I sketch a map of learning technology every year, not to talk about specific systems, but rather trends and direction, as well as reflections on application. Some key points about this year’s map: I retain an overall frustration that much of the industry focuses on features and technology over learning methodology and effectiveness. It’s a weakness of the system, where vendor’s lead conversations to sell product, to a market whose needs are changing, where many in the market don’t yet realise it.
For the first time last year I split the map into light and heavy technologies: the point was to represent how learning is increasingly impacted, out in the real world, by lightweight, pocket -sized technologies. Organisations tend to focus on heavyweight infrastructure technology. I think the Socially Dynamic organisation will maintain a broad ecosystem of technology that utilises both.
The key thing about lightweight technology is that it is rapidly developed, rapidly prototyped, typically cheap, highly interconnected, and most importantly of all, absolutely most importantly of all, it’s rapidly disposable.
This is a core weakness of current organisations: they are exceptionally good at procuring technology that is heavyweight and long lasting, and they do so from a marketplace of vendor’s trying to secure long-term and broad reaching contracts. And yet out in the real world, we are adopting and cycling through rapidly iterating and highly disposable technologies. In a rapidly evolving ecosystem, we need this capability.
The person who has just procured a system needs the space and authority to walk in six months later and say, ‘this is no longer fit for purpose, something better has come along that we should prototype’. Few people in any organisation can say this, and yet the most agile and dynamic organisations will do precisely this. This is the challenge of change: constraints are often not imposed upon us from outside, but rather are held in the power structures and ways of being that we have built internally. The very things that made us strong yesterday may make us weak today.
In lightweight technologies I think the big interest is around AI, although what people usually mean is machine learning. True AI, if indeed it’s ever possible, may be decades away, but machine learning is with us now. It has broad potential and will revolutionise many aspects of what we do today. Indeed, if I had to characterise it, I think few people recognise how much of an impact it is already having. One challenge being that much of that impact will come at the cost of current jobs, power, and individual potential. As an entire ecosystem changes, new roles will emerge, and old ones will fall away.
Much of the early impact of machine learning will be mundane, but it will grind forward and change everything: particularly as we see narrative capability, storytelling capability, where the technology can tease out stories and write them in a compelling manner.
The potential for the geolocation and contextualisation of knowledge and learning is largely untapped: for many types of organisations, from manufacturing to military, there is huge potential here.
Social learning is of great interest, although almost universally I see common mistakes: a belief that technology will drive engagement, when in fact it may do the opposite. In the Landscape of Trust research, the early results show that people trust formal technology much less than we would like to think, possibly 30% less. Technology is a foundation, but an early challenge for organisations will be to build high functioning, highly cohesive, high trust, communities.
The rise of reputation, held within social systems, but impacting into formal ones, is significant, and we are seeing the emergence of technologies that will support this. As with many aspects of technology that sits at the intersection between formal and social systems, we will have to find ways to maintain a dynamic tension between conflicting interests. Annual performance management is outdated, deeply asynchronous, and often misused. Reputation-based, synchronously measured, socially engaged, aspects of performance, measuring support, thanks, kindness, generosity, sense making, support, are deeply relevant. I would encourage any organisation to experiment meaningfully in the area of social reputation, measured with technology.
In an ever noisy world, filtering technologies will come of age. I would be exploring this as it has potential to clear space within the system, to give people the time needed for reflection.
On the heavy side, the LMS and other heavyweight systems remain often unloved, repainted but outdated, and often seeing social as their salvation. Don’t misunderstand me: I think most organisations need a really superb LMS as part of their formal infrastructure. The mistake is to expand the remit of the LMS into other areas, without understanding how those other, predominantly social, areas function.
The Socially Dynamic organisation will have a great LMS, alongside a broad range of other technologies: some highly formal, some highly social, all deeply interconnected. So there may be a heavyweight backbone, but surrounded by, and connected to, this wide range of lightweight and adaptive systems.
Work on badges is widespread and needs to broaden to cater for both formal and socially moderated badges: badges defined and awarded by the community itself.
I’m working more around game dynamics and mechanics at the moment, I suspect we will see the increasing failure of early game systems and approaches that are not based upon robust learning methodology that clearly demonstrates not interactions, but how game dynamics are supporting learning.
Games are another area to explore and experiment, not yet to buy off the shelf.
Finally monitoring: one of the early impacts of machine learning will be the monitoring and utilisation of social chatter within the organisation. As we step into this space, we need to be deeply engaged with and respectful of the community. Indeed we may need an ethics committee. Who owns this content? How was it recognised and rewarded? Tread carefully in social spaces.
I simplified the learning technology map this year: last years had more reflection in it, but in retrospect was somewhat complex when I shared it. We are just at the dawn of the exciting impact of many categories of technology, which will revolutionise learning. There are some great organisations designing and developing these technologies, and some great organisations buying and using them. I would just encourage a fluidity on both sides: for vendor’s to invest more in research and learning science, and for organisations to get better at experimenting, relinquishing control, and earning trust.