Deep Thoughts

Learning: Infinity war — ecosystems, blended approaches and the best tool for the job.

The field of learning can be a complex one, filled with infinite opportunities to develop yourself and a constant shifting of ways in which to do this.

Modern learning has experienced a major digital disruption in the last 10 years, resulting in more players entering the game and the old guard needing to adapt with the times to provide content to audiences in the way they want. I sometimes compare it to a Marvel movie, where you start off with one clear hero and their way of dealing with challenges, but then more heroes turn up, offering something different and with more ways in tackling the ever more complex challenges that surface.

Eventually, you get to a point where you’re blessed with a group of people who all bring something different to the table, they have come from different environments, with different approaches to the task at hand.

Now having so many options with different approaches and beliefs to their methods will of course cause problems — so how do they get around this? They find a way to co-exist, adapt, evolve and use the best idea for the task at hand.

In many ways, this is similar to how I see the world of learning. We have loads of options to learn, some are old, some are new, some sound crazy, yet we have to consider them all and find a way for these to co-exist in our ecosystem.

The communities within our organisations are diverse and so will their approach in how they want to learn.

There’s a lot of options available today, so let’s take a closer (superhero tinted) look at them to understand what they are, what they do and how they can be used:

Captain America — classroom courses/formal learning

The most common image people have in their mind when they hear the word learning, is the classroom. A popular method of knowledge sharing throughout human history is that of groups coming together to hear an elder or person of experience share their wisdom.

But much like Captain America, who slept on ice for 70 years and went from sending pigeons for relaying messages to super fast fibre optic broadband when he awoke in the 21st century, the current classroom model is outdated. Now notice how I say outdated and not obsolete, that’s because providing the ability to share experiences in a group environment is a great tool, but not so much in a formal classroom setting.

Classroom courses get a lot of heat nowadays, especially from someone like me who is championing a digital approach (typical millennial), yet they still do have a place in supporting the development of your people — you need to understand how they can be used effectively and supported with other resources to provide a complete experience.


Tony Stark/Ironman — Digital learning

If I had to pick a superhero that matches my personality and what I do in the learning industry, it would be Tony Stark.

Stark represents the wave of digital learning and the push for evolution through the power of technology. The ability to access anything we want through a tiny device in our hand, connected via a global data highway has certainly changed the way our species engages with one another like never before. To me digital is all about providing people with what they want, when they want, wherever they are, through a variety of channels.

Taking a digital approach and embracing the disruption it has bought, is allowing learning teams to connect and design resources with their people like never before. We can provide support through the form of on-demand resources in the flow of work, where our people really need support — the here and now. The introduction of technology to learning has also given birth to analytics, which allow us to track a host of metrics to measure impact of learning solutions, identify trends and spot the next big need even before our people know they need it.

So it all sounds amazing and for the most part, it is, yet with the vast wealth of information on offer, there is a big opportunity for overload. To support in preventing potential overload, you could look at developing a communications and engagement strategy to guide your people in the right direction.

Overall, Tony is the man and digital learning looks like the best thing since sliced bread, but it’s all around how you adapt technology to build resources that will work for your audience.

Doctor Strange — LMS (Learning Management System — for the uninitiated)

This guy looks like he came from the land before time and has a bunch of tricks that don’t quite seem to work and he’s not an easy one to navigate either — kind of sounds like our old friend the LMS.

Ah the LMS, a tried, tested and once reliable tool, but I often wonder in the modern age — what does a tool which interface looks like it’s still partying like it’s 1999 and has more layers than an onion, can do in 2018. Much like Doctor Strange, I look at many traditional LMS platforms today and try to decipher what they do, what is this useful for and why is it so damn hard to get anything I want from it? It’s never simple. yet every now and again it comes out with a feature that fills a need.

I’m not saying the LMS is completely dead, as many have already done that, yet the question of its use in the modern age is an interesting one. I mean Doctor Strange is dead (Spoiler alert!) and the LMS is kind of dead but can they both make a comeback and evolve for the world today?.

Spider-Man — Social learning, it’s good to talk

He’s young, hip and new but completely clueless. He likes to make friends, collaborate with others and soak up knowledge through conversations with his superhero pals. He’s a big proponent of what we’d call peer to peer or social learning, he loves to learn through others, whether that’s a good old chat with his mentor Tony Stark or hanging around to watch the rest of the crew in action and get his own private masterclass on kicking ass.

The next generation coming through are digital natives, they don’t know a world without the internet, they’ve not had to suffer the pain of a 56k modem or god forbid a physical keypad on a phone. This population will be consuming their learning through blogs, podcasts and youtube videos, but more than ever, they also need the social element. Learning through real world experiences in peer to peer conversations to share knowledge is still of great use and learning on the job is always one of the most popular ways to develop your people.

Black Panther — virtual reality, augmented reality and rise of the machines

The revolutionary, this would be a close ally of Tony Stark, someone who is pushing deep into the future with a forward thinking mentality on topics such as VR, AR, chatbots and more then happy to share with the world. Not so much a disruptor, but one who has seen the potential of the digital revolution and wants to ensure all can benefit from what’s next.

We don’t quite know how VR, AR and robotics will impact the industry and personally I’ve not found much real world use for them yet, but at some point these too will be another set of tools to include in your ecosystem.

Thanos — Learning Ecosystem

The man with the big glove and shiny stones that contain a variety of ways to cause trouble. In our case, this resembles our learning offer or ecosystem if you will — it’s just that we are trying to support people in learning and developing world class skills, not destroy the universe.

You can look at Thanos gauntlet (technical term for big glove) as your learning ecosystem and the way in which your people can access these tools. For anyone to use your content, they need to understand what it is, how to access it and be able to do this in a super simple way.

It should be a click of the fingers and the ways to learn appear.

What does this all mean?

Ok, now that we’ve had some fun with the superhero analogy and your learning offer, let’s look at what this means for you.

It’s a cliche, but there are a variety of ways to learn a new skill or develop a current one, the method you choose will be personal to you and your style of learning. We have many ways to deliver learning to people and most importantly we must pick the best tool for the job from our ecosystem.

Just because you have a classroom course that covers the content your people are asking for, doesn’t mean it’s the right option or that it will provide the desired outcome that this group seeks. It’s often said that variety is the spice of life, that’s why as an industry more teams are investing in blended solutions to provide the quality of choice to suit the needs of different audiences, as we all learn in different ways.

It’s not always about one tool being better than the other, but rather which is the best for the task at hand. Finding balance and a way to bring all your options into one offer, instead of competing against one another should be the way forward.

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