Data will drive learning as artificial intelligence grows

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Business strategy expert Thimon de Jong speaking at Learning Technologies 2017

Learning professionals will need to design ever more personalised content as artificial intelligence grows in prominence, according to strategy expert Thimon de Jong.

De Jong was speaking at last week’s Learning Technologies Conference at London Olympia, curated by chairman Donald Taylor.

Quotes of the conference

“The big issue with behaviour change is that people do not get enough time to practice. Provide opportunities to practice or people will slip into old behaviours.” Julie Dirksen, author, Design For How People Learn.

“We are at the start of a big shift. Learners and customers will want you to use their data more.” Thimon de Jong, strategy expert.

“Sometimes L&D is about helping people help themselves.” Paul Binks, Kwik Fit.

“Some of our processes had been in place sine 1863 without being changed.”  Alexandra Bode-Tunji, Transport for London.

“Skills don’t happen by just watching a video.” Clive Shepherd, More Than Blended Learning Company.

“Blended learning is about changing the learning experience for learners.” Andy Hurren, head of learning, npower.

“Artificial intelligence is going to alter the way in which information is curated and how we interact with machines,” explained Taylor. “It is going to give us information that is more attuned to what we need, but also it’s going to anticipate us and enable learning in entirely different ways.”

These new ways of learning will be driven by data, according to de Jong. In his keynote speech, he asked delegates to picture a day when employees demand better learning experiences based on the data the organisation holds about them.

“We are at the start of a big shift. Learners and customers will want you to use their data more. If your learners say ‘use my data’, will you be ready to respond?,” he asked.

Learning is not the only area to be impacted by the increasing volume of data we generate at work. There are increasing numbers of technology start-ups that use personal data to provide insights that are potentially useful in the workplace.

For example, Crystal mines an individual’s digital footprint data to identify a person’s personality type, and Afiniti software matches customer calls to call centre staff with a similar personality.

De Jong describes this as the “you know me” era, urging L&D to get in on the act by using data to design better and more relevant learning experiences.

Rise of the network

While data provides the opportunity to deliver a more personal learning experience, digital networks create an environment for better collaboration.

Harold Jarche, a partner at learning thinktank the Internet Time Alliance, explained how networks and collaboration will become increasingly important as machines take over routine human tasks.

Non-routine work requires greater implicit knowledge, which is shared through observation and conversation. Networks amplify and spread this information.

“Improved connectivity has seen organisations move from information hierarchies to networks”, Jarche said. “The web has enabled unlimited information, self-publishing and ridiculously easy group forming. It is easy for any group to form a group online.”

Collaboration depends on the formation of social ties between colleagues. These ties happen when they work together on projects. It also depends on openness, transparency and diversity, which lead to what Jarche calls “enhanced serendipity”. And it can be these serendipitous moments that lead to creativity and innovation in organisations.

Effective collaboration also depends on individuals sharing useful information. To do this, they need what Jarche calls personal knowledge mastery. This is the ability to seek out useful and relevant information, make sense of it and share it with people in the network who will find it useful.

The process is social, collaborative and informal, and improves insights within organisations by helping build connections, coincidences and curiosity.

For L&D teams to benefit from the power of networks, they must model this behaviour themselves. “Be a good learner, be inquisitive and seek out networks,” Jarche advised.

Jarche wasn’t alone in looking at the future skills required by L&D professionals.

Clive Shepherd, director at The More Than Blended Learning Company, urged L&D professionals to upgrade their skills now that the context in which they work has changed.

“People in learning and development have a lot of great skills, but the context in which we’re now operating is one in which our learners are much more empowered, and we have many more opportunities through technology,” he said. “It’s not that they are not skilled, it’s just that the skills that they need are very different.”

Shepherd highlighted three essential skills for L&D:

1. Interacting with stakeholders
This includes building credibility by developing consulting skills as well as acting as a learning architect by designing the whole experience, from analysing performance problems, diagnosing the problem and managing the design and implementation of the solution.

2. Interacting with learners
These are the traditional skills of L&D, but they must work across digital and non-digital contexts. As well as instructional skills, facilitation and coaching are becoming increasingly important.

3. Interacting with media
L&D professionals need to be able to use a wide range of media to assist the teaching process. Other skills include finding information and resources that are relevant and useful and packaging them up for others. And also acting as an information filter to ensure colleagues see the most relevant information.

As well as developing the right skills, Shepherd advised learning professionals to stay up to date with the latest tools and technologies and keep current with the science of learning.

A common criticism of L&D is that it is too busy looking after everyone else to tend to its own needs. But the overwhelming conclusion of Learning Technologies was that they cannot afford to let their own skills and knowledge slip as the workplace undergoes such dramatic change.

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