This post originally appeared on the Kineo website.
Off the back of Europe's biggest L&D exhibition and conference last week, Learning Technologies, lots of people will be busy frantically researching all of the big buzzwords they heard at the event. Every vendor wants to be seen to be ahead of the curve, and the vast range of e-learning trends touted as 'the next big thing' can be overwhelming.
So, how do you filter out the flash-in-the-pan gimmicks that go nowhere, avoid expensive investments that just don’t deliver any real value? One thing you can be sure of is the ongoing uncertainty and change you and your organisation will be facing. It’s essential that you build a flexible learning infrastructure that allows you to adapt and adopt new innovative methods that genuinely enhance your L&D strategy.
With that in mind, which of the many emerging innovations are most likely to impact your organisation?
Virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR)
Virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) have been on the digital learning trends lists for a couple of years now, but it’s only in recent months that organisations have really started getting to grips with the potential of this technology. The costs of delivery and deployment are falling rapidly and in the next couple of years, we could see content traditionally delivered as a simulation or a branching elearning scenario transformed into more immersive VR and AR experiences. This could mean that instead of watching a video-based simulation, you could put your learners inside a realistic environment in which they can observably demonstrate their mastery of the required skills and behaviour. Key areas of application are likely to be high-risk environments, technical tasks and complex procedural activities. The tipping point is likely to be where the hardware is much more lightweight (see Facebook’s normal AR spectacles) and untethered VR headsets that are do not give you motion sickness and are not health and safety hazards in their own right.
How to prepare: If you’re interested in VR or AR, it’s worth conducting a thorough review of the roles and processes that would benefit from more immersive treatment and determine the business benefits that you would derive through a faster time to full competence, increased safety and reduced cost of errors made. Work with your IT team to review the available devices, and make sure you investigate the costs of emulating a real work environment effectively. You may find AR used in a safe environment a better place to start than VR, focusing on a performance support experience that can raise overall performance levels for your target workforce in that role, in that you can focus on performance.
Custom content remains essential when you have something unique to say. However, limited time and resources mean you can’t build everything yourself, and nor should you. Learning content that covers standardised subjects such as regulatory training, general professional skills development or external certifications, means you don’t have to continually reinvent the wheel. These content libraries are particularly useful when they can be edited and personalised to support your own context. When tightly integrated with your learning platform this can be a seamless complement to the blended learning experience. And it’s not all about courses either. You can use tools to curate information, often freely available, from trusted online sources to keep things fresh and relevant. As learning appetites grow and accelerate, it is important to focus your own time and budget on more specialist learning solutions designed to differentiate your organisation.
How to prepare: Conduct a thorough review of the learning content you need to deliver, and identify areas where flexible generic content libraries could be used. Assess your LMS integration features to determine how seamless this content can be built into your learning programmes. Explore curation tools, such as Anders Pink, that can provide fresh, targeted information feeds to support your long-term engagement with learners.
The role of repeated deliberate practice of new knowledge and skills is increasingly recognised as critical to effective learning transfer. Designing learning opportunities that can be more readily consumed within the normal working day can both accelerate this transfer and ensure valuable performance support is available at the point and time of need.
Microlearning is used to deliver short bursts of learning on the go. In regions such as India, which take a mobile-first learning strategy, content stays short, sharp and memorable, typically comprising 3-5 minute videos, quick quizzes and short scenarios.
How to prepare: Microlearning is seen as a bridge between more expansive programmes of learning and development and supporting performance inside the workflow of a normal day. It is not a panacea in its own right. So look for opportunities to find a better balance between what you deliver formally and informally. Make sure to think of resource and experience-based learning that will support your learners as and when they need it. Find opportunities to streamline (or even remove) existing ‘courses’ and replace with shorter, more engaging content which learners can engage with on their own terms. Think about how to personalise the learning to specific audiences based on their job role, prior experience and their performance when training or in the role. Also check on any technical constraints of the mobile devices your people use - it’s imperative that the content is both accessible and meaningfully usable.
The 2017 Towards Maturity Benchmark Report showed that 56% of organisations now encourage learners to share their experiences and solve problems using social learning online, signifying a massive uptake in the adoption of social learning. It’s clear that there’s a healthy appetite for social learning, and with tools like Totara Social available to support this organic transfer of knowledge and skills, we expect the demand for collaborative learning platforms to increase further into 2018 and beyond.
That said, there is still plenty of confusion over the differences between professional knowledge sharing and personal social media sharing. Our view is that tools which encourage easy and open collaboration as a normalised part of everyday workflow are most likely to be used and become deeply embedded into the fabric of the organisation. Those that focus on the social sharing aspects may be unnecessarily competing with existing social media platforms outside of the organisation.
How to prepare: Be very clear about what you want from an enterprise social learning platform. Most employees will prefer to keep their personal social profiles separate from work, so think carefully about separating out cultural engagement from getting work done. There need to be powerful and ‘sticky’ reasons for users to commit to using the platform daily and to view it as a positive influence on their performance at work. Platforms like Totara Social can be designed to align and support good workflow and communication across the organisation. Working out loud, sharing progress and asking opening for support from peers across the business can be a powerful way to demonstrate the common purpose and values of the organisation as a whole. Ensure that you identify the right influencers within your organisation to support the deployment and initial growth of the network - once it gains a life of its own, you know you’ve made an impact.
We recently spoke to independent LMS industry expert John Leh about the future of the learning technology market. He said that a major LMS trend he has recognised is that organisations are moving away from expensive proprietary learning management systems and towards more open, flexible systems. He highlighted the importance of the modern LMS being easy to integrate with other systems in the organisation, and noted that many businesses have very niche requirements, requiring customisations to meet their specific needs. That’s why we at Totara have always been the champions of open source, and ensured that our customers enjoy all the freedoms that come with an open framework - to be different, to save, to choose and to learn.
How to prepare: Check that your learning platform offers you the strategic freedom to control and direct your investment to suit the changing needs of your organisation. You should have the reassurance that you can change direction quickly and scale accordingly. That you can freely integrate and extend functionality as best fits your business, and not be dictated by an inflexible proprietary roadmap. That you are not locked into long-term contracts that end up chaining you to technology that is no longer fit for purpose. You may find yourself in that very position now. But you can take a positive step to reviewing your current procurement strategy to ensure you protect and empower your organisation in the future.
In summary, it is easy to become confused by the many competing trends that you are being told are the next panacea to all your organisation’s learning and development needs. The truth is it takes careful analysis, experimentation to determine which, if any of these innovations will make a positive and sustainable difference to your people’s performance. But your first focus should be to ensure you have the right foundations on which your organisation can build an agile, responsive learning culture. That means ensuring your learning infrastructure is sufficiently flexible and open to new innovation, that your procurement practices give you the contractual freedom to adapt and change course on your own terms. In short, the best innovations give you and your people the freedom to learn - keep focused on those and you will be preparing your organisation to prosper.