Next generation?

It’s hard to make any predictions in these uncertain times, but US training
guru Darin E Hartley offers a personal view of how trends in training
technology across the Atlantic could soon be part of the UK landscape

When people ask me about the state of distance and e-learning today, I often
reply: "We’re just beginning to build the edges of a 1,000-piece
puzzle." This paints the picture in a couple of ways.

First of all, when most people complete puzzles, they build the edges first.
And anyone who has ever worked on a 1,000-piece puzzle knows how daunting a
task that can be. So we’re at the beginning of a new era of learning that isn’t
easy to solve. In fact, we’re figuring out new things about using technology to
learn every day.

How does technology affect learning? Before I answer that question, it is
important to think about how technology has affected the world around us. One
thing that many training professionals are guilty of – I’m a training
professional, so I can say this – is not looking over the tops of their cube
walls to see what is happening in the world around them. I call this
‘environmental myopia’. If you cannot use the world’s trends and happenings in
your training interventions, how real are they going to be?

A way to make this point is to identify all of the things we can do now that
we couldn’t do 25 years ago. A long list of examples can be created quickly:
automatic teller machines (ATMs), online stock trading, e-banking, e-loans,
mobile phones, satellite television, and hundreds of other technological
advances.

The interesting point here is that many trainers and learning professionals
are still offering instructor-led, fixed-length prescriptive courses as the
primary solution. Never mind that, there is double-digit product and service
growth in many companies, while less people have to do more work. Some trainers
are insistent on learning in the classroom, even though they can look around
and see that we live in an on-demand society.

Traditionally, the UK likes to look at what is happening in the US regarding
learning – I intend to do this in this piece and will break the trends down
into three groups: now, near future, and not-so-distant.

Now Trends – Happening currently or in the last year

– Blended learning is being used more by organisations. It occurs when a
combination of learning methodologies and/or delivery methods are combined to
facilitate knowledge transfer. For example, a web-based tool could provide
baseline information about a management topic. The management students could
then get to see some management simulations on video and answer a series of
questions based on the videos.

Finally, after the basic management concepts are learned, the students could
attend a streamlined classroom session. The difference in the classroom
methodology presented in this scenario is that it takes less time, since the
students are up-to-speed on the basics, and when the students are in the
classroom, they are asking more strategic questions and solving more strategic
problems because of the baseline work accomplished ahead of time.

– People are starting to talk about human capital management (HCM). This
means that the HR functions of an organisation, such as recruiting, hiring,
pay, benefits, learning, performance management, are integrated systems and
share data with one another. Some companies have systems and are refining
systems for actual implementation to happen in the next several years.

– E-learning is still being used in the US, but it is being used more
cautiously as companies are reluctant to put all of their faith in
technology-enabled learning. Companies are realising that it is extremely
difficult, if not impossible, to get all learning needs covered by one vendor.
More and more clients are asking disparate vendors to work together to solve
organisational problems.

– Fewer enterprise sales of e-learning content, solutions, and
infrastructure are happening, but more departmental purchases of learning
solutions are common. Organisations are more wary of the large cost (resource
and money) involved in implementing enterprise-wide systems.

Organisations are also more wary of getting into long-term contractual
agreements with technology-enabled learning providers because the constant
change associated with technology.

– Consolidation is rampant in the e-learning industry as first, second, and
third rounds of funding disappear. Additionally, as companies merge or are
acquired, they have to work diligently to create or re-establish identities for
themselves.

Good examples of this are the creation of Intellinex (actually occurred in
October 2000), a subsidiary of Ernst and Young; and IBM, which acquired
PricewaterhouseCoopers’ PwC Consulting Group.

Consolidation and reformation of companies happens so frequently in this
industry that it is a good idea to subscribe to some sort of regular report
that helps describe the industry. A good product in this field is the Think
Equity Report – and it’s free.

– Standards are being (or are) developed, including: Aircraft Industry CBT
Committee [AICC] – see www.aicc.org; Sharable Content Object Reference Model
(SCORM) – see www.adlnet.org, Section 508; and ASTD’s E-Learning Courseware
Certification (ECC) – see www.astd.org/ecertification. All of these groups of
standards are facing various levels of resistance and acceptance in the
learning world. There is still a fair amount of confusion about the purpose of
the various standards and why one method should be selected over another.

– Less people doing more work, which means less traditional training has to
occur. In a world with double-digit product and service growth in many
organisations, coupled with widespread downsizing, classroom learning cannot be
the solution for every learning need.

– Tools exist or are being created to simplify the development of e-learning
and to allow content development to occur closest to the source. Subject Matter
Experts (SMEs) are empowered to create content that can be used for more rapid
distribution. Some organisations are also building internal tools to allow
content owners to upload content into central data repositories for ready use.

– More content is currently being bought and sold than the related technologies
or infrastructure. The most powerful and compelling learning technology that
exists is useless without associated content.

Near Future Trends – One to five years away

– Access and mobility will be king. Getting information to people wherever
they are, without being tethered by bulky personal computers or hard wires,
will become the norm.

Teaching people how to gather and use information will become more valuable
than information overload sessions in the classroom. There is so much
information available today that what is important about it is being able to
locate things you need when you need them and, additionally, creating personal
information management systems to facilitate rapid recall, when necessary.

– E-learning will continue to grow as Generation X and Y become a larger
part of the workforce.

– Smart devices will be more prevalent. Learning will happen in real-time
with the things we use every day. Learning will occur at the tool, on the
equipment, in the workspace, wherever that might be, with the advances in this
field.

For instance, we are already seeing things like On-board Global Positioning
Systems being built in newer cars.

These systems help navigate the driver to his or her ultimate destination.
With downloadable city guides, people can get where they want to go, as well as
directions and advice on restaurants, shopping, and other places to see.

– Human capital management (HCM) systems will become operational on a larger
scale.

Future Trends – More than five years away

– Microchips will get smaller and more powerful, enabling them to be
embedded in nearly everything, including clothing, manufacture goods, animals,
and even people.

– Pedagogical methods will have to alter to reflect a change in the way the
next generations will want to learn. With the relatively ready access to
technology that the youngest generations have now, it is unfathomable that they
will tolerate, or that it is even right to continue to teach, the same kinds of
information in the same ways.

In summary, we are just beginning to embark on the long and potentially
exciting journey of e-learning. There are some trends occurring in the industry
both now and in the future that will provide you with valuable insights as you
move forward on your e-learning/learning quest. The more you stay abreast of
these trends and opportunities, the better you’ll be able to navigate the
variety of learning opportunities available.

Darin E Hartley, M.E.d, (dhartley@learn2 now.com), is the author of three
books including Selling E-Learning (ASTD Press, 2001) and On-Demand Learning:
Training in the New Millennium (HRD Press, 2000).

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