Reading this, you probably have a passing interest in learning technology. You likely find it valuable, perhaps revolutionary. But it’s apt to have disappointed or frustrated you once or twice as well. You want to do more, but you also want to up the odds that it’s more of the first and less of the latter.
Learning technology can keep everyone informed. It extends reach and access. It helps accelerate learning and makes it personal. It supports knowledge sharing and creates institutional memory. It lowers costs and is available on demand—at the moment of need. You want to be invested in technology, but be careful you’re not too invested.
The problem with learning technology is not the technology itself, but how well it’s used. Here are seven cautions to keep in mind as you develop and implement learning technology solutions of all shapes and sizes. They will help to assure that you don’t jump into things blindly, and that you see the bigger picture.
1. Technology is not strategy.
Do you have a sound training, learning, and performance strategy for your organization? Many don’t, either because they never worked at it, or they have confused it with operational tactics. Technology is a great example. It’s not a strategy; it’s an enabler. Getting a new LMS is not strategic, but it may enable you to better manage your eLearning program. Using state-of-the-art authoring tools won’t get you where you want to go if you don’t design good learning in the first place. Ask yourself what benefits, changes or improvements you want to bring about through the use of technology. That’s your strategy.
2. There is no guarantee of success.
If you think great technology turns bad eLearning into great eLearning, you are likely to be very disappointed. What you’re more liable to get is more efficient bad eLearning. When technology fails, your eLearning initiative fails, but when it works, there’s no guarantee that your initiative will succeed. The best infrastructure, tools, platforms, and networks can’t compensate for lousy instructional design, poor content, or the wrong training delivered to the wrong people at the wrong time.
3. The cool factor may not be so cool.
Just because it tastes good doesn’t mean it’s good for you. Sometimes, the “sizzle” gets the better of us. For example, not so long ago, everyone was gaga over Second Life, the virtual reality world that promised to be an eLearning game-changer. Not so much anymore. Second Life had the cool factor for sure. But most eLearning organizations were ill prepared for it and the software itself wasn’t as prime time as it should have been (for one, it wasn’t easy to use). There’s a tendency in this business to go after the latest and greatest new technology, sometimes without thinking. It can become addictive. Like the next smartphone, and the one after that; the more you have the more you want.
4. Easy-to-use may not always be such a good thing.
This seems counterintuitive, but sometimes when technology gets easier to use, it also gets easier to misuse. Here’s an example. When document production moved from central word processing, with graphic and printing specialists, to end-user desktop publishing, the results were more like ransom notes than cohesive communications. That’s because although the technology got much easier, most people did not know how to really use it effectively, or they thought it could do more than it did.
5. User preparedness is key.
So it’s clear that you simply can’t dump new, even better technology on end users without making sure they can use it appropriately. Rapid eLearning tools certainly made authoring easier, but without knowledge of instructional design and other approaches to effective eLearning, what we mostly got, at least in the beginning, was automated PowerPoint. Instructional designers and SMEs need sound, practical tools, but to be used well, those tools need well-prepared instructional designers (and SMEs).
6. Support is a long-term proposition.
It’s true that technology decentralizes learning delivery, putting learners on their own, but it’s a mistake to think that they can all flourish without long-term support. In fact, it is precisely because eLearners do not have access to instructors, and instructors are not able to constantly monitor learner progress, that a long-term support plan is essential. It’s not just for technical issues, as there is no doubt that learners will also have legitimate, perhaps unanticipated content and job-application-related questions. Whom should they ask: a help desk, their boss, a peer mentor? There are many good ways to approach this.
7. Trainers are often terrible managers of technology.
There’s a long-held belief that training organizations can manage their own technology, but that ship has sailed. First, the technology has gotten so large, expensive, and complex that a true, dedicated IT staff is likely needed to run it. Second, and perhaps more important, this is not what trainers are paid to do. Focusing on applying technology for learning, rather than managing that technology, will likely result in better eLearning and, surprisingly, a more professional and confident team.Nineteenth century American author Henry David Thoreau once said, “Men have become the tools of their tools.” Take this to heart: You must manage your technology well, or else it will manage you.