Performance Is More Than Support – Learning Technology

toolsandtechnology-mediumSo in our last post we started our journey through learning technology with learning management systems so let’s turn our attention to content, including mobile, wearables, virtual environments and virtual reality (VR). Content  The definition of what e-learning content is a fluid and varied one, but often interpreted by our previous experience of point and click content.  Today, improved authoring tools, design quality, interactions, games engines, responsive design and user generated content all play their part.  Authoring tools will continue to improve and provide better experiences across devices, novice user focused tools (such as iMovie for video, for online portfolio creation, adobe voice for short animations, Microsoft Snip for quick walkthroughs and Piktochart for infographic creation to name a few) will continue to push the quality of user generated content forward.  It is raising the bar of what is expected and what will engage users. More and more, content is drawing on the skills of talented animators, video and media production houses and graphic designs to make an emotional connection with learners and make the link to performance outcomes more immediate and memorable.  Relevance, impact, shareability and reuse are important factors here and understanding when to invest and when to create for disposability as things change is important.  Again, if the learning needs is routed in performance, the choices you need to make here become much more apparent and grounded.  In our learning design methodology, there has always been a blend before blended learning was part of the mainstream vernacular because there is never a one size fits all.  The starting point of each organisation is different, it terms of its base level of knowledge, technical infrastructure, existing content, capability to create or curate more content and on.  Therefore, in a performance led approach,  awareness of existing and emerging mediums, a curiosity for new approaches an tools and creative spirit will help ensure your content is fit for the need.  What is arguably the most important factor here is knowing whether the content is having the desired effect –impacting business performance and encouraging innovation.  This is where the breathing space surrounding content for learners to experiment, contribute, critique, apply, refine, reapply and evolve is vital.  That’s what a real blend represents – the content is the springboard to performance not the single solution. Mobile and wearables Having mobile as a stand alone statement is in itself outdated and the distinction between mobile and desktop/laptop is becoming increasingly more irrelevant.  Understanding what type of performance support people need will lead us to the right intervention or solution delivered to the right supporting technology.  Form factor is certainly a consideration in terms of design and delivery methods but again, if you look at the workflow and where and when people will require support for what outcome, this naturally indicates what will be relevant.  Its then obvious what should be available and will be useful on mobile and what approach won’t work.  Detailed interactions on a smartphone form factor are unlikely to be a great experience, but quick refresher content, short scenarios, videos and discussions will do just fine.  The opportunity to learn on the go and whilst offline, using apps (as we have done with Pathway for iOS and Android) provide the flexibility and choice learners don’t just value, they expect it. Another important consideration is recognising what is becoming the more seamless handoff between technology.  Consider a day in the like of something like an Apple Watch – now there is certainly argument as to whether it has yet to prove a success but having lived with one for a year now, its interesting to reflect on the subtle but quite significant changes its made in the way I interact with other technology and the world around me.  On a daily basis, it has resulted in a realignment of personal fitness goals due to the wealth of data it provides and a renewed motivation.  I reach for my phone less and find my phone less intrusive as a result.  It provides concise summary information, providing me with choice as to whether I then go and explore this further (such as twitter updates, texts, skype, news feeds etc.)  It also provides the opportunity to gather more contextual information on the world around me when coupled with appropriate location based apps.  Although in its current version it still relies on an iPhone, the location based updates, simplified navigation and activity feeds have application for context sensitive performance support. Learning content does not need to be consumed on a wearable (in fact in a recent interview I conducted with David Kelly, Head of the e-Learning Guild and avid Apple Watch wearer, he suggested whoever starts to build the first e-learning module for the Apple Watch should be stopped!) But being pointed in the direction of support, content or events that I may digest or participate via another medium has great potential. We are currently working with clients to do just this, pushing short messages and comms around learning via iBeacons.  As an employee pops down to the café for a coffee break, an iBeacon located nearby can provide updates on new content, events or groups that may be of interest. Augmented reality is also an area that hasn’t yet been used to its full potential and even been the focus of some derision, with commentators claiming technologies like Google Glass are a failed experiment.  Don’t be too quick to dismiss this, its time may yet come.  It may not be relevant to all and I certainly would not advocate adopting any technology like this just because there’s plenty of press attention!  However, we have worked with a high end medical equipment provider where this type of technology can have significant benefits.  The equipment they deal with comes in at the multi-million dollar end of the market, so the effective use and maintenance of this complex machinery is vitally important.  Technology such as Google glass or even something more simple like Layar, which enables you to bring objects to life, using your phone to view the object and access context relevant content provides immediate access to guidance, how to’s and more.  Using AR, accessing the support you need to maintain specialist equipment can be done in situ and at point of need.  Again, its all about need – not all organisations will have use of this, but its important to know its there and understand its potential. Virtual reality and virtual worlds Virtual worlds are an arena that many learning technologists in organisations have been experimenting with for many years.  On the face of it, they have significant application, particular where hands on experience of a scenario may be challenging, dangerous or costly to achieve.  Its for exactly these reasons a number of large organisations used to invest heavily in research into Second Life and its successors.  However, they’ve not really gained any traction, largely because they are by definition removed from the real world.  Overcoming that barrier has been challenging and stories of people concentrating more on the outfit for their avatar or struggling to control the avatar in the first place have led to something of a mothballing of virtual worlds in most organisational learning contexts.  However, virtual reality and hardware such as Oculus Rift have the potential to change this, providing a more immersive, kinaesthetic experience. Conrad Tucker, assistant professor of engineering design and industrial engineering at Penn State University describes why he is leading a research group into its potential in higher education learning design:

“Online courses also limit you in some ways—there’s little immersive or tactile interaction, and sometimes it’s hard for students to engage with the material. IVR systems are a potential solution to that problem.”

The retention of learning and ability for students to accurately replicate tasks in the real world is significantly improved when using VR as opposed to completing the same activity in a non-immersive environment.  This is primarily because the environment is one where you learn through doing, rather than observing, reading or watching.   Although it would be useful to see more detailed research in this area with wider contexts and larger cohorts, early indicators suggest it needs to be on any learning professional’s radar.  At WillowDNA, we have developed a partnership with a local Oculus Rift application developer to provide options for immersive onboarding, simulations in high risk or complex environments and where assessment needs to be practical and provide accurate feedback are very exciting.