Four Technology Trends for Corporate Learning

One of the great advantages of working for a large multinational; access to resources. During the first half of 2011 we invited several leading technology firms at Rabobank. Our aim? To identify the main trends in technologies that will have a major impact on learning in the corporate learning domain. We specifically chose mainstream technology organizations, trying to steer free from self fulfilling prophecies. The companies were Microsoft, Google, IBM and SAP. The exception was an international learning technology provider that we chose because of their vision on learning and technology (CrossKnowledge). A pretty clear picture emerged.

There are four main trends for using technology in learning:

  • More social technologies
  • More portability
  • More immersion
  • Better use of big data

More social technologies

Although Web2.0 is a term that has been around for quite some time, the adoption of social learning in corporate learning is still in its infancy. Many organizations struggle with leaving behind the old teacher centric model. Technologies are there and have become so easy to use and freely accessible that disruptive innovation can start happening. There are many advances to be made in this field.

More portability

The huge push towards smartphones and tablets shakes the whole hardware industry. The new paradigm is ‘mobile’. Most companies saw this as only a first step in allowing your technology supported activities to become even more portable. The idea here is that it no longer matters which device you like to use. You can easily move your work (a.k.a. learning) from your desktop, to your smartphone for in transit activities, onto your TV at home for a video chat with your colleagues, and swipe nighttime reading materials from your TV to a tablet. Cloud technologies and new kinetic-style interfaces make this even more intuitive.

More immersion

We struggled a little with this one. It was clear that serious gaming, virtual reality and augmented reality were all part of the vision of the future of most companies we invited. Also, new types of interfaces (kinetic and multi-layered) were mentioned as part of the gamers subculture, a more dominant part of the taskforce in years to come. What these technologies have in common is that they all strive to immerse the participant in realities that are close to, but not quite the same as the day-to-day reality. The advances in this area are enormous; rendering techniques, open-source game engines, 3D technology and the likes are becoming mainstream tools. This opens op a new wave of possibilities for companies to use mockup realities, serious games and augmented reality as a means for learning. It took an huge amount of effort to design and develop a VR game for teller training. In the future it will be very easy to try-out how to cross-sell an insurance product.

Another area were we expect great advances is in using game rules to enrich the working environment, triggering personnel to go a level deeper in their understanding of their work processes and pushing for benchmark performance in creating products. Rule engines will be standard functionality in enterprise portal technologies.

Better use of big data

Users generate vast amounts of data. We are all familiar with how Google, Facebook and Amazon use this data for commercial purposes. In learning though, there are very few examples, if any, in which big data is being used. This might be due to the teacher centric nature of corporate learning that still lingers, and it might be due to the silo-approach of many Learning Management Systems of old. Looking at the future, where social learning is much more pervasive and learning systems will be much more integrated in the digital working environment, big data will become much more interesting. Aggregation and curation services will become mainstream. Helping the employee to do their jobs in the best way possible, suggesting others to work with on learning assignments, and prompting for interesting discussions or documents that are relevant for a learning objective you have just posted in your performance management system.

Mixing and matching

The four trends individually have vast potential for learning. Where it really gets interesting is in the combination of the trends. Portable, social learning, backed-up by ‘smart data’ would allow for ‘ubiquitous’ learning. Does this sound far off? Not necessarily; we are already trying out drill-and-practice knowledge questions that are socially generated on mobile devices to improve our employees basic knowledge levels within our regulated market. We are designing a community of practice for innovation that uses game rules and web3.0 concepts to improve are innovation funnel and build Rabobank’s innovation competencies. The technologies are there. It is our creativity and guts that is needed to use them for learning.

And what about informal learning?

All of the companies in this review mentioned the vast potential for improving informal learning. So why did it not make it to the trends in our list? The point is; informal learning cannot be designed, developed and managed. For it to work, you have to allow people to move freely into areas of their interest. But you can help out. Companies can boost the potential for informal learning by implementing the trends described above. The application of the ideas behind the trends is not only to design and develop ‘interventions’, but also to create rich, smart, immersive and portable environments. Environments that allow chance meetings, serendipity and reflection.

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