What are the opportunities & challenges of Digital Age Learning? (Part 1)

This is one of the key questions all organizations seem to trying to get their head around. So last year, in conjunction with the European Foundation for Management Development (EFMD), we created a Special Interest Group (SIG) on the subject of Digital Age Learning (DAL).

“The digital revolution profoundly impacts the future of work and it requires a fundamental rethink of the corporate learning function. Learning must change and how must the function shape up in this disruptive context?”

Supported by the IESE Business School, the SIG brought together 16 companies to work on some of the building blocks for Digital Age transformation such as re-imagining Learning Architecture, harnessing the power of Social Learning or transforming the Learner (User) Experience. In order to create a common Point of View on what Digital Age Learning Point meant for ourselves, we started by getting some inputs from key thinkers and doers. Here are some of the key lessons learned we integrated into our thinking.

Krista Jones: To Build an Agile Learning Culture, Act Like a Start-up

Krista is the head of the Work and Learning Cluster at MaRS, a Toronto based enterprise support centre that offers support, funding and expert advice to start-ups. Krista works with the entrepreneurs, corporate leaders, investors and technologists who are applying innovation and leading edge technologies to create solutions that are advancing the competitiveness of global workers and workplaces. Here are some of Krista’s key insights:

  • We no longer compete on a product or service, but rather in how far we can create a competitive, repeatable and scalable business model. This holds good for learning as much as any product or service.
  • In the 4th Industrial Age start-ups are able to invent entirely new processes and disrupt huge incumbent players. Learning, too, needs to re-invent itself.
  • The model for action is: move fast, and fix things quickly. The key process is iteration, not planning. You should see the learner as the user, and the business as the customer.

Nick Shackleton-Jones: From Courses to Resources

Nick, now a principal at PA Consulting Group, was previously the Director of online learning at BP and Director, Online and Informal Learning at the BBC.. He speaks regularly on topics including the future of learning, culture change, social media and learning innovation and he blogs at conventional.com. Here are Nick’s insights:

  • People need access to resources that offer support when it is needed. The concept of a courseis over-elaborate, slow to be developed, and over structured. Courses have value but are no longer the only means of delivering learning inside organisations. Other options are often more effective so, essentially, an innovation mindset is critical.
  • Learning leaders should encourage experimentation, and help learning move from being imprecise and unresearched (e.g. like alchemy) to more refined and researched, as well as based on terms of reference around what works and why (e.g. more like chemistry).
  • The bi-product of this process is to shift the focus from large slices of pre-prepared and pre-digested information, to less structured resources that can be selected and reconfigured according to the needs of the individual.
  • In the traditional model, the learning operation did the selection and assembly, whilst in the new model, the learners themselves define what they need and in what circumstances.
  • The learning organisation supports and facilitates rather than organises and control.

Julian Stodd: Learning in the Social Age

Julian Stodd is a writer and consultant on the Social Age. He specializes in exploring learning design, the role of communities, social collaborative technologies and social leadership. He is the founder of Sea Salt Learning, which helps organizations get fit for the Social Age. Here are Julian’s insights:

  • In a world where knowledge is dispersed and distributed, agility and sense making are more important than knowing. Increasingly, as organizations and employers cease to look after people, employees must fend for themselves to build their own careers and manage their own development.
  • Social leadership is as important as other forms of leadership and cannot be handed out or awarded, it must be earned and acknowledged. Social leadership is contextual and consensual, tribal and fluid. It is based around trust; i.e. soft rather than hard power. And trust is earned by consistent behaviors. It is manifested through strong communities that help define who we are, and offer support and growth.
  • Therefore, social age learning manifests itself in those informal communities, which can subvert formal hierarchies. This is the primary means of sharing tacit knowledge. Learning is adaptive and social in nature and is the primary means of managing the social age in order to survive as a valuable worker.

Donald Clark: Why AI is the digital future in learning

Donald is a prolific blogger and conference speaker as well as being an investor in new educational technology start-ups. He founded one of the largest learning providers in the UK and now uses his time to challenge what he considers superficial thinking in approaches to learning and to call out phony learning theory. He is a passionate advocate for machine learning and the coming revolution in Virtual Reality. Here are Donald’s insights:

  • Artificial intelligence and machine learning is already a critical component of our online life and will manage and define the way we work, learn and behave with increasing intensity in the future. Machine learning underpins search now and will underpin many more aspects of corporate learning.
  • Learning will become data heavy as it learns about individual needs, and therefore, more accurate and efficient in meeting those quickly and reliably. There are six core areas where AI will take over from trainers:
    • Answering questions and finding stuff
    • Offering learner support
    • Having expert knowledge
    • Course creation, management and delivery
    • Adapting programs to the needs of individual learners
    • Assessment of competence, and spaced practice of learning
  • AI is the only route possible for building genuinely adaptive learning systems and will be a massive breakthrough in terms of learning outcomes for millions of learners.

In part 2, I will talk about the findings from the Special Interest Group. What do you see as the opportunities & challenges of Digital Age Learning? Leave a comment below!

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