Wednesday, 30 June 2010

Learning & Development 5 years on

In June 2010 the BILD (British Institute for Learning and Development) attempted the impossible: to hold a conference with the theme ‘Learning and Development – the next five years’. So, just how did the ‘crystal ball’ perform?

The day’s conference showcased some of the current trends and innovations in learning and looked towards what the future might hold for Learning and Development (L&D). As Jack Wills (the BILD’s Chairman) said “If we accept that a ‘learner’ is a consumer by nature and reflects the society in which he/she lives, we might be able to spot some significant trends in how we might support them”.

Significant trends
Leaving aside the more human performance and organisational change aspects, it is far easier to speculate about how technology will have advanced by 2015 and the role that it might play in L&D. In the last 10 years technology has advanced so much that for some of us it is difficult to keep up with. Technological advancements over these years have, are having, and will have a truly mighty impact on L&D. It’s not just the Internet, it’s also the tools and, more importantly, the vision to see how all the advancements can be used to help everyone to learn.

Immersive technologies
David Wortley from the Serious Games Institute ( gave an excellent presentation, telling delegates what immersive technologies are, what their impact will be on the next generation of learners, how and where they are being used, their benefits for education and business, and their future implications for business and society.

The most graphic part of the presentation was what happens to someone who dies from a head wound/trauma. Whilst this was not something for the faint hearted, it showed in a way that no other current technology could, by linking real-world data to realistic simulations, exactly what happens; it was not pretty.

As David said, “Immersive technologies are engaging our discretionary time, attention and money. It is this investment which is driving innovations in all aspects of society and changing our relationship with technology. Learning is being transformed from a transfer of existing knowledge by experts into a facilitated, self-directed discovery of new knowledge in collaboration with our peers.”.

The future of learning technologies
When it came to predicting the future, Alan Fletcher from the Open University ( was simply superb, so much so, that many delegates having heard him complained of their heads hurting! Having taken those present through a 50 year time travel to the present day, to show how much technology has changed particularly in the last ten years, Alan then went on to demonstrate, by using new media channels, how learning content can be communicated very quickly to the whole world.

As for the future, it will no doubt be based on Web 3.0 technologies and in all probability in less than eight years from now. This will provide us with a semantic web, allowing us the superior handling of information, to apply reasoning technologically and to map a journey between one piece of content and the next, all of which will enable individual learning journeys. Alan concluded by saying that “Latent Semantic Analysis is a theory and method for extracting and representing the contextual–usage meaning of words by statistical computations applied to a large corpus of text.”. No small wonder then that people’s heads hurt?

Mobile learning
Mobile learning is not the same as e-Learning, according to Geoff Steed of the Tribal Group, because most existing e-Learning design guidelines do not apply to m-Learning. The key to successful m-Learning is to use it to deliver small pieces of the total learning experience at the point of need. The concept of ‘at the point of need’ is becoming an increasingly important one and was mentioned by several speakers; it certainly has a particular resonance for all those who see learners as consumers.

Geoff also gave a brief but interesting description of the m-Learning work being undertaken in further education, which had showed improved student retention and achievement, as well as in education more generally ( He concluded by saying that m-Learning gets around current learning delivery barriers and it’s easy to see why.

On the horizon
Brian Bishop, Caspian Learning, who definitely understands the instructional design process, highlighted three technologies which are on the horizon and which he feels will soon become mainstream: augmented reality, cloud computing, and haptic devices.

Augmented reality (AR), which should not be confused with virtual reality, is already in use, eg for military training. It means a live direct or indirect view of a physical real-world environment whose elements are augmented by virtual computer-generated imagery; with the help of advanced AR technology, such as adding computer vision and object recognition, the information about the surrounding real world of the learner becomes interactive and digitally usable.

Cloud computing is also here right now, ie data stored ‘in the cloud’ and accessible via the web. However, it is likely to be used more and more by organisations and individuals, and therefore will have a commensurate impact on learners.

When it comes to the use of haptic devices (the perception and manipulation of objects using tactile feedback) we now have the technologies to create the required 3-D graphics, so it is likely that the use of these will grow in the future.

The future?
Whilst all this may excite or chill people in equal measure, “the game we professionals in L&D play, to some extent, is using the trends and products that the consumers will face: working with them and not against them, using the consumer trends to our advantage.” (Jack Wills, BILD). For those of us who are involved in any form of L&D, we need to appreciate that those who learn are our consumers and, by so doing, we will be in a position to provide them with the learning experiences they need.


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