Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Technology Advancement and Learning – Help or Hindrance?

By Dean Hawkinson

On a recent trip to Jekyll Island, Georgia, I had the opportunity to reflect a bit on how far we have come with technology. On Jekyll Island, there is a monument set up by the Telephone Pioneers of America in remembrance of the first transcontinental phone call made from right there on the island on January 29, 1915, by then AT&T president Theodore Vail. The call included Mr. Vail, Alexander Graham Bell in New York, President Woodrow Wilson in Washington, D.C., and Thomas Watson in San Francisco. I reflected on how that one phone call changed our lives forever, and how much we take the telephone for granted today. I also thought about how far technology has come in just under 100 years of that first phone call.

I have worked in a learning environment for just over 10 years – not a very long time when you think about the grand scheme of things. However, in that 10 years, here are a few of the learning advancements that I have experienced in my career:

  • Transition from an overhead projector and transparencies to using a PC with PowerPoint and a connected projector
  • Transition from CBT (computer-based training) courses on CD ROMs to internet-based WBT (web-based training) courses
  • Alternatives to classroom-based instruction such as synchronous and asynchronous training courses via web technologies
  • Introduction of Learning Management Systems (LMS) to deliver and track training of all types
  • Transition from “Web 1.0” – consumption only internet – to the more recent “Web 2.0” – an internet full of two-way interaction and sharing
  • Integration of social media into the learning environment
  • Introduction of the iPhone, the smartphone and the iPad and other tablets and the integration of mLearning on these devices

Wow. There have been many leaps forward in technology for learning in the past 10 years.

What does all of this mean to learning?

There are some really neat tools out there, and it can be downright overwhelming sometimes. But guess what? Good ole’ Instructional Design principles and Adult Learning theories have not changed. Adults still learn in the same ways they did before all of this came about. So, why do we as learning professionals tend to ignore these principles just to use the latest and greatest trends in technology? For more information on this, read Adapting 20th Century Training Models for the Future.

It is crucial to set your instructional goals first - determine what it is that you are trying to accomplish through your learning initiative. Only when you have that established can you see how these technologies might support your end result. It does not work the other way around! Trying to select a technology because it is “cool” or the “latest thing” before understanding your instructional goals and how that technology will support it will ultimately fail/

Here are some guidelines to keep in mind as you select various technologies in your learning:

  1. Know your audience – Who is your audience? Think about what technologies might work for that audience before choosing a technology. For example, mLearning might work for a diverse sales organization that is spread throughout the country with the tools to receive that training (smartphone, tablet, etc.). However, it would probably not work for a group of call center representatives who do not have any mobile devices on which to receive the mLearning and tend to stay at one PC.
  2. Understand what “fits” to the technology – A 30-minute web-based course might work well on a PC over the web, but will it work on a smartphone? Will the media that you are using work on the smaller smartphone screen, or does it need a larger PC screen?
  3. Strategize for social media use – Understand your instructional goals first and then think about how social media can fit those goals, not the other way around. Look at how informal learning takes place today in your organization, and think about how social media can extend that. Have a written strategy in place and get buy-in from management or your client BEFORE planning any social media with your learning. There are a lot of great suggestions for Social Media use.
  4. Create Success Stories - After gaining initial buy-in from your management on the technology strategy, pilot it with a small group and create successes that you can share as you roll it out to the larger group. This will be key in getting everyone behind the new technology.

Bottom line – make your technology strategy fit your audience and instructional goals – not the other way around.

What are some of your success stories in implementing new technologies in your learning programs?

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