ISSUE 2 - Perspectives

L&D tech: Insights from 12 months of Tech Talks with Christopher Lind

learning-technologies

2 months ago Christopher celebrated one year of Learning Tech Talks with a special event. An event focused on his lessons learned in the past year, where he covered the capabilities of technology and the problems that it can solve for learning professionals.

Technology is a huge part of everyone’s job nowadays. And it did not bypass us as learning professionals. But there is so much daily news about L&D tech, monthly app launches, or suppliers writing to you almost weekly to schedule a demo. It’s overwhelming. 

This was the main reason I felt so lucky to come across Christopher Lind and his Learning Tech Talks over 8 months ago. I was first excited by the subject but soon discovered it’s the go-to place for quality information on what’s happening in the L&D tech industry. 

2 months ago Christopher celebrated one year of Learning Tech Talks with a special event. An event focused on his lessons learned in the past year, where he covered the capabilities of L&D tech and the problems that it can solve for learning professionals.

The sum-up of the talk is that the modern solution spectrum can help with:

  • Performance enablement and operational efficiency;
  • Skill visibility, development, and mobility;
  • Building an organizational culture and supporting employee wellbeing.

Some suppliers choose to cover each of these areas. Others are point solutions – those looking to solve unique, specific problems you or your colleagues encounter in everyday work. What Christopher mentions as a trend is a collaboration between some enterprise-level solutions and point solutions, where the latter remains focused on addressing unique problems while also integrating as features into the former.

Now, the question we all have. How do we choose who to work with? The answer both Christopher mentioned in his event and Johanna Bolin Tingvall mentioned in a pretty cool piece of content from the HR Spotify blog is that it depends on your needs and the challenges you’re trying to solve in your organization. Keeping in touch with leading L&D tech advancements, thoroughly assessing your needs, and researching and benchmarking multiple suppliers against those needs should be common practice.

Since I’m such an L&D tech geek and find it so important for our function to be connected to this topic, I could not pass the chance of partnering up with Christopher to bring his lessons to Offbeat. 

Let’s dive in!

Which are the L&D Tech Advancements in our industry?

Personalization

For a long time, we have been trying to do personalization manually, but weare now seeing more and more automation into this space, empowering and enabling us to do things we physically could not do in the past.

Tech is getting really good at understanding who end users are and what they actually need. That capability is coming largely from the power ofmachine learning, but we cointinue getting a lot more data points to help feed the machine as more and more activity is digital. This data answers questions such as “What does the learner need?”, “What is he or she doing right now?”, “What kind of support does he or she need?”.

So we’re seeing this a lot in content. Content is more personalized to roles, to where people are in a system, to what they are doing. This is where learning in the flow of work enters the scene. As we can integrate more and more of these solutions to what people are using for their day to day work. 

Automation

As you look to the tech, a lot of the mundane tasks that we have historically done can now be automated, and that’s awesome since it largely leads to some of the personalization mentioned earlier. What machine learning is doing for us is automating content curation, communication, or campaigns. 

However, this creates some fear. It can lead us to think that if things are being automated our job is not going to be what it used to be. We were the ones doing all those tasks and now platforms can do them even better by themselves. 

So where does this leave us? It leaves us with a challenge to shift our mindset and start seeing the opportunities ahead. Automation is freeing us up from these basic tasks that we were spending a lot of time on that weren’t adding a ton of value. If those platforms take that away from us, we can focus on some of the higher-order activities. 

Immersive Experiences & Support

When COVID hit we started to move a lot of what we were doing from classroom to virtual and e-learning. But historically, in our industry, there hasn’t been a lot of investment made in platforms, software, or hardware that we can use. So we just pulled things over into the digital, virtual world, limited by what was available. 

Immersive Experiences are those experiences supported by augmented reality, mixed or virtual reality. And there are two talking points here:

  • Software. Years ago, VR and AR did not get the adoption we needed. It was not the most cost-effective, not the easiest to scale up, and did not have the best user experience. But software has come a long way in the past 12 months withCOVID pouring gas on that fire. 
  • Hardware. In the past has been somewhat restricted, except for AR that you could do with your phone. When we thought about the head-gear, anything wearable, it became a bit harder too. But Oculus, for example, has done some really interesting things to democratize VR. This alone will make a big difference. And we’re seeing other players, like HP getting into this space. So we’re going to hear a lot more about hardware and its role in enabling immersive experiences.

Skill Management

COVID has largely been an accelerant of the rescaling conversation. It shifted an old conversation into action. A lot of the LMSs and LXPs out there are starting to focus on skill management. Skill management means having some visibility into what people know, what they do not know, and what they need to be able to grow in those areas.

This forces us, as L&D professionals to tap into the broader talent management spectrum, and think more holistically. Because if we are going to be responsible for managing, developing, and growing skills we need to tap more into the data points outside our comfort zone and have the complete picture of our workforce.

User Experience

We have seen tremendous effort put into the simplification of user experience for both administrators and learners. The advancements came from both a look and feel point of view and making platforms easier to navigate.

Greatest Tech Opportunities

Skill Development

So far, when it comes to skill development we have gone through compressing learning into tiny bite-sized pieces, personalizing and recommending content. There are also major advancements in skill mapping or pulling different data points to create holistic pictures around a person. 

But we have overlooked that developing skills is a lot of work, and it doesn’t happen by watching 32 clips of content. Developing skills takes time, work, practice, and effort. So the mentioned advancements should not blind us into thinking that we have solved the skill challenge.

We have not answered yet questions such as: What should we do to actually have people put these skills into practice?

It’s also tricky because we have created a little bit of a Dunning Kruger effect, where everybody thinks that they know and they are really good at stuff because they have consumed a lot of content and talked a lot about it. But they may never have actually put these things into practice. 

So the opportunity area now is how do we grow skills measurably, so we won’t wake up years from now thinking that we have upskilled people, and having the surprise of our life seeing that we did not.

Data Insights

One of the areas we’re not quite reaching its potential and we need to push harder is data insights. What is all the data we have telling us? Can technology do more to help inform our decisions and tell data-driven stories? 

Historically there were some things we could not get before. What are people doing? How long are they spending on things? Where are they going after they do things? We can start tracking these patterns of behavior. There is still a need for humans to be in the loop, but we can do better at extracting insights from data automatically. 

If we grow in this area it is going to significantly grow our ability to play that role of a strategic partner in business conversations.

Immersive Experiences & Support

Years ago, when we started moving things from the classroom to e-learning and virtual, we took what we did before and plunked it to the new tech. We did not take the time to adapt things to a new environment.

That’s a concerning trend we’re seeing now with immersive experiences & support. Historically, there has not been a lot of investments made in the platforms, software, hardware that we use as learning professionals. So we have been limited to what’s available. But that’s led us to just pulling things over into the digital world without reflection. 

So right now this might be one of the spaces where there remainsa massive opportunity. This is where we can say: who cares what we used to do? It does not matter. We can rethink the rules or throw them away and make new rules. But that’s going to require massive investment in tech. And that started happening. Money is going more and more into platforms trying to bring social to the virtual world such as Facebook’s Horizon or Microsoft’s Altspace. 

But this is also a good opportunity to stop and think about how we shape social experiences to fit the virtual world, not just give them the same effect as the ones offline.

Virtual Experiences

2020 really exposed how much of an opportunity the area of virtual experiences is. Before COVID hit, there were only a handful of people who believed virtual could be just as good or even better in some ways than what we were doing in person. But what we have been experiencing in the past couple of months just blew that up for everyone.

Virtual experiences are a bit different than full immersion. They are mostly what platforms like Zoom do. This year forced us to discover both the capabilities of such platforms and their holes. And it also forced the tech to catch up super fast. The improvements these tools have had to do overnight were massive, so I think it moved us in the right direction. So the gap is slowly closing as there is still only so much you can do virtually.

But as it seems more and more organizations are choosing not to go back to the old way of doing things, there is still an opportunity to improve those platforms that support virtual experiences.

Automation

When it comes to automation, we are only scratching the surface at this point. The big advancements we’re seeing are to the point where you can say hey, I need this, and tech can craft an entire learning experience. Learning experiences that can take into account how many days, how much content, how deep you want it to go.

And this leads us back to the fear that automation will take over our work. But you don’t have to see it like AI taking over, but rather freeing up time for you to focus on higher-order things. 

So as long as we’re spending a lot of our time on manual work, there’s going to be an opportunity for automation to advance.

What can you do today?

  • Stop fighting against the digital change. We have to do more than accept it. We must embrace it. This requires a fundamental mindset shift.
  • Create and prioritize your unique personal development journey. You will need new skills in this new world, so start developing them today.
  • Don’t wait until you have to change, regardless of where you are on the journey. We’re all starting somewhere, and what matters is you move forward.

Part of the reason 2020 was such a hard year for many of us in the field was our level of tech-savviness. That level wasn’t where it needed to be. And 2020 came all of a sudden with the accelerated need to understand L&D tech, digital, virtual.

So as everyone else out there (finance, marketing, ops), we should get comfortable with understanding how L&D tech and the data behind it work. This does not require becoming a programmer overnight. But should we start understanding system architecture, AI, how can we apply tech in different ways? Definitely. And you don’t need to start digging into JavaScript, APIs, or things like that. Just getting the basics of computer science will do.