Every L&D conference I have attended focuses on change. Mostly, radical change is prescribed. New tools. New techniques. New technologies. New methods. All the old certainties are bunkum we are told. Adapt or die. Change is the only constant. Etc. Etc.
Very often, we foot soldiers are energised and inspired by these events. New ideas and possibilities come to life. We feel invigorated and ready to spread the word back with the platoon. Something happens, though, after a few weeks in the old trenches and we tend to lapse back to the trusty shovel and bayonet. Inching forwards as we carve out a new front line or digging out to the existing one.
Don’t get me wrong, the conferences really are a great learning experience. The therapy of sharing whispered war stories is also very valuable. “Oh. Really? You too? I was worried it was only me.” It is great to locate ourselves in our relative landscape, to have some sense of where we stand.
The redoubtable Laura Overton has, I think, established the singly most useful tool in this regard in the Towards Maturity Benchmark study. Every year, an increasing number of L&D leaders share their plans, activity and the reality of their use of learning technologies. The questions around the new tools and techniques are candidly answered. It is both a healthy exercises to undertake as a moment of reflection and a fascinating to read the results. Laura has shared some of the highlights of this years’ study in this blog on the Sponge site. It is a somewhat uncomfortable read. It seems that we are still in Kansas after all, despite all that heat at the conferences and are doggedly sticking to the familiar.
Courses, eLearning content (courses? modules? programmes?) and virtual classrooms abound. This is what training is after all then? Other (newer?) formats such as games, curation, mobile and social are there to see but are not the norm. They are far from it in some cases. The familiarity of placing courses in the LMS has a powerful allure and seems to be a pattern we all default to despite our desire to experiment and test alternatives.
Laura has the wealth and heritage of data to help diagnose the problem, thankfully and lack of confidence seems to be a formidable hurdle. In Laura’s words: “So far less than 30% of L&D leaders in the 2015 study agree that their teams have the confidence to apply new learning technologies to learning. A staggering 3 in 5 believe that even if they did, their staff would not know how to use them.” This is a scary statistic. Outside of the ‘learning world’, wherever it may be, these technologies are natural everyday tools. What happens to confidence levels when we transport them in? There may be a skills gap here for L&D teams to overcome. L&D professionals might need new skills of community stewardship, porduct management and editorial judgement. The gap may also be filled, however, by better product design on behalf of providers to keep these things simple and intuitive. This is a pervasive problem for the systems vendors.
I think there is an additional challenge that the research does not quite address. Almost all large organisations have extensive and substantial systems in place to manage and control learning. An LMS, which is often at the centre of activity and part of a larger set of HR systems and processes. These are not user tools but process tools with pretty rigid rules and applications. They serve the organisation view of what learning is rather than the user view. They form the infrastructure of most of our production and they are fixed fast to the world of work in most organisations.
It is very difficult and arguably ill advised, to attempt to apply new tools into this landscape. I think they are a poor fit if they are well designed, user focused products. It also contributes to that lack of confidence – they feel and behave differently. They tend to be the wrong shape and size for the rigid infrastructure of those control systems. They are shaping the future, however and we need to experiment with them. Testing, piloting and exploring are good approaches. Integration is likely to kill them off.