How 21st-Century Technology Is Changing the Learning Landscape

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With the current trends in machine learning, wearable technology, virtual reality, artificial intelligence, and automation, learning and development professionals will need to make a few adjustments to their toolbox to support employees.

What’s not changing?

How we learn may be changing, but not the way we learn. Although we may watch a video or read an online blog to gain information, there’s still a need to make practical use of the new information. There’s still that moment of trying out a new skill, communicating in better ways for the context we are in, or developing habits and patterns that provide innovation, creativity, and new possibilities.  Machines cannot replace human learning, but they can support it.

What is changing?

Employees will need to learn new roles that incorporate machine learning and results from data analytics. It’s not “if” this time will come, it’s “when”. It’s wise to think about what part of your job can be automated as the management of people will soon morph into the management of people and machines, and people’s use of machines.

How technology can empower your L&D strategy

Today, employees are learning everywhere. With phones, videos, texts, and wearable devices at our fingertips, it’s important to consider where to place modules of learning. Our handheld devices are now our “go-to” in quick decision moments, or when teams simply don’t know an answer. What can L&D do to capitalize on these moments? Apps abound and there may be one that can help, but what else might there be that’s designed just for your company and your culture?

Accenture partnered with Shell on intelligent wearable technology for roles ranging from field technicians to lab scientists. The latest phase of work focused on new ways to collaborate, connecting the “what I see” perspective of the hands-on worker to the knowledge worker in the lab, enabling real-time information sharing on critical tasks.

Since learning is now happening everywhere all the time, L&D has to be the data center of employee insights and best practices. Ideally, it’s always been this way all along, but what makes it different now is the constant use of technology. How can L&D provide value with so many competing sources of information? What makes them unique is the company itself. What does your company culture dictate? Is it fast or methodical? Friendly or curt? L&D has the opportunity to support and build the culture and the unique ways their company does business.

This uniqueness of L&D lends itself to having original certificate programs or a badge system that translates into its own cache out in the global marketplace. Today’s gig economy promotes having a current and applicable toolbox for workers. Your company’s intelligence goes a long way in retaining employees if the tools are relevant as transferable skills for the individual.

Leah Belsky of Coursera comments for CLO magazine, “We’re having more and more CLOs come to us and ask if they can bundle their own courses with Coursera courses to build official company-branded credentials that could be released to the world.” For example, imagine a financial technologies certificate curated by financial services firm BlackRock with content from BlackRock and universities, or a certificate from Adobe on machine learning that incorporates Adobe’s own product knowledge with university education. “We anticipate that this type of university-industry collaboration is part of the next frontier for career-relevant credentials.”

The gig economy also begs for flexible work environments and practical infrastructures that assist the contractor to do their best work. The environments will attract and retain the best-fit contractor for the job.  As detailed in, “Organizations will not default to having employees, but rather on-demand bring in the right competence for a specific project. The ultimate ambition is to adopt a more ‘fluid organization’ which efficiently can on- and off-board talent and combine employees and contractors.”

As 2018 fast approaches, learning and development professionals have a key role. They must support others in seeing technology as a support to the work they do while remembering that learning still needs to be applied and repeated to be successful. This, coupled with upholding the company’s culture and creating environments that retain the best talent, will be the intangibles best led by humans rather than machines.