Friday, June 21, 2013

Innovation in learning and talent: is there any really happening out there?

At our recent Symposium event, one of the sessions focused on innovation in learning and talent and it was a discussion that yielded some interesting results. One of the first things that became apparent was the differing levels of knowledge regarding innovations in the learning technology space. Some attendees had very limited awareness of innovations, even those that have had a fair amount of publicity, such as Open Badges or the TinCan API, while others were actively assessing the opportunities offered and identifying pilot opportunities. It clearly illustrated that there is quite a difference in how much L&D professionals are focussing on the latest trends and how much they matter to them (or they have the time to dedicate to this beyond managing the demands of their immediate day job).

One of the earliest and most valid points made during the session is that innovation is really all about context. What feels groundbreaking for one organisation is not innovative at all by another’s standards! What seems mundane in one organisation is groundbreaking in another. Many learning technology teams are hampered in their quest for innovation either by the broader organisational culture, resistance in the wider L&D community or by a lack of budget to pilot opportunities. It’s a fact that some organisations struggle to embrace change as readily as others, so something that really starts to “push the boundaries” can feel risky, both to the senior management, as well as the learners themselves. Also with the rate of change in business today there could be something said for allowing an innovation to be truly embedded before investing time and effort elsewhere. Hans de Zwart from Shell has created an interesting “Innovation Manifesto” to help an area of the business be more innovative.

Beam me up...

When asked about their innovations, one attendee working for an engineering company described a room with a Star Trek-esque holo deck built especially for training simulations and experiential learning. Clearly this was a significant investment by the company (and needless to say most people were impressed!) but there were other innovations, that although more modest, had greater appeal across all sectors and industries.

One such example was an internal feedback app that’s been developed for use in the classroom. It’s designed to be used on mobile devices during live training sessions so that learners can give their feedback in real time on what’s working and what’s not. Trainers can then adapt their content and the direction of the session as they go to maximize the value of the sessions. This was very popular amongst attendees and appealed due to its simplicity and relative ease of implementation.

Another straightforward ‘innovation’ included transitioning from paper based training materials to using mobile devices. A simple calculation comparing the the savings on printed training materials versus thecost of purchasing iPads was all that was needed in one organisation. The saving was worked out to be more than enough and the tablets are now being used to support classroom training with great feedback from learners.

It’s not just about the technology

An excellent point was made about half way through the session that innovation doesn’t have to be about technology. One organisation is completely changing its L&D processes to a more blended approach and the innovation here is much more about strategy and behaviour change than the use of any new learning technologies.

Overall it was felt that innovations in our everyday life – both technological and behavioural – mean that L&D has no choice but to at least try to innovate in order to try and keep up with the broader changes as a whole. The availability of free content for example means that L&D has the new role of curator as well as creator of information and resources. Whilst we might use curation tools to help us to do this, the skill set is actually more around filtering and prioritising which information to share and which to pass by, rather than being about the technologies themselves.

What was concerning was that very few of those attended had a structured process for managing innovation and moving solutions from a research phase through to pilot and then to deployment. This is something we have advised some organisations on and have a structured 5 stage process for managing innovation, moving from “Ones to Watch” through to “Business as Usual”. There are clear business rules regarding how innovations move from each stage and suggested actions for those in each category. This helps organisations prioritise their efforts and clearly articulate why some innovations are worth investigating earlier than others.

Don’t believe the hype

For many of the participants, despite much of the hype around learning and talent innovations such as Avatars, MOOCs, Open Badges, TinCan and even mobile learning, there was little evidence on display that these are a priority. However, the concepts behind these innovations – collaboration, learner rewards and recognition, greater access and flexibility – are of interest. But the organisations represented in this session were not overly concerned about keeping up with the Jones’s or being an early adopter of the newest solutiuons. Whilst some saw the benefits of being first, many also identified the inherent risks involved too.

Instead, the focus is very much on ‘Can this innovation truly help L&D deliver better value to its customers’? Where technology, change and innovation can demonstrate its worth (and L&D can clearly articulate this) then it will happen (budget allowing) but innovation for innovations’ sake, I‘m glad to say, seems not to be a fad that we’ll be writing about any time soon.

1 comment:

Ara Ohanian said...

Adrian, innovation for innovation’s sake has long been the bane of the learning technologies industry. Too much time is spent chasing the latest new shiny bright thing, too little is spent on the fundamentals of delivering value and – crucially – on communicating with the business to understand how the organization defines value.