How mobile technology will turn our learning upside down

Adam Charlesworth from Teach on Mars outlines how next generation mobile technology and AI will enable organisational learning to finally catch up with learners’ expectations

Theoretically, at least, technology in general – and the emergence of mass-deployed and affordable information technology in particular – should change pretty much everything about the way we learn. It has certainly changed the way modern learners prefer and expect to be educated. In practice, however, our educational paradigms have remained unchanged for decades, and are no longer in line with those expectations.

The modern learner is highly mobile, permanently connected and multi-channel. He has almost instant, almost limitless access to information. On the downside, however, the latest research suggests the modern learner is also chronically short of time, subject to information overload and multiple distractions, and blessed (or cursed) with an attention span getting shorter all the time.

More to the point, faced with seemingly boundless information resources, modern learners don’t always know how best to structure their learning. It is the job of organisational learning professionals to shape these resources into a meaningful and compelling set of relevant learning opportunities.

Digital learning formats have not really helped address this challenge. They have, for the most part, simply taken the traditional learning paradigm – catalogues of courses developed to meet often arbitrary competency-based learning objectives – and moved them from the classroom to the computer desktop and company intranet. In the majority of cases, they haven’t even delivered on the promise of reducing deployment lead time or cost.

Next generation mobile learning, powered by AI developments, is finally changing that. By giving companies the ability to quickly and cost-effectively place a personal learning assistant or a mobile performance support coach in every employee’s pocket, technology is at last taking organisational learning to where the learners want it. And by inserting training into the flow of the employee’s daily lifestyle, learning and development teams can hope to see real operational impact.

Advances in areas such as wearable tech and connected objects will potentially enable mobile learning to transcend the constraints of today’s mobile devices

This “operationalisation” may take a number of forms:

 – Moving the business metrics Increasingly focusing the measurement of the impact of learning initiatives on measurable business outcomes

 – Learning at the point of need Closing the gap – physically or geographically – between where learning is delivered and where it is applied

 – Performance enablement in the workflow Offering learning and support opportunities that provide knowledge and expertise as required

 – Make it personal Aggressive and sophisticated adaptation of the learning experience (LeX) to the preferences, requirements and profile of the individual user

The L&D profession has always been proud of the effort it has devoted to tailoring learning to the learner, and new technology is enabling huge strides in the ability to personalise. The latest AI-based algorithms can automate this assessment-prescription cycle and, at the same time, track a learner’s consumption of content in order to recommend relevant resources. Expect to see technology leveraged to automate these processes still further, and give progressively more control over their deployment.

Content, however, will only get us so far. Latest-generation AI enables us to analyse far more sophisticated individual learning preferences – frequency and duration learners engage in activities; type of activities they naturally gravitate towards; what makes them stick with or return to activities – and what makes them abandon others before they reach the end.

Thanks to AI, next generation learning ecosystem providers are continuously improving their ability to analyse larger and larger sets of data.  This is enabling them to develop more powerful and sophisticated ways to exploit this data, using learning AI to suggest individually appropriate interactions.

By giving companies the ability to quickly and cost-effectively place a personal learning assistant or a mobile performance support coach in every employee’s pocket, technology is at last taking organisational learning to where the learners want it.

At a fundamental level, then, organisational learning teams are now in a position to imagine, suggest, propose and perfect an individually tailored learning experience which grows and adapts with the learner in an ongoing ‘test and learn’ cycle.

When it comes to deploying that LeX, expect to see other new technologies exploited far more widely in the next two-three years. For example, intelligent voice recognition technology is already being used by some next gen learning ecosystems to free the learner from the constraints of touching or even looking at his mobile device.

Also, VR and AR, which are already being employed in technical training and performance, will in all likelihood enter the mainstream of organisational learning. We could easily see them being applied to topics such as time management, communication and leadership.

Looking further ahead, advances in areas such as wearable tech and connected objects will potentially enable mobile learning to transcend the constraints of today’s mobile devices. This will leave the learner permanently connected to his learning experience, to the extent that his professional and extra-professional development are driven by every aspect of his lifestyle and mindset.

We’re not quite there yet, but this perma-learning is coming in some shape or form, because the learners will demand it and the technology progressively enable it. And it’s probably coming sooner than many imagine.

Adam Charlesworth is Business Consultant at Teach on Mars