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TMCNet:  TECHNOLOGY + LEARNING = INSPIRATION [T + D]

[December 20, 2012]

TECHNOLOGY + LEARNING = INSPIRATION [T + D]

(T + D Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) New technologies are changing the way learning and development staff interact with their learners. Embrace it.

The rapid pace of innovation in technology has had a sometimes disruptive- and sometimes liberating- impact on many fundamental areas of human interaction. The process by which we teach and learn is no exception. Recent developments in technology are having an increasingly profound influence on our discipline.


For example, when the Massachusetts Institute of Technology put one of its popular electronics classes online for free earlier this year, it saw enrollment figures reach above 100,000. It also saw that attendance slump by a factor of 10 by the midpoint of the course. Thousands of learners in one class is a profound shift for our discipline, but keeping learners deeply engaged is definitely not.

Such developments as MITx, Stanford University's Coursera, and many others reveal that there is huge interest in using technology to shape training and education. That's great news for the learning and development community since opportunities are opening on a global, high scale for radically innovative ways to consume, deliver, and improve training and education for massive impact.

That journey starts with understanding three recent technology trends that convince me that right now is the best time to be a stakeholder in the world of learning and development: 1. the proliferation of affordable, ubiquitous, connected devices 2. the development of an architecture for cloud computing 3. the emergence of new natural ways to interact with these devices.

Let's drill down into these three big game-changers.

Device proliferation We now have a landscape flooded with iPhones and iPads, smartphones, tablets, and ultrabooks. Chances are that right now you have on hand an instrument for computing that offers better processing power, storage, connectivity, and user interface than the first computer you (or your parents) bought 20 years ago- and at a tenth of the price, too.

The implications of this kind of device revolution on learning and development are profound. These devices already are enabling the classroom of the future, which is going to be marked by rich and powerful processing, location awareness, ease of use and portability, preferences highly tuned to the individual user's specific needs, and connections to data services and social networks.

The end result is that teaching and learning are transformed in both time and space. Learning activities no longer will be constrained by a physical environment, timetable, or location. Devices can support scenarios that can connect teachers to teachers, learners to learners, and novices to expert mentors. Users can consume rich sources of information and knowledge, and quickly access people who not only know what you want to know, but also want to teach you.

Some might find that level of change scary. In reality, this is a huge opportunity for the professional training industry. These devices need rich content and scenarios to "light them up," and smart, intelligent designers to build the next generation of training apps that will help the field engineer, salesperson, medic, or student of tomorrow.

Cloudy outlook Device proliferation covers the front end. But what about behind it The buzzword for this is the cloud, which is just a shorthand term for the resources our new smart devices employ to get and host their great functionality. If you've used Hotmail or made a Skype call, you're already a cloud tyro.

Think of it this way: For every iPad, it's estimated there are seven back-end tools you don't see- computer servers- that provide such services as search, streaming, database access, and connectivity.

The cloud is the emerging architecture for a super- connected world, enabling easy access via the Internet to copious amounts of computing resources globally. All you really need to know is that this is the most efficient way of pooling resources on a massive scale. It is the only way to make those $99 devices that can connect you anytime, anywhere actually work.

Perhaps the best way to illustrate the implications for learning is with an example. The Khan Academy was founded by Salman Khan, a computer science graduate and engineer with MIT and Harvard credentials, who decided to apply some of the approaches he had learned in that field to education. By applying an engineering and information technology mindset, he and his team created a service that has built 2,100 bite-sized lessons that have been consumed 146 million times. He essentially used off-the-shelf, cloud-powered technology for impact at huge scale.

Getting educational content online isn't that new, perhaps. But the Khan model shows us the possibility of fundamentally new ways of learning. What if students could consume the lectures at home in the evening and then do their homework at school the next day, supported by the teacher and other kids who have a better grasp of the material It is certainly a fundamental shift in how we have modeled the school experience for generations.

Welcome to the world of the Nuey Enter NUI, which stands for natural user interface. If you've ever used Siri on your iPhone, or dragged and pinched your way across the Internet on the new fast and fluid Windows 8 interface, you have used NUI (pronounced nuey). It is a range of technologies that enable the computer to recognize and understand your intentions as quickly and naturally as possible, in part by using massive computing power to help devices learn and recognize multipoint touch (drag-and-pinch), skeletal tracking and gestures, and facial and voice recognition.

The point: By simplifying complex modes of human computer interaction (for example keyboards and code) and making interaction more natural, access to compute power is available to more people and the focus shifts to the desired outcome. To help understand what all this is and what it's starting to mean, consider the Xbox Kinect.

Kinect started as a Microsoft Research Lab project geared to help video gamers more naturally control the game environment. Kinect became a $150 consumer device that millions of people around the planet have started to use to transform their gaming experience using their bodies through gesture, speech, and facial tracking.

When Kinect came on the market, a multitude of third-party, non-Microsoft developers - scientists, software engineers, and geeks- wanted access to the software that controlled the device. That meant people, including passionate educators, started getting access to the most incredibly sophisticated computer technology at consumer-level price points. And they've started showing us amazing new ways to help people learn, play, and develop.

Lakeside Center for Autism, for example, is an institution that pioneered using Kinect to help assist in the developmental education of children with autism. Lakeside is using Kinect's full-body motion capture technology to help the children meet their developmental goals in communication, social interaction, turn taking, bilateral coordination, and language advances. Ultimately, the Lakeside experience illustrates the potential that these technology trends open up for us as educators and trainers.

Let technology inspire us Consider these stats regarding the global skills gap: * We need 8 million more teachers globally.

* We need at least another 4.5 million healthcare professionals.

* Africa alone needs 2.5 million engineers if it has any chance of meeting its UNESCO development goals between now and 20 1 5.

Behind and beyond these challenges are the millions of people who want access to great learning opportunities to develop their skills and capabilities. The learning and development community needs to leverage emerging trends in technology if it is to help build capability on a true scale.

It's our job to build the activities, applications, and resources that help people learn and work better. It's quite simple how we can employ these trends in our endeavors: * The proliferation of affordable, connected devices means our capability to deliver learning experiences is ever-present.

* The cloud affords our organizations a resource-friendly way to host the hordes of data, information, and courseware we need to develop workers.

* The emergence of NUI helps satisfy the desires of our users to interact with learning that more accurately detects and works with their natural actions.

The bottom line is that new cheap and smart devices- which anyone can interact with and are connected to vast resources in terms of information and computing power via the cloud- will enable us to connect with more learners at any location. More important, through NUI, we can offer our learners media-rich, immersive experiences regardless of their digital literacy.

Microsoft has a mission statement that I think applies well to the learning development community: "Your Potential, Our Passion." Even though these trends are offering new ways to engage and serve learners (our passion), we need to figure out how to design learning that takes advantage of them while helping workers increase knowledge and improve performance (their potential).

It is an exciting time, to be sure. But learning and development professionals must start reacting now. The only way to really deliver on this promise of technology is to ask ourselves why we are still doing the same things the same way.

LISTEN TO THIS FEATURE at www.astd.org/TDpodcasts The learning and development community needs to leverage emerging trends in technology if it is to help build capability on a true scale.

Technology and Global Training Delivery in Lock-Step: LINGOs A great example of how organizations are starting to leverage the cloud to deliver at scale is LINGOs, a consortium of international relief, development, conservation, health, and social justice organizations that have come together to share learning resources and experiences. It's also a fantastic example of how individuals can use their skills and experience to make a difference.

LINGOs uses collaboration, public-private partnerships, and technology to provide world-class learning opportunities at little or no cost to anyone working to improve lives in the developing world. The more skills those people have, the more people will have enough food to eat, have access to healthcare and educational opportunities, and live in clean and safe places.

Since LINGOs began, more than 80,000 online courses have been completed by members around the world, ranging from classic management development courses to security training, project management, health, education, finance, media, and IT, as well as custom courses created by members using development tools made available by the private sector.

For executive director Eric Berg, "The training challenges [we face] are enormous- multiple countries, multiple languages, large numbers of international staff with a wide range of capabilities, high turnover, large numbers of topics (agriculture, microfinance, health, education, water and sanitation, etc.) and very challenging physical locations in terms of remoteness, resources (electricity, water, roads, etc.), and often-dangerous environments. In fact, we have the most difficult learning challenge I have ever seen: to train hundreds of thousands of people in over 70 countries, with multiple languages on a broad range of topics, working for thousands of different organizations with very limited funds." Berg has been using Internet technology for a while. In fact, "Technology is the only way to reach scale," he says. "It would be impossible to bring everyone that needs access to learning together to receive training nor would it be desirable. The numbers, geographic dispersion, turnover, limited resources, and competing demands on time make technology-based learning the only viable solution." He also has a challenge for all T+D readers: "If we can do it, you can do it. Training professionals can get involved as volunteers to support this effort, never leaving their homes or offices but still using their great skills to make the planet a better place and provide support to improve the lives of the most vulnerable populations in the world." INTERESTED IN ORDERING E-PRINTS Would a digital version of this article be a great fit for your next course, presentation, or event Are you interested in e-prints of several T+D articles on a specific topic Visit www.astd.org/TD, and click on "About T+D," for more information.

The rapid pace of innovation in technology has had a sometimes disruptive-and sometimes liberating- impact on many fundamental areas of human interaction. The process by which we teach and learn is no exception. Recent developments in technology are having an increasingly profound impact on our discipline.

For example, when the Massachusetts Institute of Technology put one of its popular electronics classes online for free earlier this year, it saw enrollment figures reach above 100,000. Such developments as MITx, Stanford University's Coursera, and many others reveal that there is huge interest in using technology to shape training and education. That's great news for the learning and development community since opportunities are opening on a global, high scale for radically innovative ways to consume, deliver, and improve training and education for massive impact.

That journey starts with understanding three recent technology trends that convince me that right now is the best time to be a stakeholder in the world of learning and development: the proliferation of affordable, ubiquitous, connected devices; the development of an architecture for cloud computing; and the emergence of new natural ways to interact with these devices.

Chris Pirie is chairman of the ASTD Board of Directors, and general manager of training and readiness at Microsoft; christopher_pirie@ hotmaiLcom.

(c) 2012 American Society for Training and Development

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