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Deliver more for less in 2020: learning technology trends to watch out for

What technologies should we be thinking about in 2020 that will potentially make workplace learning more valuable, practical, connected, natural, real and smarter?
5th Dec 2019
Learning analyst
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concept image of number 2020 in a frame of hands
iStock/Erikona

‘What will be trending in learning technology in the year ahead?’ This is the question that I am frequently asked at this time of year – and one I secretly dread!

Don’t get me wrong. I am excited about the unique opportunities learning technology can provide to unlock the potential of individuals and organisations, and have been for 30 years.

Learning professionals have always been hungry to discover the next technical breakthrough for learning. It doesn’t matter if our desire is driven by a fear of missing out or a fear of being driven out, we all want to know about ‘the next big thing’.

If you want to look at how technology is going to change the way that we learn, follow how technology is changing how people live.

Of course, 20 years ago it was the internet, content and platforms, then ten years ago, it was mobile (and content and platforms). Today AI, machine learning, robotics, big data and extended reality are just some of the buzzwords piquing industry interest (alongside content and platforms, yet again).

History has shown us, however, that what is hot doesn’t always equate to what is useful. Fashionable interest in the next big thing does not always play out in practice. It is true to say that in the first 15 years of the Towards Maturity Research programme (2004–2019), the research team did not find a single correlation between tools used to drive learning innovation and the impact reported. Value is driven by those who are willing to continually redefine what that learning job is.

This is why I am more interested in the learning technologies that ought to be trending.

For the last 30 years, our fascination with learning technology has been driven by our need to deliver ‘more for less’ – more training to more people for less money.  

Rather than narrowing our focus on pure efficiencies, we should consider which technologies would make workplace learning more natural, immediate, connected, real and insightful.

More natural – less obvious  

‘If you want to look at how technology is going to change the way that we learn, follow how technology is changing how people live.’ This was the advice learning and performance coach David Kelly gave to learning leaders at the beginning of 2019. Technology is changing the way that we communicate and live.

The most fundamental communication tool that we have is our voice. The rise in use of personal assistants such as Alexa, Siri and Cortana in our everyday lives indicates that we are more comfortable now in talking to our machines. These systems, powered by natural language processing (NLP), are open to our questions and feeding our curiosity. This makes technologies such as chatbots and NLP one to watch in my opinion.

Natural language processing:

  • Allows us to explore comprehension – posing open questions that check for understanding rather than tracking lucky responses via multiple-choice questions.
  • Improves relevance – enhancing search options.
  • Uncover patterns of new knowledge application – using sentiment analysis to explore intention and new behaviour.
  • Allows practice and feedback of verbal communication.

Chatbots:

  • Nudge us closer to more relevant content.
  • Answer immediate specific questions.
  • Encourage ongoing application of new skills and ideas.

Interestingly, for these AI-driven applications to work, the technology itself needs training, which is potentially a new avenue for L&D experts to explore.

More immediate – less searching

Nick Shackleton Jones is kicking up a storm with his new book How People Learn, arguing that one of the quickest ways to improve performance is by reducing our need to learn.  Today’s workers are under pressure – so let’s watch out for technologies that will help us make what they need easily available at the point at which they need it.

We need to face up to the fact that no single technology or technology vendor is going to create a silver bullet for us.

Artificial intelligence is again driving a plethora of opportunities in this area that deserve attention. It is powering a vast range of tailored support tools to help individuals improve performance as they work. Supporting individuals at their point of need is not just about delivering small pieces of content, it involves understanding the context of the individual and ensuring they are equipped in the moment.

More skill – less content

The World Economic Forum expects over half of employees will need reskilling by 2022. What’s more, they also believe that skills such as analytical thinking, creativity and active learning strategies will be in high demand by then.

Building a new skill requires more than just absorbing new content delivered in a fun and engaging way. It demands the opportunity to experiment, practice, reflect and refine. Technologies are now surfacing that allows us to help staff to stick at it and make inroads, building new habits, confidence and mastery.

Look out for technical functionality in current platforms and new point solutions that:

  • Regularly nudge and remind individuals of new behaviours – building new habits on a day-by-day basis (The award-winning application of this to shift digital behaviour across the West Midlands Police force is a great example of this).
  • Provides opportunity for learners to practise safely – here is where appropriate use of extended reality, including virtual, augmented and mixed reality, comes in.
  • Captures practice outcomes and analyses them to make ongoing recommendations.

More connected – less complicated

We need to face up to the fact that no single technology or technology vendor is going to create a silver bullet for us. L&D leaders have been barraged with an exponential increase in technology options over the last few years. Rather than liberating the L&D function, the increasingly complicated array of choices is often causing a retreat, with many hunkering down with the safe and familiar.

Regardless of the data we get from our users, our organisation and our industry, we need to get better at using it to draw insights that will lead to better decisions and smarter results.

What should be trending is a more realistic attitude to identify the right learning technology functionality that our individual organisations need now. Rather than a one size fits all, we should be designing an ongoing ecosystem of interrelated tools and technologies.

Identifying the priorities of what we need to achieve in the L&D function is the realistic place to start. Then we can start to make sense of what technologies already exist within the business to help us achieve it and what we might need to buy, build or add on to get to our goals.

Take a look at Redthread Research’s framework for a learning technology ecosystem to help with this.

More insight – less data

The discussions around data analytics within L&D is trending today. According to both the Learning and Performance Institute and Towards Maturity it is the skill that most L&D professionals believe they need but do not have.

The bigger trend ought to be a hunger for using data to make smarter learning decisions.

Regardless of the data we get from our users, our organisation and our industry, we need to get better at using it to draw insights that will lead to better decisions and smarter results.

When it comes to new technology trends, there will be a plethora of options discussed at the beginning of the year. Your data-driven insight will help you hone in on the ones that will make most sense to you.

Interested in this topic? Read Are you ready for industry 4.0 and learning through technological change?

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