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What will learning look like in the future?

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12th Aug 2015
Director Outtakes Ltd
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It may be in a constant state of change, but Duncan Brown and James Cory-Wright's comprehensive two-part feature makes some well-reasoned predictions about the future of learning. 

Let’s assume first that we’re talking about technology and second, about learning in the workplace, in which case it’s not really about ‘what will learning look like in the future?’ it’s more about what the 'learners' of the future might look like. Or, even more to the point, what might their appetite for and attitude towards learning be and should we even be referring to it as 'learning' in the first place?   

We’ll start here with a few thoughts about the big picture, especially some of the tech with which you may or may not be familiar, and in part two we'll end with some thoughts around the familiar medium of video; in particular interactive video and its immense potential for genuinely immersive learning.    

Learning at work? 

Whoever went to work to learn? Where did that conceit spring from? Chances are that in the future there will be significantly less to 'learn' in the traditional sense of the word and it’ll be more about accessing information that’s relevant and useful as and when you need it. Besides, there may not be enough time to actually learn anything beyond the bare necessities: the compliance, the induction, some soft skills, leadership, change maybe and brand. Apart from that, most of what people will need will be just-in-time information and smart, personalised training. 

Don’t forget the data 

One key element that will contribute to increasing the personalisation of training in the future is the data that can be collected and used not just to monitor activity but also to shape it. Gathering and analysing personalised data allows the delivery of content that’s both relevant in formats that suit the learner and helps build in reward mechanisms such as an element of competition. 

Aggregated data can help to identify ways in which any learning content can be made more effective and more readily available. The more people live their working lives through Internet-connected technologies the more data can, and will, be collected.

First let’s deal with what is actually being delivered to learners - the training bit – and what might that look like. Let’s start as we mean to finish:

Start at the end 

Our vision for the future of learning needs to begin at the ‘back end’ as it’s known – the analytics, management information, tracking, records, evidence, scoring, measurement etc. without this we will still be left making assumptions rather than dealing with realities. 

Expect the good old learning management system to be around for some time to come but no longer in 'splendid isolation'. An LMS might host some content such as formal assessments, course booking, admin and enrolment but in future with Tin Can (xAPI) and its successors we’ll see more tracking and reporting of informal learning events, real world performance and experiences tracked at the level of 'I did this'. 

So as well as downloading content, a typical learner may be uploading learning content in the form of documents like pdfs, PowerPoints, video clips, websites and web pages – all of which can be recognised as learning experiences and recorded as evidence of training and development activities. 

Now and in the future, all this information needs to be presented and made available in a flexible and easy-to-use way. 

Perhaps maybe 

Fortified by a dose of realism, let’s take a positive guess about what the future might look like - and the good news is: 

  • People may be more prepared than ever to do some training outside, as well as inside, work whether that’s while travelling to and from work, in work breaks or at home
  • Learners are better equipped to train on their own devices: laptops, tablets or smartphones
  • People may be prepared to train, not just in bursts, but on a continuous, ongoing basis
  • People may be  prepared to read more stuff, provided it is part of a mixed media offering
  • Information will be everywhere so there may be a reduced need for formal training as people direct their own learning

So, mindful of the idea that learning is not necessarily an end in itself but can be instrumental in achieving a required outcome, and the need to track and record achievement, let’s assume that the statements above are distinct possibilities and explore the future accordingly. 

Smart learners on smart phones

Perhaps the answer to the question 'what is the future of learning?' is literally staring us in the face, assuming you’re one of the estimated 38m people in in the UK who uses a smartphone. 

If you start by thinking of learners as consumers and then read the research conducted by IPSOS for Google ‘Our Mobile Planet: United Kingdom’. You won’t need us to make the connections for you as regards the future.

On the hoof 

According to the IPSOS research, the learners of the future will be much more inclined to do their training on their mobile devices, including the smartphone. Where once we wouldn’t have countenanced using our own kit for work stuff, now we have bring your own device (BYOD). 

Provided cost isn’t an issue, we can assume that the new ‘learner-consumer’ is prepared to use their own smartphone for training, but as we stated at the start of this piece, they’ll only do so provided their achievements and training activities are tracked and recorded. This has to happen for them regardless of where they are, when they do their training. In other words the tracking and recording needs to work ‘offline’ as well as online i.e. even when not connected to the internet. Enter the training app. 

Apps ‘n that       

In the future learners will be able to manage and consume their training using apps on their smartphones. These apps will be connected to the web; and if native apps connected to a Learning Record Store (LRS), they’ll be able to track progress even with only an intermittent internet connection. 

How this presents itself on your smartphone will be as a dashboard showing you what training you’ve completed. It might have a leader board if you like a bit of competition, plus any social dimension, whether that’s through existing sites like Yammer, LinkedIn etc. or via a dedicated social portal.    

In essence this means you can do your online training on whatever device you like precisely at the point of need, whenever you want and wherever you are regardless of whether you have an internet connection or not. Future learners will be secure in the knowledge that what they’re doing is being tracked back at base, including their progress and achievement.

Duncan Brown is a director at Outtakes, who specialise in the production of interactive scoreable video for elearning. James Cory-Wright is Head of Learning Design at City & Guilds Kineo, an award-winning, global workplace learning company; helping businesses realise real business value through innovative learning and technology. Discover what City & Guilds Kineo could do for you

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