Technology itself is simply the most visible manifestation of change: rapidly iterating, innovating and evolving. It’s changing every aspect of how we learn, how we work, how we lead, how we connect, control and play. Each year, i map what i see as key features, nodes and trends in Learning Technology. This is not a map of systems and handsets, but rather a map of ideas and intent. It’s simply a snapshot of where i see things heading. Here’s my map for 2016.
For the first time, i’m presenting the map in two halves: the ‘light’ and the ‘heavy’, This has broadly grown out of last years conversation about ‘new build’ and ‘bolted on’ solutions e.g. old technologies and solutions that are trying to update and new technologies/solutions which are often disruptive and innovative, although equally often misconceived and subject to sudden failure.
I recognise that my thinking is skewed towards the lightweight: too often i view the ‘dinosaurs’ as simply marketing led, repetitive, controlling and formal giants, trying to consume budget on customisation, closing the boundaries and licensing. That’s not to say that there aren’t some great ones out there, just that the future will be more about diverse ecosystems of technology, not single systems that purport to give you the world.
As an aside, the fault is often in the marketing: many of these systems should be unafraid to tell you that you need great designers and that they are simply one part of your solution. Instead, they tell you that you can deskill and ‘rapidly author’ every solution, and that the system alone will make things ‘fun’ and ‘engaging, which is, quite frankly, rubbish. PowerPoint never made a great presenter and no system will make for great learning.
Great systems (be they light or heavy) may facilitate great learning, but it’s the design and execution that will make it engaging and effective.
So what’s new, what’s in, what’s out?
Games are certainly in, but i think in 2016 we will see the convergence of newer (lighter) adaptive approaches, which recognise that style is not everything, alongside a realisation that much of what was sold to us was hollow. ‘Gamification’ as intent separated from great games in reality: very few organisations have yet deployed great games (although those that have are reaping the benefits). Most have ‘gamified’ to little good effect, because interaction is not engagement, and just because you can measure it doesn’t mean you should. In 2016 we will see more focus on game dynamics, not simply game mechanics. Alongside this, we will see more specialist providers and systems that get this, and stop trying to simply market their way into your budget.
Any game that can’t answer the question ‘how does it make people more effective’ is worthless.
In parallel with the maturing of the Game sector, we’ll see more simulation work at a meaningful scale coming into business: partly immersive, partly social, largely integrated into blended approaches. Again, simulations themselves are of little use unless informed by and embedded within a more holistic learning methodology, but i think we will see more of them as both knowledge and understanding grow and the technology permits greater experimentations more cheaply.
My personal interest this year will turn to Performance Support, as i see the legacy systems coming under greater scrutiny, not for the features that they offer, but more from a fundamental challenge to their very existence. By what arrogance we believe an annual appraisal is a fair measure of effectiveness in the Social Age? Instead, we see many organisations experimenting with more democratised, synchronous, decentralised and fair systems. This will be reflected in the emergence of newer, lightweight systems that support this, as well as the consolidation, evolution and possible failure of old ones.
I simply don’t think that the market wants one supplier promising they can do everything with technology, preferring instead to have dedicated systems that talk to each other. Indeed, that’s what’s led to the emergence of a small, but vitally important bubble in the North West corner of the map: the Integrator.
By far the best (and i mean by FAR the best) ecosystems i’ve seen developed within global organisations are those which are led by curious, pragmatic and informed integrators: people willing to step outside normal (old) procurement of dinosaur systems in favour of curating and integrating their own visions. Often five, six or seven systems woven together, giving seamless user experiences, but powered by multiple lightweight and diverse technologies behind the scenes.
Some aspects of the market are favouring this: the adoption of more open source systems (even if organisations often use third parties and pay for the integration itself). The failure of the cost model of some of the more traditional suppliers too is spurring innovation: the age of the million dollar LMS may be passing. I certainly hope so.
The integrator needs both a technical and a learning background: historically this has always been a weakness in our whole industry: where technology has controlled learning, because leaning couldn’t figure out the technology alone (or was denied permission by IT). That situation is changing, but slowly. I am clear though that those organisations who drive ahead, who become more agile and dynamic, are the ones that will erode and evolve this historic relationship. They will be adaptive and integrated in how they deploy and control technology. They will have IT which facilitates learning (both Social and Formal), not that seeks always to reinforce their empire of control.
You’ll see that in the West i’ve put ‘tacit and tribal’ alongside mobile, which is connecting up two aspects. I’ve long since stopped exploring ‘mobile learning’ in isolation, preferring instead to see it as facilitation of and part of Social Learning, and this new node in the map reflects that: linking up the newer aspects of unlocking tacit and tribal knowledge with the facilitating capability of technology. In other words: technology connecting us to our communities, enabling us to shine.
Badges (particularly open badges) are on the agenda, but, crucially, splitting out of the conversation about games alone: in particular, we need to consider where the validity and authority of the badge resides. With the community or with the organisation? So far technology has led the conversation around games and badging, i think that open badges and fairer badging will emerge to more acclaim in 2016.
You’ll see that ‘social’ is down in the South East, but just as a note to say that ‘social is more than just a word’: in essence it’s because i see it as fully present in every system now: be it in word or true functionality. The convergence of social and formal aspects of our work and lives will continue, even if it’s not yet fully understood or dealt with fairly by every organisation.
Indeed, monitoring is likely to also be ascendent on the ‘heavy’ side of things as organisations exploit the power of big data, meta analysis and metrics to attempt the last vestiges of control and manipulation of individuals to an older set of rules. I fear that we will see more ‘innovation’ in this space, more failure and more pain before the truly dynamic and agile organisations take the lead. We are certainly only in the early stages of the evolution from businesses being largely mechanisms of control towards them being largely vessels to channel individual excellence as part of a shared effort.
I’ve saved the best till last: wearables will not come of age in 2016, but they will permeate ever further into our thinking and work. We will see the reemergence of Google Glass in some evolved format and, whilst people will doubtless hark on about old and largely unfounded fears, i think that next time it will be here to stay. Wearables will be transformative: first will come the devolved ecosystem of watches talking to phones, tablets, fitness trackers and other devices, and behind that will come the truly transformative innovations in lifestyle and learning, once the ground is fertile.
So there you have it: my sketch map of learning technology in 2016.
But it’s just a sketch. I redraw it every year to reflect where my mind is wandering, but feel free to challenge it, add to it or redraw it. It’s an evolution, an adaptive story, not a prescriptive system.
I’ve avoided mentioning specific technologies, because my remit isn’t to advocate or endorse any particular system: indeed, my encouragement is to identify and grow your own ‘integrators’, because if you need any skill internally, it’s that one.
To truly succeed, organisations need to be more dynamic, moving away from internal entities that are controlling and empire building, towards ones that are more facilitating and agile. Make that change and everything will follow (and i will be publishing the next book on ‘Change in the Social Age early this year, covering exactly that!).
Like any map, it’s just a representation of reality: it’s what happens on the ground that counts, so do your learning and share your stories as we navigate this technical aspect of the Social Age together.