Learning’s Transformation Challenge

Nov 09, 2017 by Tim Sarchet

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Learning has a critical role to play in the digital transformation of our organizations. It is the function most responsible for helping our teams adapt to new ways of working, for helping employees develop new skills, and ensuring our workforce is prepared for the future. To fulfill this role the learning organization needs to transform too. How can we help the rest of the organization if we are not prepared ourselves?

But this is where it gets tricky. Digital Transformation is about changes associated with the application of digital technology. In most areas of our organizations it’s clear what digital technologies we are adapting to. In marketing right now it’s programmatic/automation, social, analytics and digital content. There might be lots of different variations and sub-categories within those technologies and new categories emerging, but the main technologies marketing professionals need to adapt to is relatively clear. The same is true in finance and operations, in IT and sales.

In learning it’s not clear. We’re not sure which technologies are most useful or how new technologies should be applied, so the skills we need to build and processes we need to develop are even less clear.

At the recent Masie Learning 2017 conference the confusion around digital technologies and learning was clear. Below are some of the technologies discussed in the keynote speeches and other sessions.

Robotics / Artificial Intelligence / Social Learning / Gamification / Big Data / Brain Science / Mobile Learning / Snapchat and Learning / Digital Content / Micro Learning / Adaptive Technologies / Personalization / Webinars and Virtual Conferencing / UX & UI / Virtual Reality / Augmented Reality / Video / User Generated Content / Alexa & Siri (Digital Assistants) / Predictive Data / Bots / xAPI / LRS / Machine Learning / APIs

There was no sense at Learning 2017 that a few dominant technologies were emerging. Everything had the potential to be the “next big thing”.

When so many technologies are touted as key to learning in the digital age it’s inevitable that we (the learning industry) find it hard to master any and are confused about what others mean. This can lead to deep misunderstandings about some of the skills we need to develop to adapt to new technologies. I attended one session on content curation and social learning where the concept of curation seemed to be misunderstood (the presenter had no benchmarks, guidelines or criteria to determine what content was “curated”, it seemed anything could be included which doesn't sound curated) and social was entirely glossed over.

I’m not sure where this leaves learning. Perhaps as we test more technologies and find out what works and what doesn’t work we’ll be able to adapt our skills and processes around the dominant technologies that emerge.

But if we don’t figure out our own transformation challenge we will be increasingly ill prepared to lead and support the wider digital transformation that our organizations will inevitably face.

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