Within the dynamic universe of learning platforms and technologies, where exciting new capabilities forever beckon talent development professionals, surely the wisest purchasing advice is also the timeless one: before consummating that deal, carefully weigh the needs of your organization.
This lesson in practicality is offered by Lou Tedrick, vice president of global learning and development with Verizon Wireless, in reference to one of the capabilities—Technology Application—in the ATD Talent Development Capability Model. The capability details the current ecosystem of learning platforms and tools along with the skills needed to select, integrate, manage, and maintain them.
As part of this capability, the model outlines some critical knowledge areas that TD professionals should possess:
- criteria and techniques for evaluating and selecting e-learning software and tools
- existing learning technologies and support systems (for example, collaborative learning software, learning management systems, authoring tools, and social media)
- methods and techniques for testing the usability and functionality of learning technologies and support systems
- human resources systems and technology platforms and how they integrate with other organizational and business systems and processes
- communication technologies and their applications (for example, video conferencing, web conferencing, audience response systems, and presentation software)
- principles of user interface design
- functions, features, limitations, and practical applications of the technologies available to support learning and talent development solutions
- techniques and approaches to leverage social media platforms and tools to support knowledge sharing, idea exchange, and learning
- artificial intelligence, machine learning algorithms, augmented reality, and mixed reality that are ethical and free of bias.
The model is divided into three principal domains of practice—personal, professional, and organizational capabilities—and Technology Application sits within the professional domain. “Everything in this new model is important,” says Tedrick. “But it is equally important for talent development professionals to understand what’s unique to their businesses so they can determine which of these learning technologies are relevant to them—where they should lead, and where they should lag.”
Key skills that TD professionals must possess with this capability include:
- selecting, integrating, managing, and maintaining learning platforms (for example, learning management systems, knowledge management systems, and performance management systems)
- identifying, defining, and articulating technology system requirements to support learning and talent development solutions
- identifying, selecting, and implementing learning technologies (for example, using evaluative criteria and identifying appropriate applications in an instructional environment)
- developing artificial intelligence, machine learning algorithms, augmented reality, and mixed reality that are ethical and free of bias
- using e-learning software and tools
- using human resource technology systems to store, retrieve, and process talent and talent development–related information.
Tedrick noted that at Verizon Wireless, a critical TD responsibility involves training of call center personnel and retail representatives prior to the launch of new products and services. To ensure readiness for those important occasions, her department relies heavily on real-time data on training completions by Verizon’s far-flung sales representatives.
“We need to know hour-by-hour how many call center and retail reps have completed the training for something we might be planning to launch at the end of a given week,” she explains. “To obtain that information, we needed a learning management system that could provide real-time connection to our people-data.” An LMS that only processed training reports overnight would not suffice.
To meet that demand, Tedrick’s team selected a platform that was less than state-of-the-art but provided that required capability.
She says the underlying message for TD executives is clear. “Avoid being tempted by the latest advance if it’s beyond your organization’s needs.” That may mean occasionally having to dissuade superiors who are attracted to the latest “cool toy” such as virtual reality or artificial intelligence. “Don’t be pressured into employing technologies that fail to address your needs,” adds Tedrick.
A similar warning is voiced by Timothy Tobin, vice president of franchisee onboarding and learning at Choice Hotels International. During 2017, the international company’s Choice University went through an exhaustive transformation to improve its connection with the 50,000-plus learners who are employed by its more than 7,000 franchisee-owned hotels.
The year-long exercise included extensive reviews of learning technologies and platforms to attract today’s young, tech-savvy, and busy learner. It discovered that a major source of aggravation involved the learning content distributed via Choice University’s community-based LMS, among other issues.
According to Tobin, the team concluded that the key to an improved learning experience was not to switch platforms but rather “to make our existing platform work the way we want.”