The 3 top reasons why elearning will become ubiquitous


Recently, Google took note of a surprising trend among their own people.  Teams across the company feature more talented members with little or no college education.  These unconventional googlers demonstrate talent for independent learning and creative thinking.

As a result, Google is re-evaluating their famously academic hiring criteria to allow for more of these unconventional candidates.  On a national level, US training organizations grew their spending by 12% in 2012, the highest growth rate of training in the last 8 years.  These trends show the value of existing skills-based elearning in the workplace, but also, the trends reveal a need for elearning to support a next-generation, more creative approach to knowledge transfer.   Traditional elearning technology already disrupted the traditional education sector, but now it must evolve to recognize learning happens everywhere.  Here are the top three reasons behind the push toward ubiquitous elearning:

Reason #1: The fallacy of fast

The scale of information we interact with at every moment now makes the “firehose of information” metaphor seems downright quaint.  It’s more like an overflowing data dam.  Or as a colleague of mine call it, The Daily.  As in, sh*tstorm.  Increasingly we seek shelter behind tiles, cards, tweets and the like.  These are effective ways to encapsulate information but they lead to an ephemeral type of pseudo-learning.

Recently Seth Godin had this to say about the false sense of learning:

“You were quickly able to sort it into an appropriate category, to make a decision about where it belongs in your mental filing cabinet…but you didn’t Get It“. — Seth Godin

Computers are great at crunching the numbers, we still need to digest the data.  Tools like Google Now and Knowledge Graph, which essentially pre-chew our internet experience through AI, are just the beginning.  As AI gets better at anticipating our intent, better choices will come at us more quickly.  What will we do with these spare cycles?  In many or most cases, the pre-chewed choice will suffice.  However, we will have more cognitive resources freed up to engage our creativity and selectively delve into the issues we are passionate about.  Engaging with information in this manner will be transformational, rather than transactional.

Are we really getting smarter?

For many years, research has shown IQ is increasing.  This increase in IQ might be simply a matter of being exposed to more information at an earlier biological age, when the brain is more plasticity.

Our brain is modified on a substantial scale, physically and functionally, each time we learn a new skill or develop a new ability” –Mike Merzenich, neuroscientist, software entrepreneur and self-described “applied philosopher”

Skimming doesn’t qualify as the kind of “practice event” which research ties to plasticity.  Even a simple elearning activity can satisfy the criteria.

Brain scientists increasingly advocate for the brain’s need to learn, to reason, to act, in order to stave off deterioration.  We must work hard to maintain our skills and abilities as accurate receivers and users of information.

BrainHQ and other similar providers of brain training say brain fitness will be an important part of every future life.  We must go beyond passive consumption of information.

So while the easy choices offered up by ever-smarter machine intelligence will be ever-more attractive, and in many cases, sufficient for a given task, there is merit to doing the work to dig deeper.

Resilience is a vibrant new field of evidence-based research led by Martin Seligman and Angela Duckworth.  Through diverse, longitudinal studies in socio-economic environments and in the military, results prove resilience is a key factor in real-world performance.  Resilience has been shown to close or even reverse the IQ gap inherent in socio-economic disparity.  In the face of machine learning, going beyond the easy answers to engage in learning becomes an act of resilience.  Fortunately, resilience is a skill.  Skills can be developed.

Among most leading L&D voices, there is a consensus that the  “war for talent,” is actually a “war for skills”.

Reason #2: Context is king

Today, salespeople train inside their CRM, work culture is forged through social learning tools like Jive, and   companies like Synergyze, founded recently by ex-googlers, deliver next-gen in-app training.

Outside of a specific software use case, an internet that supports learning everywhere can better leverage context to foster transformative practice events.

Experience API (xAPI)

The Advanced Distributed Learning (ADL) Initiative, part of the DoD, was signed into existence by President Clinton with the mission to support lifelong learning through the use of learning technology.  In April 2013, ADL released their Experience API (xAPI).  xAPI was designed to extend their decades-old SCORM protocol to support ‘bottom up’ transactions which are far more flexible than the traditional, LMS-based approach.

In addition to improving the temporal capabilities of learning technology, xAPI enables a streamlined learner experience.  xAPI enables smaller,  asynchronous learning transactions which allows learning transactions to follow the user across the web.  Distributing learning transactions this way means learning can be scaffolded in a way not possible previously.

Breaking out learning transactions into smaller transactions doesn’t mean Instructional Design principles need be sacrificed.  Instead, xAPI creates a flexible new realm which supports  streamlined or intricate Instructional Design while remaining pedagogically sound .

Implementing techniques like user-generated content (UCG) and geo-caching makes it possible to create a whole new kind of trackable, academically-sound learning experience.

By creating a creative context that allows learners to explore their own perspective, the elearning experience becomes transformative.

Research shows that modern best-practice research focuses heavily on the “learner experience” and that’s no surprise given the new generation we will be serving.

Reason #3: Next generations

Generations Y and Z will experience an exponentially-more connected world than previous generations.  Additionally consider that, Gen Y, generally accepted as those born between 1981-2000, consists of 79 million people, while Gen X has around 50 million people.

Gens Y and Z will share an advanced, social learning experience throughout their education.  Their learning experience will shape their expectations of learning technology as they enter the workforce.

Generations Y, Z, and C, expect an always-on access to information which they can interact with creatively.  Even now, there’s a growing gap between what business needs and what education provides.  Writing in Forbes, Josh Bersin notes:

Lectures…are the lowest rated learning method… tied with “traditional online learning.” — Josh Bersin

As learning evolves into a more pervasive, flexible, and social experience, the current view of L&D as an amplifier of corporate value and sustainable competitive advantage will extend to individuals.

Leading career site Brazen Careerist offers this advice to employers on how to compete in the hunt for the employees that will create the next Apple:

Recruit the most motivated, curious, self learners to be your leaders of tomorrow — Brazen Careerist

Making an emotional connection in an engaging context is an act of flow.  A learning experience that supports flow goes from being a purely transactional interaction, to becoming transformational for the learner.

An educational system built on ubiquitous elearning can better support a creative, skill-based work force.  The traditional learning methodology is in the throes of this transformation, but when the dust settles, elearning will be its foundation.  As it becomes ubiquitous, learning  will become a form of personal expression.  People who express themselves through learning can create a more egalitarian economy, which in turn can transform society.

The internet facilitates learning as it becomes faster and smarter.  We’re moving at internet speed toward a business environment that recognizes and rewards ubiquitous learning.  Driven learners will increasingly leverage an internet that lets them chart their own path to achieving skills and they’ll find a less perilous path to first-class careers.   Google’s evidence-based results show it’s wise to recognize – and reward – ubiquitous learning.