Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Vision 2014 – An Interview with Bob Little

Our second interview in the series is with the eLearning industry expert, Bob Little. Below is an excerpt of the interview:


What are some of the key eLearning trends you are looking forward to in 2014?

I believe that the key trends in corporate learning technologies would be:
- Mobile learning;
- Gamification,
- Just-in-time learning;
- Social learning,
- Tin-Can

What are some challenges that these trends might bring along?

There are interactivity issues associated with most if not all of these trends – and at least four of these trends are moving ‘learning’ away from learning to become performance support. So, I would argue, we’re witnessing the beginning of the end for e-learning as a leading edge corporate technology. It’s merging into the ‘traditional’ end of learning, alongside classroom-delivered learning. Many of the industry’s early pioneers and champions would be shocked and horrified at this news. Of course, such a move does nothing to lessen (if anything it increases) the need for interactivity between the users (who were once called learners) and the information providers (once called learning material designers and developers).

What are some of the changes you would like to see in the eLearning industry?

I’d like to see:
- A realisation and acceptance that e-learning is part of the technology sector rather than the education sector. The technology sector has a consistently higher profile than education – and, with more interest being shown in it, it attracts more people (and also attracts more talented people to work in it). Learning is now just one of the many things that technology can provide for us as and when we want, where we want and so on. The education sector has had its chance to embrace e-learning and make it its own but it hasn’t done so over the last 25 years and more. It’s been too conservative and wedded to instructor-led training. Now it’s time to let e-learning take its place among technology and let the technologists provide learning materials in the same way they provide entertainment, sport and so on, on demand.

- E-learning providers stopping talking to ‘HR’ and related people in organisations because these people have consistently failed to champion technology delivered learning (possibly because they have so little real ‘clout’ (power) in their organisations). E-learning providers should be talking to technology providers and doing deals with them to provide e-learning (or, more probably, performance support materials) to users.

What are your thoughts on personalized learning? What are the implications of it, if any, for content creators?

Developing truly personalised learning involves highly complex programming. First, the program has to determine the learning preferences of each learner/ user. These – as Honey and Mumford say – are likely to change over time (even over the time taken to complete one particular piece of e-learning). So the program must continually monitor the learner’s responses, in addition to providing the learning materials (in order to ensure that it is presenting these learning materials in the most appropriate way). Taking account of a variety of user learning preferences means that the same learning content must be available to be delivered in a variety of ways. This, alone, makes producing a truly personalised e-learning program extremely complex and cumbersome.

Then, the program must also take into account the various delivery devices that the user might select. This may not just be a question of personal (user) preference but also of circumstance – for example where the learner is at any one time; what delivery devices are available to him/her at any one time; what bandwidth is available and so on.

In addition, there must be some provision for interactivity (to help the learner cement and apply the learning) and feedback (again, this must be personal and adaptive/ interactive in some way).

Some of the world’s most complex learning content management systems’ producers have spent a lot of time and money working on developing (and, importantly, being able to monitor) personalised learning. It hasn’t been achieved yet – but never say never, as they say!

The implication for content creators is, on the most basic of levels, don’t worry about personalised learning: it’s not happened yet and is very unlikely to happen in your lifetime. If it does, make sure you’re an early adapter rather than a pioneer because the pioneers will not make any money at it (because of the large amounts of money they will have had to invest in the first place). For this reason, truly personalised learning is unlikely to happen – because no one wants to lose large quantities of money developing it. Besides, there is no guarantee that there will ever be a market for it – not least because people tend to prefer quick (relatively cheap) learning fixes (some performance support) rather than a comprehensive (and expensive) piece of ‘catch all’ learning.

Social elearning has been talked couple of years now. How important is the social element going to be for eLearning in 2014?

Very important – at least as a topic for industry discussion. However, will much actual progress be made – or will social learning, a bit like personalised learning, be a buzz word and fun to speculate about but, in reality, not something that actually happens, still remains to be seen.

BYOD – Do you see this culture catching up in 2014?
Bring Your Own device (BYOD) is a phrase that has become widely adopted to refer to employees who bring their own computing devices – such as smartphones, laptops and PDAs – to the workplace for use and connectivity on the corporate network.

Today, employees expect to use personal smartphones and mobile devices at work. So this could be a concern for corporate IT teams, who want to ensure that corporate network security isn’t compromised by employees using their own devices at work.

While there are issues of data security and corporate competitive advantage yet to be resolved, BYOD is unlikely to be a major growing trend in 2014. Maybe in 2015 … or 2016…?

Do you think mobile learning will take a leap to lead the learning industry?

No. Instructor-led learning will still be the leading form of dissemination of learning – as it has been for thousands of years.

Talking about emerging technologies, will eLearning embrace the cloud technology in the coming times?

Yes – or, at least, if it doesn’t, it should.

About Bob Little


Bob Little has been writing and commentating on technology based training, including e-learning, since 1990. His work has been published across three continents, in the USA, Europe and Australia as well as in UK-based publications, making him unique as a commentator on the worldwide e-learning scene.

More interviews will follow soon. Stay tuned to our future blogs to hear from the leaders themselves!