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mLearnCon 2015: The robots are coming!

This blog post comes from LEO Learning’s Director of Learning Imogen Casebourne.

A couple of weeks ago I spent an inspiring week in Austin, Texas at mLearnCon 2015. There was the usual great mix of insightful talks on mobile learning, and this year it was co-located with the Performance Support Symposium, offering a further mix of talks and workshops.

Reflecting on the show, one theme that jumped out for me was that of examining how our roles are changing and will continue to change in a world of increasing automation. In this case, of course, the focus was very much on how L&D roles in particular are changing in a time of increased automation.

Humans vs robots

The theme kicked off with the opening keynote, where Ken Jennings talked about how the longest running champion of Jeopardy (for those who aren’t familiar with it, success in this game requires you to learn and remember facts) was eventually beaten by IBM’s Watson computer. He asked whether it was still important, in an age of knowledge and support at our fingertips, to memorise facts. His conclusion was that sometimes it still is. There will always be times when it is quicker to know something than to wonder what it is and have to look it up – the Boxing Day tsunami being a particularly powerful example. One schoolgirl who had learnt what the strange behaviour of the sea might mean a tsunami recognised the danger immediately, and raised the alarm, clearing the beach that she and her family were on and saving many lives.

Other questions arising from the increasing automation of our world included discussions about the security and identity issues posed by making more content available on mobile devices, especially when those devices are owned by individuals and not organisations. This is not a new issue, but it remains an active one as more and more organisations move to use mobile devices as a delivery mechanism for learning and performance support.

Wearable technology

Wearable devices were also of interest. Google may have halted their beta test initiative of Glass for now, but a new set of wearable devices are filling the gap, including Oculus Rift, as well as the Apple Watch, which several delegates were sporting with some merriment as the social functionality was tested out.  Wearables have great potential for learning and performance support, but also raise questions about the impact of monitoring actions and activity via what are very personal devices, something I have written about before.

I noticed a great deal of interest in the gomo stand, especially in the learning analytics now available via the tool. Learning analytics offer huge potential for improving the design of learning technology and offering personalisation and tailored support. Again, however, collecting much more detailed data on individual’s journeys and actions also raises potential privacy issues, which need to be carefully thought through by HR and L&D departments.

There was also some interesting thinking on how we can ensure learning experiences that are supported by technology address the way that people learn and are not overly guided by what the technology can do. I liked the CHAMPIONS framework developed by Float Learning in conjunction with Qualcomm. It offers some useful pointers to remind us how learning journeys should be developed. In my own sessions, I talked about the role of mobile and performance support in the wider learning architecture and in supporting the wider learning journey, and touched on LEO Learning’s approaches to design. In designing learning architectures, we are guided by the work, among others, of Professor Diana Laurillard who outlines a variety of design patterns that show how more traditional learning maps to online delivery. In performance support, we draw on the insights of Gloria Gery, Marc Rosenberg and Professor Alison Rossett, among others in looking to ensure that support offered via technology is easy to access, at an appropriate level and does not take people too far away from the task in hand.

So do we need to fear the advance of the machines?

I came away thinking that we need to treat some aspects of increased automation with a level of caution, but as long as there continue to be many good people out there thinking in depth about how we can harness technology to work for people, rather than vice versa, we will be just fine.

To find out more about how we can harness some of today’s most exciting learning technologies for measurable business results, download our new ebook, ‘The art of the possible’, for inspiration.

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