Technology is playing an increasing role in how corporations conduct their learning and training programs. Not only are learning and talent management systems becoming more sophisticated, but so, too, are the devices that deliver them. With the burgeoning popularity of technological advancements like tablets and smartphones, learning is becoming an anytime-anywhere proposition.
Three experts in learning technology and delivery comprised a panel at the Enterprise Learning Conference & Expo (ELCE):
>>Frank Russell, CEO of Prositions and former founder and CEO of GeoLearning;
>>Bobby Yazdani, founder, chairman and CEO of Saba; and
>>Alan Todd, chairman of the Corporate University Xchange and former chairman and CEO of KnowledgePlanet.
“I’ve seen the democratization of content so that it’s less formal,” said Todd. “Sharing knowledge and information within the organization becomes critical. The technology is now allowing us to do more of those kinds of things. I try to see what the generation that’s moving into the workforce is doing, because they are going to take over.
“It’s a brave new world that’s much different from where we’ve been, and it’s extremely exciting. We’ve got to let it flow and get comfortable with it.”
This panel of experts shared views on the new brave world of learning technology.
QUESTION: Based on what you’ve heard from your clients, where do you see enterprise education heading?
YAZDANI: “We’ve gone through a period where the learning function was centralized, but now you’re actually seeing the complete opposite. It’s getting embedded in multiple areas of the operation. It’s getting closer to the operation — which is a good sign, because people are looking to enable the different areas of the business by skilling the right workers and skillingthe right business processes.
“The training/learning function is also going outside of the employee base. More and more projects are organized around channels: supply side, manufacturing, dealerships, franchises. They are much broader than employee- or HR-focused projects.
“We also have seen trends move away from top-down, very structured, formal training to social or bottom-up training programs and activities. A lot of social learning and community-based learning is taking place. We’ve also seen a shift from more formal activities to more informal activities: mentoring, coaching and really embedding expertise to different training programs that create more informal activities.”
RUSSELL: “We see organizations moving to a concept-building broad architecture for people analytics. The future is in ‘app-lification’: building lightweight apps that can run on devices socially enabled to sit on top of a social learning fabric that reports back to an enterprise ‘warehouse’ for people analytic solutions.
“A lot of organizations are asking how to evolve to a talent management structure so that recruiting systems, applicant tracking systems, learning development, performance management and coaching, in order to provide managers the intelligence to know what they’re supposed to do every day to develop and nurture people, to retain people, and to attract the right people.
“There’s a lot more opportunity for sophistication around people analytics. Think of that as a sort of heavy back-end piece and the app-lification as the lightweight piece. You’ll see lighter tools for quizzes, assessments, testing, learning and content-imbedded systems.”
TODD: “As an example, we were involved in a project where students owned it, and they didn’t want adults mucking it up. We were trying to communicate with them through emails, and the response was zero. The moment you send out a text message — or even better yet put it on Facebook — we opened up whole new communication channels. The way in which younger people communicate and learn is fundamentally different from the way we did it, even though we were shakers and movers.”
RUSSELL: “In the old days — 10 years ago — the job of the data center operators and the I.T. officers were to protect and secure the assets and control the environment. In this day of device and socialmedia explosion, they can no longer control it, so they have to take a much more defensive stance of building a firewall but allowing everything to occur organically.
“So knowledge management, informal learning and collaborative learning systems have to be top-down/bottom-up, and the bottom-up part is no different for adults in communities of practice: They want the same autonomies that kids want. And if you don’t give it to them in the work environment, they’ll create it outside of your corporation. So there has to be a magic balance between top-down (creating the space for people to learn) and bottom-up (they control it).”
QUESTION: How do you get that balance between bottom-up and top-down content?
TODD: “There’s been an over-reliance and over-focus in the last 10 years on formal training. The social media technologies and tools have evolved in such a way that it’s a lot easier to support informal learning. What used to be called ‘watercooler’ learning is now called social learning. It’s exploding, and the focus is now 90 percent social, informal, collaborative learning. Organizations that have thousands of programs are rapidly paring their course catalogs by half — twothirds, 90 percent in some cases — to recognize the radical shift. It’s happening right now, as we speak.”
YAZDANI: “Over and over again, we’ve seen over-investment in formal learning and lack of investment in informal. Organizations are paring their catalogs, but they’re also globalizing them, because the audience is expanding to multiple markets, so it’s not one catalog, it’s many catalogs. You can outsource your electronics to Taiwan and outsource your mechanical work to China, and there are different sets of capabilities and levels of expertise in these different markets.
“While some expertise can be transferred to formal, you have to find very specific people act as mentors. It’s complex. I don’t believe the formal is going away, because we live in a world where jobs are regulated, industries, there are safety standards, so it’s required to have a certain level of formal training. Testing and assessments can really help to drive what is a required. But the overall effort is also about reducing the cost.”
RUSSELL: “Technology has helped leverage that, too. There were things that you used to have to go to formal training because you had to learn how to do something specific. Today, many people search on YouTube to find out how to do something. You can read about it, or you can locate 15 videos on YouTube. The same thing about knowledge and information: If I can find it rapidly, I don’t need a course to teach me. Video is a very wonderful medium for telling a story about how to do very specific kinds of things, but formal learning and credentialing are not going away — in fact, formal learning will probably be less in volume but more important to ensure that you’re getting it right.
“There’s also the challenge presented by career coaches. It really takes a number of years to be seasoned enough to understand all the dynamics of mentoring somebody who’s going through a significant life change when they’re leaving an organization. That’s something else you don’t learn on YouTube. However, try to find somebody with 30 years of career coaching experience who’s also a whiz at using social media tools. They’re very, very rare people, so what we decided to do is create a team of two, so I’ve got my social networking guru working with my 30-year mentor to provide a complete solution.”
QUESTION: How has that need to extend the community outside of your firewalls started to change your thinking about learning?
YAZDANI: “The main driver is leverage. [Members of] the professional learning community are saying that they want to have assets and investments that they can leverage to larger communities. So they look at creation of programs, content, technology. They want to use all those assets in as many places as they can get to, hence the concept of giving their learning capabilities that had [previously] focused around employees and Human Resources to customers, partners and suppliers.
“Maybe 50 percent of our projects in the learning space today are not employeefocused projects, but dealer-, franchise- and manufacturing-focused.”
RUSSELL: “But we also have to understand that when we put things outside the organization and open them up to the masses, there are different sets of rules that people there play by. So you have to be willing to take it on the chin if you do that sort of thing, because once you let go of the controls, you also open it up for risks. People may not always do what you think, expect or want them to do.
“You have to be brave enough in that new world to deal with those things. But think about it: You can have the ivory tower and have 10 brains working on a problem, or you can have thousands of brains working on it. The other thing is that you can’t make it look like you’re selling something. If you give kids and people something of value, they’ll participate — but if you try to sell them something, they shut down.”
QUESTION: What do you see the role being of the LMS in this “new world”?
YAZDANI: “The way we’ve known the LMS is going to evolve. The future of the LMS will be very different than it’s been. It will look different. Its built-in capabilities will be different. We see the LMS evolving into a service rather than a stand-alone system. It would co-exist in an enterprise architecture. It could be manifested in a portal that could serve employees, customers and partners. It would transform how you get your job and work done. Curation and delivery of the content would be inherent in this service, and the search function and personalization would become very important. The prescriptive nature of the service would also be quite important, so it would become a recommendation engine. It would be self-curated, less about the destination and more about a service that gets imbedded on a mobile device, portal or productivity tools.
“Our own next-generation platform is about open social infrastructure. Industry standards have evolved, and we’re leveraging them to create a very different, light set of learning experiences.”
RUSSELL: “You won’t be able to recognize the LMS of the future. If you look at the evolution of this industry, the LMS grew up separately from the other components of knowledge management, but the reality is that it should be an integrated part that you basically cannot see. If there’s analysis going on, it should be able to analyze everything that employees are doing during their workday. In the near future, you won’t be able to tell the difference between a business system and a learning management system.”
TODD: “The era of the monolithic piece of software of a decade ago, particularly in the LMS space, does not have a place in the enterprise of the future. A deep people analytics solution will have a very rich, big database that sits underneath a set of loosely coupled lightweight applications that can run on any devices, anywhere. The LMS will be remade in front of our very eyes. The world is longing for simplicity, so the future is simple apps that work with a nice deep back end.”