6 Learning Technology Trends That are Shaping the Future of Work
It is easy to be excited by the bright lights of new technologies, especially when they hold so much promise for personal and organisational development. But what is the best way to use these tools in optimising learning for the future? [8-minute read]
Digital transformation continues to redefine how learning and development happen, but to harness learning technology’s full potential it is critical that organisations stay connected to why.
This is the message that emerged from Headspring’s recent interviews with a panel of leading L&D professionals.
Though battle cries like “disrupt or be disrupted” continue to stir boardroom fervour, experts agree that passion must be balanced with purpose. Technology is use-agnostic: a tool for enabling change, not the final objective of change. The thinking behind tech’s employment is even more critical than the tech itself.
Technology is use-agnostic: a tool for enabling change, not the final objective of change.
Here are six big themes guiding the use of digital solutions in the future of learning at work.
Making digital learning content accessible on mobile continues to lead L&D trends. However, accessibility alone is not sufficient. A positive user experience (UX) is key.
Mobile-compatibility makes approaches like microlearning possible, but it also does the important job of making content consumption feel familiar. Mobile devices and apps, and social media, have changed the way users engage with content.
UX needs to reflect this.
“The key to the future of learning and development is making sure that the learning is delivered on any platform with mobile in mind,” says Lynsey Whitmarsh, Director of Innovation at Hemsley Fraser.
“But it’s a lot more than optimising something for mobile. It also needs to give the user the best experience possible. It’s got to be much better than your intranet; it’s got to be much better than anything else you have.”
A high-quality user experience is no longer a pretty nice-to-have. As the workforce grows in representation among digitally-fluent members of generations Y and Z, L&D professionals need to recognise that mobile UX is not just the teaching mechanism, it is the language too.
Caroline Ford, Group Head of Learning at Thomas Cook, believes that this is critical to talent development and retention.
“It’s important that Millennials have been brought up being schooled using these technologies. Companies that think a flipchart and traditional classroom or eLearning development solutions are still acceptable are likely to miss out on attracting and retaining the best people in future.”
There is no golden ratio of digital learning to traditional learning, but the approach in designing interventions should always be the same: human-focused and user-centric.
Humanised content meets people where they are, speaks to them in ways that are familiar, and solves problems that are important to them as well as the business.
Says Dina Álvarez, Head of Culture & Talent at everis UK, “The most important thing for me is to help people improve their experience inside the company – to provide them with the tools they need, not the tools Human Resources or L&D need.”
“I love the emerging concepts around design thinking,” says Peter Reed, Director of Product Strategy & Development at InterActive Pro and Edology.com. “It emphasises understanding how people are currently working and identifying challenges, and from that point designing, prototyping and testing new solutions.”
“If we really understand our students’ practices we can make a great impact.”
The most important thing for me is to help people improve their experience inside the company – to provide them with the tools they need, not the tools Human Resources or L&D need.
To humanise learning requires a broader and more intentional understanding of the learner’s needs.
L&D has begun to acknowledge the constant and distributed nature of development. The trend towards learning in the flow of work, for example, emerges from the understanding that knowledge acquisition and knowledge application are not separate events. Work and learning are fundamentally intertwined.
In everyday organisational life, nothing happens in isolation. Having a more holistic view of how different areas integrate is necessary if learning is going to mirror what is really happening in the complex system.
When we talk about learning it should be about supporting humans in feeling more competent to perform better in their life, not just during the 9-5.
However, experts like Whitmarsh maintain that the future of work will see the scope of that integration expanded to include the broader fabric of the learner’s life.
“If you look at performance data, people are coming to work worried about how to pay their mortgage, or choose the best school for their child. They might be struggling with their mental health. Performance at work is going to be compromised by some of these things, so when we talk about learning it should be about supporting humans in feeling more competent to perform better in their life, not just during the 9-5.”
To Rebecca Robins, Global Chief Learning and Culture Officer at Interbrand, this holistic perspective is critical in deciding how to apply learning technologies.
“Technology needs to constantly look at the day to day human problems that it is solving.”
“When we think about the ‘why’ in making decisions on technology, Jose Neves, CEO of Farfetch, has a great mantra that I hold fast to: ‘If we’re not solving a problem the user has, we won’t do it.’”
At Interbrand this philosophy has driven the creation of a unifying platform that operates across performance, career development and learning. It makes a purposeful link between an individual’s career ambitions and aspirations, and the learning and inspiration that can support and accelerate those ambitions.
Similarly, at Hemsley Fraser, the digital amalgamation of learning and communication services within the organisation has increased engagement by almost 200%.
For multinational and cross-border enterprises, an integrative view of user needs may reveal important systems’ limitations.
For example, “In developing economies,” says Peter Reed, “we are seeing a tech-generation skip, where users are bypassing some of the older infrastructure and jumping straight to mobile for their connectivity.”
Learning and development is increasingly moving towards personalised, recommended, and shared content.
Jeremy Auger, Chief Strategy Officer at D2L, believes that the next big trend in learning technologies will be continuing professional development through learning experiences custom-fitted to each individual.
“These pathways take into consideration each learner’s strengths and weaknesses, to truly tailor the experience.”
“In addition, today’s learner craves continuous feedback, not only from their managers, but from peers and subject matter experts. Learning technology can improve the delivery of timely and meaningful feedback.”
As Auger points out, more personalised learning experiences are being driven by the rapid development of automation, artificial intelligence (AI) or machine learning (ML), 5G wireless and cloud technologies, which in turn are changing future skill requirements.
“Disruptive technologies mean the half-life of certain skills will shorten. They may no longer be in demand, nor applicable.”
For Karen Hebert-Maccaro, Chief Learning Experience Officer at O’Reilly, blockchain has an important role to play in a shifting skills landscape.
“One of the most important emerging trends in the next 8 months will be blockchain. Its potential for secure, transferable, non-alterable record keeping will play a role in helping create an interoperable “transcript” that can follow a learner across organisations and stages of life.”
“This will ultimately create a space where credentials, upskilling and reskilling efforts can be readily accessed, then verified [...] greatly benefitting the organisation and simultaneously benefitting the individual.”
Disruptive technologies mean the half-life of certain skills will shorten. They may no longer be in demand, nor applicable.
Additional emerging technologies like virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) are the definition of personalised learning, delivering an immersive experience that is both common and unique to every user.
Caroline Ford uses the example of augmented reality smart glasses:
“They’re already available and will take us beyond the virtual reality headset or the smartphone (and in fact, really integrate the two) in terms of fingertip access to integrated online learning.”
“I think there are huge cost efficiencies to be found in using augmented reality in training [...] – it’s personalised, real-time and totally immersive. That’s a fantastic learning experience.”
4. Data Capitalisation
Data capitalisation is not just a conversation for accountants. L&D professionals employing digital tools are beginning to see data as a major asset in delivering higher quality services.
Lynsey Whitmarsh believes that data analytics and data science will become more integrated into learning and development, providing constantly more efficient, relevant, personalised and productive learning.
“With better data science we will begin to see some really key data that explains what learners and individuals in organisations are looking for.”
Data is the food that sustains technologies like AI or ML. It is the key to responsive, customised programmes that elevate the individual human experience.
“Modern learning platforms offer the ability to quantify human behaviour and learn through analytics,” says Jeremy Auger. “This can help businesses track and understand engagement and performance, which in turn helps them make better onward decisions about training and development.”
A mature digital learning ecosystem has the potential to become a self-authored tuition field in which individuals and groups co-create learning opportunities.
Auger expects this to precipitate structural changes too:
“With modern learning platforms supporting user-generated content, and peer-to-peer learning, there could be a shake-up in the internal process of L&D.”
“Faster knowledge sharing and expert participation in the development process, spurred by more accessible content creation, sharing and discovery tools, wrests some of the control away from L&D groups, and distributes it to a wider variety of contributors across the company.”
Hebert-Maccaro predicts there may also be opportunities to restructure learning areas to include more technically-savvy individuals, or to build internal partnerships across the organisation between learning and development departments.
Decentralised content creation and knowledge sharing will redefine the role of L&D, freeing learning and development professionals to focus more on facilitating the growth of a learning culture that is human-centric, integrated, personal, data-rich and collaborative.
Technology has a powerful role to play in cultivating a learning culture. Such an ethos is an outcome of the types of learning described above, but also a vital ingredient.
“I think that before introducing technology we have to prepare our organisations and work on developing the right learning mindset,” says Dina Álvarez. Without this growth mindset and an underlying belief in their own potential and intelligence, employees will not have what they need to develop themselves and their careers.
Robins holds a similar view. “We know that strong brands grow from within – they invest in their people as their greatest asset and they see learning as culture.”
This is particularly relevant in the implementation of new learning technologies. As Karen Hebert-Maccaro points out, new technologies are challenging to implement regardless of the organisational area.
“However, learning and development teams may have particularly difficult challenges in securing resources (money and expertise) to make new technology adoption go smoothly.”
All stakeholders need to be convinced of the value of engaging with the technology. But, as every L&D professional knows, this is not easy.
It is in culture that collective human values are played out. Technology is only a tool for stifling or liberating them.
“One of the greatest obstacles to adoption is company culture,” says Robins. “You can tap into the most sophisticated technology out there, but it’s rendered irrelevant if the only mandate in your business is to tick some anodyne hygiene factor.”
“While there must be technological education,” says Jeremy Auger. “I strongly believe that there is a need for a new learning culture – one that both compliments and befits this ongoing technological revolution.”
“Business leaders will need to instill a life-long, engaging learning culture to future-proof their employees if they are to truly thrive in the digital workplace.”
It is in culture that collective human values are played out. Technology is only a tool for stifling or liberating them. When organisations value learning and development as pathways to sustainable growth and success, amazing transformations – digital and physical – become possible.