We asked Nik Kinley, Director & Head of Talent Strategy, YSC, to provide some feedback on the on how its best to use tech in training these days. Below are his thoughts.
Technology is nothing new now: It has become something we expect. It does continue to evolve, though, and as it does it is creating new opportunities for organizations to revolutionize the way they train people. In fact, we have reached a kind of tipping point in our use of training tech and though there is much to be excited about we also need to cautious because we have been here before, and last time, things did not go so well.
A Little History, A Little Caution
The first wave of technology in training came in the millennial years when a whole raft of e-learning companies quickly opened and just as quickly closed. The issue they encountered was that the technology infrastructure was not sufficiently developed to support them (e.g., a lack of cheap broadband access). Today, it is different. The technology is better, with massive improvements in bandwidth, people now carrying powerful computers in their pockets, and better integration between devices. For example, global mobile data use grew by 63 percent in 2016; and cellular data connection speeds have increased threefold in just the past year. Whatever metrics you use, there can be little doubt that the rate of technology product innovation is accelerating. What is more, these technologies have now become sufficiently commoditized to be cost-effective; and access to them has reached a critical mass. As a result, we are now on the cusp of a second coming for training tech.
The promoters of this new tech promise much. They call it a virtual revolution. Yet for all the possibilities, it is not the technology itself that gives cause for hope: It is the opportunities it creates for how we engage learners. And here there is a lesson to be learned from the why the first wave of training tech failed. Because poor technology infrastructure was not the only issue that killed it. Firms got so excited by all the shiny promises of the early tech, they forgot to think about how they were using it. For the most part, they just used it as a new channel to present the same old training materials. And beyond making materials more accessible, just putting documents online does not constitute much of an improvement, let alone a revolution. So if training providers and organizations are to make the most of this new wave of training technology, they need to remember to not just focus on what the tech can do, but to also focus on how it is being used and how this can help learning.
Four Ways to Use Training Tech
The real promise and revolution occurring today, then, lies in how we are using technology in training. And for the most part, we are using it in five key ways.
- Presenting information. This is the function catered to by the original e-learning ‘revolution’: Improving access to knowledge. It can be done passively, just making information available for self-directed learning, or it can be used more proactively, to rapidly cascade information through the layers of an organization. It is thus an important and valuable function of technology, but on its own, rarely sufficient.
- Enabling new ways to engage with learning. Using tech to present information can enable news ways of engaging with it. High profile examples include just-in-time learning in hospitals, in the shape of medical checklists and information being made available on doctor’s mobiles. Then there is the use of Augmented Reality to train service personnel in the maintenance and repair of new vehicle models in the automotive industry. And there is the use of games to engage learners through what is being called ‘funware’ and ‘edutainment’, with research coming out of higher education showing that students in classes using games do better than students in classes not using games.[i] With each of these developments, technology has enabled people to engage with knowledge in entirely new ways.
- Connecting people. Technology in learning enables us to connect people who may be thousands of miles apart. This connection has two important purposes. First, it enables collaborative learning – learning in groups. This has long been acknowledged as an effective way of engaging people in the task of learning. Learners can attend real-time virtual learning events, coach each other, and provide support – all remotely. Then there is the knowledge management that new technologies are enabling. Probably the most common use of this is in ‘communities of practice’: Websites where employees can go to share ideas, ask questions and collaborate on projects. Ensuring knowledge transfer across siloed business structures has long been one of the biggest learning challenges facing organizations, and for many, it is easier to find a long-lost high school friend on the other side of the world than it is to find out a piece of work-related information from the other side of the business. Collaborative tools now enable businesses to solve this issue.
- Analyzing and Improving Learning. Perhaps the most recent development has been the use of technology to analyze how people engage with both learning materials and other learners. This enables firms to provide extra support for those not so engaged, and to leverage the most connected as change champions.
Whenever your business looks at new technology in training, then, it is important to clarify exactly how the technology is being engaged with, and how it helps to learn to occur. For technology is not an end in itself, it is just a tool; and like all tools, it is what we do with it that matters most.