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Seeking Signals: Learning Pros Need to Stay on Top of Tech Trends

Wednesday, November 27, 2019
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The concept of “future shock,” introduced in Alvin Toffler’s bestseller by the same name, is what happens when change comes so fast that people are left confused and stressed. This means that normal decision making is no longer sufficient to deal with the complexities presented. Does this sound familiar?

Today, the talent development industry is deep into a transition period of disruption. According to experts, over the next five years, some of the most commonly discussed emerging technologies include 3-D printing, artificial intelligence, augmented reality (AR), big data and analytics, cloud computing, the Internet of Things (IoT), personalization algorithms, robotics, virtual reality (VR), and wearables. Other information and communications technologies that are emerging over a 10- to 20-year timeframe and will likely impact learning in the longer term include affective computing, ambient intelligence, bioelectronics, a redesigned Internet, human-machine symbiosis, neuroelectronics, and quantum computing.

It’s a little overwhelming, isn’t it?

No doubt, you’re facing ever-increasing challenges with the selection and use of technology for learning. It seems that every few months, learning-related tech becomes more complex, more interconnected, and more embedded in your organization’s internal systems. What’s more, not only are bigger changes coming, but the rate, breadth, and magnitude of change is accelerating.

Amid this backdrop, it’s time for learning and talent development pros to look around and see what is happening at the leading technological edges of their businesses. Watching for signals and tracking these l changes can alert an organization well in advance of potential innovative disruptions. This early warning information can be used to evaluate the current business model and allow a company to consider options for change, such as developing a plan for business model innovation to complement the new technology. Being prepared can help insulate the company from disruption; it may also allow the company to outcompete less well-prepared rivals.

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Is the technology in question just a fad, or will it have a deep impact on your organization’s mission? Does it support your organization’s need for training and lifelong learning? What does the technology’s future look like—will it last, or will it all but disappear in a few years? To answer these questions, you need to assess both short-term and long-term signals in order to predict the future of any emerging technology.

Every new technology follows a set of developmental curves. But the early stages of an emerging technology are often hidden unless you really dig for them. In developing environmental scans on a specific emerging technology, looking for the signals that will help us answer these questions:

  • What is the history of development of this technology?
  • What other technologies need to be in place before this one becomes a commercial success?
  • Is the technology real or is it “vaporware” (that is, being sold by vendors but not really viable)?
  • Who is currently funding the research, development, and go-to-market strategy for this technology?
  • How many competitors are creating and promoting this technology?
  • Are there established leaders or experts in the technology?
  • Should we be collaborating with others and getting on board with this trend?
  • How will this technology change specific industries, including learning and talent development?
  • What signals can we detect to predict where this technology will end up in five or 10 years?
  • What are the long-term implications of this technology?

In addition, to assist in understanding the effectiveness of a technology in creating business value, Shock of the New presents a starter kit of five steps with questions you and your team should ask when evaluating new learning technologies for your business. The questions are similar to a SWOT process, but with an added dimension centered around finding and examining examples in business that help illustrate your suggested use of a proposed technology.

  • Find the strengths: What can this technology be used for?
  • Identify the problems: Where can this go wrong? What are the possible detriments to using this technology?
  • Explore the opportunities: What new opportunities does this technology enable?
  • Identify risks: If things go badly, what might happen? If we skip this step, what are we missing?
  • Find examples: Who else is using this technology in business? Are they being successful with it?

Another tactic is to explore the experiences other users have had with these technologies to find out what works or doesn’t work. Maybe the technology you are interested in is being used in government installations or research projects where you can read up on their results. Maybe other vertical industries are seeing success, or perhaps even other departments in your business are reaping the benefits of using these amazing new tools. This step is absolutely necessary before adopting or deploying a new technology for your workplace.

Clearly, future shock is not going away. For learning and talent development professionals interested in the technological developments happening right now, it is imperative to keep up with changes without being paralyzed by fear or getting too far ahead of others in your organization because of your euphoria over the latest gadget. Learning and talent development departments have some work to do if they want to come to the table with a good understanding of the value new technologies can bring to their businesses. Let’s get started!

About the Author

As managing director of Float Mobile Learning, Chad Udell strategizes with Fortune 500 companies and their learning departments to help deliver mobile learning to employees. Chad also works with universities and other learning organizations to develop their unique visions of where and how to use mobile learning. Chad's focus is on understanding an organization's business drivers and goals and then creating the strategy that can best deliver solutions. Chad is recognized as an expert in design and development, and he speaks regularly at national conferences on design, development and mobile learning. He has been a faculty member of Bradley University for more than five years.

3 Comments
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In my simplified opinion, it's all about solving the problem and finding the right tool for the job. I love exploring new technology to learn how it can benefit the learners and organization. Your 5 questions are a great place to start. I can't wait to read your book.
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Along with an approach for exploring the latest technology innovations, organizations must have a system in place for evaluating the impact of adopting new technologies. The business case must be made inclusive of an impact assessment to determine readiness to implement. Some organizations leap to adopt new technologies only to learn that they are not ready to support or maintain those systems or applications. This results in wasted investment and little to no adoption.
REPLY
Treca, Thanks very much for the comments. I wholeheartedly agree. The pilots and tests are one thing (and they are vital), but the long term sustainability must be accounted for as well.
We do cover these topics and more in my book, The Shock of the New. I think you would really enjoy the book. Thanks again for reading this post.
Chad
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