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The future of learning technology

Following on from my last blog post I’ve been asked to give my thoughts on the future of learning technology.

It’s traditional for me at this point to quote William Gibson, “The future is already here, it’s just not very evenly distributed.” And Arthur C Clarke, “Any sufficiently advanced learning technology is indistinguishable from magic.”

What technology developments can we apply to learning?

How can we distribute futuristic learning more evenly? How can we create something magical?

You should remember that I’m a technologist, and not skilled in pedagogy.

I hope you caught Donald H Taylor’s webinar a few weeks ago about the future of L&D, in it, he drew a matrix of the rate of change in L&D vs. that of the business: It seems to me that the L&D department is doing one of two things. It’s either responding to change faster than it’s parent organisation, leading it into the future or it’s lagging behind, unable to keep up with the pace of change.

I suspect that when it comes to technology the L&D department is usually struggling to keep up. This may be true even if the individuals working in L&D are using the latest technology.

So what new things should we expect to see in learning?

1. Social

We’re seeing social technology explode, or rather we have seen since Facebook arrived on the scene in 2004. Learning is often better when you’re doing it with someone else.

There are some social aspects to learning, but we’re yet to see something new and compelling in the social space. What we tend to see here are the following:

Bragging – look what I know – what I just did – this is the typical ‘share on Twitter/Facebook’ experience.

Competing – let’s play a game together and see who wins – using leaderboards, points and badges.

Knowledge sharing – I don’t know the answer to this problem, does anyone else know? – Discussion Forums, Q&A services.

Collaboration – let’s work together to solve this/learn something. Examples here include collaborative document editing with Google Drive or tools like Poetica.

MOOCs are an interesting development in this area, but I think most of them are still half-baked. The social aspect of digital learning is still incomplete.

2. Personalisation

Mobile has already turned the world of learning upside down. It has changed the way we produce learning by requiring us to chunk our content into smaller pieces for small-screen delivery.

This article is long but includes the wonderful words “We are in a war of Blobs versus Chunks. You all are on Team Chunk. We cannot let the blobs win.” The result of this chunking is a tool like Adapt which is much more flexible than previous approaches.  It also opens the door for highly personalised content. By creating chunks of learning, in self-contained blocks, labelled appropriately, we can build tools that create custom courses “on the fly”. The courses are perfectly adapted for your location, skills, learning needs and interests.

We haven’t seen the final shape of personalised learning yet. We’re only beginning to collect a sizeable library of content in the right form with the right amount of metadata around it to perform this sort of task.

The other side of this content explosion is big-data.  One of the buzzwords-du-jour, this just means better analytics. Chunked content gives us greater precision in our measurements. We can use it to identify the best content, target our learning interventions with more precision and measure the results of the work we do with greater detail.

I don’t think the tools are there yet for achieving this level of personalisation, but they’re not far off. And when they do arrive I predict that they will disrupt the LMS world.

3. The LMS

At Learning Pool our Learning Management Systems are driving the success of organisations across the UK.

I suspect nobody knows exactly how many different Learning Management Systems there are but there are actually over 500 different types worldwide.

That’s either not enough or far too many depending on your viewpoint.

I predict a lot of change in this area over the next few years. In particular, I expect the LMS will become a tool that L&D people use to measure and distribute learning but learners will use other systems in addition.

There’s a lot more I could write on this subject.

4. Mobile

As I’ve already mentioned, mobile has turned the world upside down. The speed of technology development will only increase. It will be driven in large part by the low-powered, always connected, available anywhere computing available via a mobile phone. The cheapest smartphones are available for around £20, just think about what you could do with a cheap, web-connected touchscreen device.

Here are some thoughts on that, “Stop thinking of it as a phone.”

Mobile technology developments have opened up new areas. Wearable devices, personal drones, smart cars, internet fridges – these are all possible because of the availability of low-power CPUs, Bluetooth, wifi and other mobile technology.The big things this year are wearables. From Google Glass to Oculus Rift via Android Wear and Apple Watch,

The big things this year are wearables. From Google Glass to Oculus Rift via Android Wear and Apple Watch, it’s all about small devices that you wear on your body.  There are many opportunities for learning with them.

How about using Google Glass to augment reality with location and context-aware support information? A watch app that knows what you’re working on and provides handy tips every time you lift your hand and glance at your wrist. A wearable device that measures your biometric information (heart rate, posture, movement etc) and gives you prompts to be more active or to take a break from your computer.

So there you go, four developments for the future of learning. Not exhaustive by any means, and everyone’s view will be different. Perhaps we should nominate like in the ice-bucket challenge? I want to hear your perspective on the future of learning technology.

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