In 2015, I attended the Learning Technologies show at Olympia, London, to try to better understand what was happening in an area adjacent my world of intranets, and what could be learned to improve the already award-winning Barclays Global Curriculum project. What I found was less adjacent, and more parallel. It felt like I was in a strange parallel universe where intranets didn’t really exist.
In spite of this, I learned a lot and was pleased to make it back to the exhibition after a gap of three years. Learning Technologies has moved on in that time.
It is notably bigger, and there is clearly more money involved than before. There is a lot of focus on types of training, and the trendy areas are video, animation and VR, but I can’t say I noticed any mention of augmented reality. One provider I spoke to discussed putting training into a song (they’ve even used company choirs in the past), and an escape room in VR. Naturally, there are also businesses building blended training programmes.
It shouldn’t surprise anyone that there is a lot of potential demand for training tools and services via mobile devices, and a lot of businesses are trying to fill it. One challenge is how to manage corporate training on personal phones and tablets. For all of the exhibitors talking about mobile, I saw nothing to suggest that there is an easy solution.
I would suggest there were more Learning Management Systems, and they don’t appear to be focusing on the trends of three years ago, of social tools and gamification. A couple of people I spoke to were pleased to see the passing of the frenzy for badges with everything. I only noticed one company talking about another former buzzword, xAPI (aka Tin Can API), which appears to be successfully helping businesses track the success of training, for example, in retail stores.
In 2015, I only noticed a handful of mentions of SharePoint or Office 365. By 2018, there were even fewer. I find it uncanny that a vast number of knowledge workers make use of SharePoint, but training isn’t being delivered to them on that platform.
One I did find, was a company whose LMS tightly integrates with 365. This sent my mind racing around the potential and ease of setting up Teams for different learning cohorts, with associated file storage and such – this substantially raises the potential for team-based learning. It was also good to see the potential of SharePoint’s search and card-type previews actually in use. They’re also using a chatbot interface to speed access to courses – instead of hundred of courses with leadership somewhere in the description, they list the top 10 leadership courses. I’m told that younger employees are unlikely to search, but will query a bot.
This challenge of finding the right training materials is central to the success of any service. At least one supplier of ebooks and other resources has tried to simplify that with integrations can be completed in as little as 15 minutes. Shorter, to-the-point, training materials can contribute a lot too, but perhaps you lose out on the big names.
While I find it strange that the Learning Technologies exhibition has such a blind spot to intranets and SharePoint, I feel it is perfectly understandable. The primary customers are in HR or even in their own domain. There’s also a loose, but natural, affiliation between the the providers of training, and the systems that make it possible. To take things further into the realm of the digital workplace requires a lot more time, effort, and thought.
A few more reflections on learning
There is no doubt in my mind that training tools and materials should be available from the front page of an intranet and throughout it. A commitment to learning is also good for communications and culture, it seems obvious that showing pride in the training materials can contribute to better employee attitudes and overall morale.
However, even with the best materials and company leadership, an employee needs supportive management. For someone without a desk or a laptop, finding a quiet space and/or device may be a challenge in its own right. This may be too disruptive for management who only regard face-to-face training as “real training”. Conversely, managers may dislike the hassle of losing staff time to away-days with an uncertain gain.
Consider the explosion in businesses offering video for use online. I’ve come to the view that we will see a similar demand and, therefore, provision of digital training. It will be up to HR and digital workplace professionals to ensure these materials are managed and curated in ways that lead to a better experience. If you’ve worked in a large organisation, you’re likely to have seen it drowning in courses, videos, ebooks and more.
It doesn’t surprise me that training and other learning materials are poorly represented in the digital workplace: it’s not easy to do this well. That’s why it’s such an opportunity.