What to look out for in 2008

by | Jan 2, 2008 | Articles

This year’s edition of Online educa Berlin , the 13th International Conference on Technology Supported Learning & Training, once more broke records in all areas: 2126 experts from 95 countries gathered at the Hotel InterContinental in Berlin from November 28th to 30th, to provide a rich perspective on the latest trends in learning technologies across all sectors of education.

Whilst the many of the conference themes remained the same – e-learning in the corporate context, higher education and lifelong learning opportunities – the application and acceptance of technology in these environments is maturing. There were also compelling sessions on new technologies such as gaming, web 2.0 and second life – a glimpse of how the future of learning is shaping up.

At this time of year, there is always a tendency to take stock of our position and think about what we have achieved and the opportunities that the future holds. At Online educa,  I had the chance to catch up with many of the presenters to find out their predictions for learning and development in 2008. And, given that they are all pretty experienced,  what might hold us back from achieving our potential!

Business taking a lead in learning

I met with Sue Todd – President and CEO of corporate University exchange who presented details of her recent benchmarking activity with her membership organisations around the globe.
Her research shows that businesses are waking up to the value of learning to the bottom line of their business. Sue believes this as potentially a great thing as learning success in the future will require training to be perceived as a core business process supporting business goals in the same way as marketing or manufacturing does.  Businesses are expecting more return from their learning investments and she believes that small steps are needed to ensure that learning  becomes a core process – these might include increased activity to engage first line supervisors and a focus on rewards and incentive programmes to encourage improved business alignment of learning.

This trend provides a great opportunity for learning professionals but a potential barrier to success is the limited influence of the Head of HR within existing organisational structures to facilitate this change. However a trend that Sue observes to potentially counter this, is appointment of business people to provide direction and leadership for the training department.

This trend was echoed by Don Taylor who is the chairman of the Learning and Skills group from our own UK Learning Technologies event. Donald also believes that the next big thing in 2008 is that Learning and development will become an essential part of organisational planning.  Whilst the tools, such as competency management, have been around for a long time to make this happen, he believes that going into 2008, we have an improved understanding of both the implementation know how and the strategic importance of acting on behalf of the business.

Most managers and executives know that they need the right people in the right job at the right time but developing organisational capability is becoming not just an opportunity for organisational excellence but of survival. Donald believes that L&D professionals have the opportunity to have significant influence in this area next year but need the courage to get involved with and to influence the business agenda. He feels that ‘it is not enough for us to be right, we need to be effective’ and this may mean L&D having to find allies within the business community and to play the game to get noticed and to make a difference.

The challenge of the changing workforce

Whilst business demands are influencing change in 2008, so will the workers. Jay Cross feels that next year the rigid hierarchies within business will start to be challenged as new workers arrive in organisations.  These younger workers solve problems differently from their predecessors, they communicate differently. Instant Messenger provides them with immediate feedback and communication and Jay believes that their fast links with each other will start to produce great new business ideas and solutions and that in 2008  management will wake up and take advantage of technology rather than insist that new workers conform to old systems.

Traditional training is waking up to respond

The ‘old system’ of e-learning in the UK over the past few years has been driven by mandated learning. Whilst Lars Hyland, of Brightwave  predicted a continued increase in 2008, he also believes that a new trend will begin to emerge as the training industry wakes up to the fact that training (e-learning or otherwise) will fail without continued follow through activities that are aligned and integrated with everyday work practices..

The fact that both the new workforce ( identified by Jay) and existing are increasingly happy to engage continually with both personal and professional communication through social networks is a significant factor behind this perception shift. He also believes that tools and technologies will bubble up that make this economically and administratively possible

An  example of this in Berlin was the dutch company  Kadaster (responsible for registering and sharing information about properties in the Netherlands) who talked about how they had used technology to bridge the knowledge gap between an older highly specialized workforce and a new less experienced generation.

I met with Kevin Brooks, UK Sales Director, Eedo Knowledgeware who were behind the Kadaster programme. From  research with their user groups, Kevin believes that 2008 will be a year where knowledge management is  legitimised . (This was backed up by  e-skills UK’s Towards e-learning Maturity research, nearly 80% of organisations said that they will need to put more emphasis on informal learning in the next 3 years). Organisations are becoming  more open to the way that resources are being used within organisations to support workers in their day to day job. This could mean job aids, paper based resources, podcasts, video , traditional e-learning content, access to an expert. These varied forms of  content can all add value to a business but only when it is accessible by those who need it at their point of need.

However really harnessing knowledge assets might be easier said than done. Kevin believes that we might be held back because it can be so complex and generally there is a lack of awareness on how to go about it. Of course technology can help, but one of the biggest issues in achieving this is lack of budget – Kevin suggests starting small, creating a compelling business case  and ensuring that any investment in technology is scalable in the future.

2008 will see more learning delivered faster – but at what cost?

Donald Clark  provided a Keynote for day 2 of the conference.  He feels that 2008 will see more emphasis on both low end and high end of the spectrum of learning  interventions, with the middle ground of traditional content development becoming  more empty. He sees an increase in rapid application development with organisations delivering RAD becoming more of an e-services market, an extension of the training department. The upside of this change is the speed in which learning can be deployed, the downside it that the commoditisation of learning content can result in a flood of  cheap content in the market which ends up being ‘disturbingly dull’. Donald issues a word of warning for 2008 ‘a toolbox doesn’t make you a builder, Word does not make a novelist. Rapid Development Tools are not what makes Rapid development work, you need experienced people who can fast-track the writing, build and process of delivery.

High end learning interventions – getting serious about serious games

Chris Brannigan , a founder of Caspian Learning, co presented with UfI in Berlin and afterwards, he observed that 2007 has seen a real change in customers understanding of Serious games and Immersive Simulations. A growing section of customers now know and understand where and why they would like to use these applications. They have worked with suppliers to develop applications to deliver business value and they now have a greater level of sophistication in requirements and ambitions.

Businesses now are under ever increasing pressure to improve performance. Jobs are now more complicated and demanding. In 2007 businesses have started to demand a lot more from their learning. It is not just sufficient to provide delegates with basic knowledge. Businesses are now starting to demand that delegates have the skills associated with applying that knowledge within different business scenarios to enhance performance. In 2008, Chris envisages that innovators will move beyond proof of concept developments and into real usage of learning games and Immersive Sims for business improvement.

Increased interest and awareness will drive improved innovation within suppliers themselves and Chris believes that 2008 will see an ongoing market sector specialization amongst the suppliers of Immersive Sims technology. Caspian for example, specialize in performance simulations for decision making scenarios and problem solving where learners learn by doing and learn by thinking. Providers also specialize in other areas, such as: team work; spatial and motor skills; quick fire knowledge acquisition; business sims; informal learning; emergency response; the Health service; etc.

In summary

So it looks like 2008 could be an interesting year in our sector. There will be even more urgency for learning and development professionals to respond to both business and new demands of workers. But technology is equipping them with more opportunities than ever before to rise to the challenge.


This article was originally created by the Work based e-learning project at e-skills UK and is reproduced with kind permission.

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