It’s already started! Like Christmas (which morally shouldn’t be even be thought about before Thanksgiving), requests for next year’s trends should be on hold until at least December. Still, a request came in for my thoughts. Rather than send them off and await their emergence; I toss them out here, with a caveat: “It’s tough to make predictions, particularly about the future.”
1. What, on your opinion, are the main Digital Learning (DL) trends for 2019?
I think the main trend will be an increasing exploration of alternatives to ‘courses’. This will include performance support, and social networks. Similarly, models for formal learning will shift from the ‘event’ model to a more sustained and distributed framework that segues from spaced learning through coaching.
I sincerely hope that we’ll be paying more attention to aligning learning with cognition, and pursue ‘shiny objects‘ only after we establish a solid foundation. Instead of looking for the magic bullet, we’ll recognize that our brain architecture means we need a drip-irrigation model, not a flood.
This may be wishful thinking, but I believe we’re beginning to see some positive signs. We’re seeing more interest in learning science, growing awareness of myths, and more. Hopefully there’s an accompanying shift from being fascinated by technology to being interested in what technology can do for better learning outcomes!
2. What are the main threats and obstacles, then?
The main threats and obstacles are several. For one, our own lack of understanding of the foundations of our industry hampers us. When we don’t really understand learning, we can be swayed by well-designed distractors. That’s the second factor: there are those who are happy selling us the latest fad.
Coupled with this is a lack of business awareness in our own practices. We measure the wrong things, e.g. efficiency – such as cost/seat/hour. And we’re reluctant to talk to the stakeholders in the business. We should be worried about impact: are we reducing costs, increasing profitability or customer satisfaction?
Overall, we’re hampered by a true lack of professionalism. We learn the tools, and crank stuff out, but we’re not concerned enough about whether it’s demonstrably the right stuff.
3. Do you believe in the AI and DL robotization? When does this bright future come?
I believe in increasing use of AI to support functions that shouldn’t involve humans. It’s silly to have people doing rote things we can teach computers to do. That includes responding to knowledge requests, and filtering, and a few other tasks. However, I think we need to recognize that not all the things needed in learning, such as evaluating complex work products, should be done by machines. I think we should look for when we can automate, and when we want people in the loop.
So I’m more interested in IA (not AI): Intelligence Augmentation. That is, what is the right distribution of tasks between machine and people? There are things that computers do well, but they’re remarkably brittle; as of yet they don’t handle edge cases, or make good inferences in the grey areas very well. That’s when you want people. I think our design discipline needs to be smart about when to use each, and how they complement each other.
The future of IA is already underway, as is AI. We’re seeing, and will see more, uses of AI to filter, to answer questions, and to take over rote tasks. These behaviors are not yet ready to be termed ‘bright’, however. Some success stories are emerging, but I suspect we don’t hear much yet about the money being wasted. The time of consistency in effective synergies is still a few years off.
4. Your advice to the market for 2019.
Work smarter! Get smart about learning science, about business, and about what technology can (and can’t) do. I’d like to see: staff pushing more for real impact via metrics, leaders asking for business cases not order taking, vendors pushing solutions not resource savings, and buyers asking for real evidence. I’d like to see smarter purchasing, and the snake oil sales folks’ business withering away. We can do better!
And I realize that my proposed trends are more wishful thinking than predictions. One of my favorite quotes is by Alan Kay: “The best way to predict the future is to invent it” so I keep pushing this agenda. My goal is simple: to make this a field I’m truly proud to be working in. The folks in L&D, I think, are some of the nicest folks; they’re here because they want to help others (you don’t go to L&D to become rich ;). I think there’s a promising future, but it doesn’t start with AI or ML or DL, it starts with getting down to the realities of how we learn, and how we can support it. When we do that, I think our future will be one which will help our organizations and our people thrive. Our future can be bright, and it’s up to us to make it so.