Learning Technologies


Introduction

By being on this site there is a strong chance you’re familiar with the term but if not, what are learning technologies?

Learning Technology is the term now given for specific New Media methodologies that put pedagogy or training as the principal aim of the user experience. Similarly it is most often the case that a user of a Learning Technology is either an tutor, academic student or corporate trainee. This new term is used to differentiate understanding from ‘IT’ which describes an immensely broad sphere with a multitude of often differing aims and also ‘E-learning’ which tends to be associated solely with web-based learning approaches through networked computer systems. Learning Technology offers a term that describes the use of various modern technologies, from iPads and gamification to interactive video for online courses and training programs undertaken through Virtual Learning Environments (VLE).

Today Learning Technologies have come to represent a paradigm shift in learning delivery worldwide and across the spectrum from corporate learning and development to academia. This statement is substantiated in a corporate context by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD), a prominent UK learning and development organisation, who use a VLE to deliver their courses to over 10,000 students worldwide. Their chosen mode of delivery speaks volumes about how important Learning Technologies have become in the corporate training sector:

‘Recent developments in e-learning have been nurtured by a ‘people-centric web’, and by newer emergent technologies, that facilitate and stimulate collaborative conversations, knowledge-sharing, individualism and interpersonal networking – all of which should be at the heart of sophisticated human resources and people management strategy. Where used effectively and in conjunction with other development methods, e-learning can help to support high levels of individual, team and organisational performance as one key strand of organisational learning strategy.’ CIPD, August, 2013.

Within the Education sector the evolution of Learning Technologies, such as VLE, MOOC and educational gamification, have featured with increasing prominence in reports from the UK educational regulatory body Ofsted ‘in line with…increased emphasis on improvements’. Oftsed itself refers to Learning Technology as ILT or Information Learning Technology and ‘references on the effective use (of ILT) have been rising…up from about 20% pre 2009 to around 40% having comment in 2012’ (Ofsted, January, 2013). The National Institute of Adult Continuing Education (NIACE) have created a solid description of how IT, ICT and ILT all differ in the context of academic delivery which can be viewed here.

Here is an example of how I managed learning technology change in the NHS:

‘Leading the eLearning programme for the Royal Bournemouth and Christchurch Hospitals: within nine months I implemented a bespoke mobile-ready VLE reporting to ESR (NHS Electronic Staff Record) via an Enterprise Google Chrome deployment. I designed major platform and content alterations to align with NHS requirements and enhance user experience. I also personally negotiated a saving of £170,000 for RBCH on the LMS provision and set up an eLearning Team.

Leading design and delivery of bespoke e/mLearning provision to all clinical and non clinical personnel (B1-B9) for Essential Core Skills (MAND) Training. Creation of first NHS VSCS project with Google Glass, Rustici Inc. and Health Education Wessex / Health Education Thames Valley.’

Mobile Learning & TinCan

The ubiquitous mobile devices of today are powerful mini-computers. They are capable of facilitating interactive and productive learning experiences that can be accessed via cellular networks anytime, anywhere, from the sofa at home to the passenger jet at 37,000 feet. Therefore, arguably the most dynamic Learning Technology of the moment involves creating corporate training or academic courses for use on mobile devices such as smart phones and tablets that can be either web-based (using mobile friendly HTML5) or delivered via a downloadable app. Mobile learning offers great potential because smart devices are often carried with a user on their person, i.e. in a bag or pocket, meaning the ability to learn is readily available at opportune junctures. Rather than completing long, intensive periods of study a user can learn in ‘bite-sized’ chunks where and when it suits them, perfect for busy professionals with full schedules and also a method that is known to help learners retain more information (cognitive learning theory).

Mobile Learning is an exciting prospect but it’s another complementary technology that takes the concept from convenient to profoundly useful and it’s called as the TinCan API or alternatively, the Experience API. Although personnel completing training courses on their mobile devices whilst moving around the globe is personally productive it isn’t very useful to the company or institute that published the learning content unless user attainment can be measured and improved. This data is essential so the mobile training program or course can be evaluated for it’s effectiveness and so that content can be strategically reviewed by leadership teams in the context of KPI and ROI. The TinCan API (application programming environment) is an evolution of the previous SCORM standard used by everyone from the military to schools to obtain e-learner information. Put succinctly TinCan enables all the learning experiences of a mobile learner to be logged and sent to a store (known as an LRS) where it can be be reviewed and exported e.g. graphic data representations re how many of Company X’s top sales team completed eLearning Module A and what informal learning was used in conjunction. TinCan offers far more information about learning experiences than it’s forebear SCORM and unlike the latter in can be embedded straight into content specifically designed for mobile learning. Below are two short videos; the first from Adobe covers Mobile Learning content publishing through Captivate and the second demonstrates the sort of experiential information that’s possible to extract with the TinCan API.

I have personally worked directly with Watershed (Rustici Inc.) to investigate and deploy innovative methods for using TinCan within the NHS, particularly in the context of Simulation Tools. If you can imagine a mobile delivery married with expansive analysis metrics then it’s not difficult to see this combination as one of the most dynamic and impactful Learning Technologies to date.

 

                                                                        

Gamification

The term ‘gamification’ or ‘serious games’ refers to the use of designed (video) game experiences ‘to improve user engagement, return on investment, data quality, timeliness, and learning‘ (Herger, M, 2012). In recent years gamification techniques have been enthusiastically embraced by corporate businesses and ‘over 70% of Forbes Global 2000 companies plan to use gamification for the purposes of marketing and customer retention (Van Grove, J, 2011). Corporate gamification has been gaining traction for several years and strategies to deploy initiatives should be considered carefully in relation to the age of the intended audience. Arguably the most profound use of gamification is in the Education sector, particularly in the context of new teaching & learning methodologies for digital natives (Prensky, M). There is much written elsewhere about the ‘born digital’ phenomenon but put succinctly gaming is now the recreational preference for a large proportion of young people. It has been found that 5 – 16 year olds in the U.K. are playing an average of 1.5 hours of video games every day on a digital device e.g. tablet, mobile or PC (UK Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology, no. 405, 2012). This statistic equates to a full working week of gameplay every month. With information like this it appears clear that gaming is important to many young people today and the goal of educational gamification is to harness this preference to achieve academic attainment by blending learning and recreation together. As a practitioner in this field I was privileged to be invited as a guest speaker on the subject of ’21st Century Learning – Harnessing the Power of Games’ by I-Education Ltd. (creators of the I Am Learning platform with over 12 million users) at the FROG Learning Technology Conference in 2013. I was also invited as a discussion panel member along with Michael Wilkinson (IAL Director), with the session was chaired by eminent government adviser Alistair Smith. My talk and slide presentation can be viewed below:

 

 

Additionally I also discuss Learning Technology and gamification online in professional web forums. Click here to view transcript from a recent debate in the Linkedin E-Learning 2.0 discussion group (September, 2013) which features issues raised by contributors that are common, reoccurring themes in current discourse regarding educational gamification.

 

Learning Management Systems (LMS)

It is worth mentioning LMS as these systems are where the output from Learning Technologies, e.g. a multiple choice interactive training video or course resource files are presented, collated and stored. LMS provide a web-based (server/database) infrastructure that supports the multiple contributors, authors and users that make up a Virtual Learning Environment or Massive Open Online Course. Importantly LMS also facilitate the monitoring of user-based progress e.g. via the Tin Can API and supply data on system usage to aid strategic review. Although there are many LMS products available today they are split into two key groups, those that are free to use (open-source) and those that require a commercial licence. I personally have indepth experience of procuring, tendering, designing and deploying several platform including MoodleFrog and SkillsServe. Based upon my experience of launching a new LMS through to everyday enhancement and management there are two key points that stand out:

Firstly an LMS is not just a collection of technical tools, instead an LMS powers an online environment for learning. The term environment is very important here. For example; a house is essentially a collection of rooms with adjoining utilities, a car is essentially a box on wheels and a mobile phone is a communication device. However, all the aforementioned environments are augmented in order to make them an appealing place where humans wish to spend time. This concept equally applies to virtual environments and this is most apparent with the mobile phone as a communication device versus the ‘life in your pocket’ device it has become for many. Unfortunately the most prominent (and well discussed) user gripe with LMS is that their usability and appeal have been sidelined in favour of technical concerns. The bottom line here is that users spend time in environments they find appealing and if VLE are to provide healthy ROI and increase productivity users of a given platform must either want or need to use it. Given the fact that one of the major advantages of a VLE is ’24/7 access’ the appeal of these environments is essential as learning and development within them is most often self-initiated by the user.

The second key lesson from my experience is that previously LMS and VLE were often ‘dumped’ onto IT teams but historically this had not proved to be a productive approach. Although IT input is key for LMS setup, and successful liaison with an understanding of IT concerns vital, the successful management, design & development of virtual learning environments often requires a different set of skills. LMS are widely reported to be most successfully managed by those with experience of; 1) New Media design, 2) teaching & learning methodologies and 3) human behaviour in online environments. In this way the Learning Technologist role has arisen as a bridge between various disciplines and can now be found in most successful companies worldwide as the cost effectiveness and impact of Learning Technologies for Learning & Development is increasingly utilised.