challenges, fix problems, help others and be better people.
In that vein, learning and technology are obvious companions. Technology is firmly rooted in our connected world, and learning is based on making connections. The two are intrinsically linked.
The more we understand about learning, the more we should use this to inform our plans for development of technology and how it’s utilised.
The hope is they develop alongside each other and not apart. Effective learning technology, for individuals or organisations, should be developed alongside the evidence and insight we have.
Teachers and learners shouldn’t be forced to use platforms that don’t take into account what we know about learning.
In the spirit of advancement, the more we understand about learning, the more we should use this to inform our plans for development of technology and how it’s utilised.
Before you consider what technology to invest in for learning you should first ensure the outcomes are clearly identified and identify how to measure the effectiveness of your learning programme.
Set a plan for what you want to achieve and take note of the considerations above to help you find a great solution.
Read more about digital learning for an evolving workplace.
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Matt is the Learning Developer for FutureLearn - the online social learning company. His role focused on enhancing the learning experience through applying pedagogy to the learning platform and how courses are created by hundreds of partners across the world.