Three days isn’t really long enough to reflect on everything that I saw and heard at Learning Technologies 2017 last week, but whilst things are fresh in my mind I wanted to capture some immediate takeaways.
The stand out session for me was from the keynote speaker on day one, Thimon de Jong. You can hear my immediate thoughts in this interview with Martin Couzins straight afterwards. Even though the talk was not about L&D specifically there was so much that resonated with me, especially with reference to the Digital Learning Realities research that Fosway has been conducting in partnership with Learning Technologies. This isn’t a plug – it genuinely gave me lots of reasons to be cheerful. I often leave keynote talks from futurist type speakers, or look at the gap between what’s being talked about on the conference floor versus the exhibition, and feel a bit depressed. But this talk combined with the initial results from the research indicates, to me at least, that L&D knows where it needs to go.
‘You know me’
Thimon talked about a ‘you know me’ culture. One where we want companies to respect our privacy, but conversely to exploit the data they have on us to create tailored experiences based on our preferences that speak to us in a more personalised way. That might be as a customer of Vodafone, or it might be as a learner within your own organisation. Consumer-facing organisations are improving at this all the time and it’s a trend that needs to happen internally as well as externally. The digital realities research bears out an understanding from L&D professionals (1,060 at the time these particular numbers were crunched) that they key drivers for digital learning are increasing availability (87%), speed of learning (84%) and learner engagement (83%). All of which point to a need for creating ‘better’ learning experiences.
The numbers also demonstrate an increasing focus on the importance of analytics. And it is the artificial intelligence and algorithms which drive analytics that give us a realistic hope of being able to deliver personalised learning experiences en masse. Netflix is so often cited as an example of an experience that learning should aspire to that I now eye-roll whenever I hear it. But interestingly, Thimon told us that there are over 300 people working in the in AI department at Netflix….that’s a serious amount of human intervention in what’s purportedly ‘artificial’ intelligence right there! The average L&D team clearly can’t compete with that! However, if we continue this emerging trend of treating learners like consumers – much as Thimon referenced – then getting a grip of analytics, and learning how to apply the insights it provides us with, is a key step in getting the right content to the right people at the right time.
And the reason this made me cheerful (or at least not depressed) is that L&D seems to recognise this – and there is lots of decent technology out there that can help us act on it. This isn’t about looking ahead at how virtual reality might one day land in the average organisation. This is about something we can start doing now to improve what L&D does.
In L&D we trust
The second part of Thimon’s talk which also resonated, was a discussion on trust. The internet is so full of information, but he questions how we determine what’s fact and what’s opinion. In the current climate of ‘fake news’ this could hardly be more timely. But focusing back in on L&D again, we know that learners don’t just get their information from the learning department these days. Everyone has access to Google (even if it’s via their personal phones rather than company systems) but sifting through what’s fact and what’s opinion, which videos are worth watching and which sources are worth reading can be hard work. This is where the evolution of L&D’s role kicks in.
The excellent Lloyds TSB case study session from Richard Clayton and Angela Sweeney talked about how they successfully began surfacing relevant content to the right people at the right time based on internal ‘demand plans’ carefully crafted with each business department. They worked out what was needed and by whom, and how best to filter that content through to their learners (whilst making some incredible cost savings). Later on, Tobias Kiefer of EY went one step further and explored the concept of ‘Own Your Own Learning’. My tweet on where this leaves the L&D department seemed to strike a chord, because where does this leave L&D?
Kiefer believes L&D needs to become ‘challengers, storytellers, curators, eonomists and data analysts – a list to which Andrew Jacobs (quite rightly in my opinion) added engineers (there still needs to be some infrastructure). ‘By thinking of how we can make ourselves obsolete, we can generate the value the business has always been expecting from us’ Kiefer said. I’m not sure I agree with this 100% but changing the focus from trying to be the last word in where/how learn in an organisation, to one of providing access, filtering, tailoring and nudging is one I can get on board with.
Coming back to Thimon’s point, L&D has to establish itself as a trustworthy source. And coming back to the research, it’s not only about providing content and resources that are accurate and useful – but providing them in ways that are easily available, contextual and engaging are all part of building that trust with learners.
This all makes me feel optimistic because my sense is L&D has grasped that this is the direction of travel. And the technology needed to support it is already out there. It’s not about stuff that’s super expensive or out of reach (although I’m sure you could spend a lot if you have the budget). And that makes me think it’s eminently achievable in the not too far distant future.