You saw a compelling virtual reality demo in the Realities360 exhibit hall, your kids are raving about the 3D printer they have at school, or you’ve been reading a lot about machine learning. Yeah, these new technologies are cool, but are they worth the bang for the training buck? What does it really take to implement them in your organization? How would you even know if they worked? While this isn’t a perfect science, here are some things to think about when you’re trying to make a smart decision about implementing learning technology.

Think outside “learning technology” box

A learning management system (LMS) is software specifically designed to support training and education. However, this is not the case with some emerging technologies, like augmented and virtual reality. It’s important to remember that these platforms were not designed first and foremost as learning technology.

Let’s take virtual reality as an example. New development in VR is being driven largely by the gaming and entertainment markets. So, while you can certainly use VR in a L&D context, this is not what it is designed to do.

This matters for two reasons:

  • Future development of virtual reality is going to focus on making VR better at providing compelling video game experiences, not better instructional content.
  • A course that uses technology doesn’t necessarily teach more effectively than one that doesn’t. Technology-based training is only as good as your instructional design!

Obviously, this doesn’t mean you can’t use VR in an L&D context. Your applications will be more successful if you consider why these platforms are good for their designed purposes, however. Virtual reality is a good gaming platform because it’s highly immersive, and immersion leads to engagement and a feeling of presence or “being there.” If those are important to what you’re trying to train, you might want to consider VR.

What problem are you trying to solve?

There are a few good reasons to implement technology for L&D—and a lot of bad ones.

Let’s get those bad ones out of the way first. “Because it’s cool” or anything involving the phrase “kids these days” is not a legitimate reason to invest in a technology.

Now, on to good reasons for choosing technology-based eLearning solutions.

First, figure out what your organization’s biggest problems are. Only then can you work to match the appropriate technology with the solution to that problem. Be broad in your problem solving; just as VR is not only “learning technology,” not all organizational problems are “learning problems.”

A good question to ask yourself during this process is “How will I know when this problem is solved?” Thinking about the outcomes you want to see will help you determine how to measure your success.

How have other people tried to solve similar problems?

AR and VR are examples of technology that have been used for decades in the defense, medical, and other industries for training. While it may seem like a stretch to apply something designed for a surgeon or a soldier to your organization’s problems, if you think about why they took that approach, you can see parallels. The military has used VR when it’s dangerous or expensive to train skills on the job. If the skill you’re trying to train has a high level of risk, VR-based training may be a good option for you.

What does it really cost to implement this technology?

Technologies like AR and VR are hot these days not because they’re new, but because the hardware is becoming both better and more affordable at a rapid pace. But that doesn’t mean it’s cheap—and you get what you pay for.

In addition to equipment, there are development, deployment, and sustainment costs to consider, especially when you’re deploying at scale. You will also need to consider how any new technology works within your eLearning ecosystem.

Adopting a new technology doesn’t mean you have to invest in the most expensive, shiniest new display. In fact, research shows that more fidelity does not inherently result in better training; there has to be an appropriate match between the demands of the task and the training system. So, instead of considering how realistic VR graphics can be, for example, consider how realistic they have to be to enable the learner to perform the task. A thorough task analysis will help inform these kinds of decisions.

How will I know if it’s worth it?

Implementing new technology at scale can be quite an investment. You’re going to want to be able to demonstrate that it’s a good one.

The good news is that many emerging technologies provide opportunities to collect all kinds of information about your learners’ performance. There are a lot of things to consider, such as privacy and security, but most importantly, you need to make sure you have established measures and metrics of success that are meaningful to your organization.

Your data strategy needs to reflect your answer to our second question—what problem are you trying to solve, and what will it look like when it is solved?

Choose new learning technology wisely

These are just a few of the considerations you should keep in mind when you’re thinking about choosing emerging technologies as part of an eLearning ecosystem. Unfortunately, there are no easy answers, but there are a lot of exciting possibilities!

Business of Learning Online Conference

Dive more deeply into these and other questions at The eLearning Guild’s Business of Learning online conference, November 6–7, 2019. Jennifer Murphy’s session, “Making Smart Decisions About Learning Technology,” will explore research and tools that can help you make informed decisions about implementing learning technology.

Jennifer is also presenting at Realities360 2020 Conference & Expo, March 31–April 2, 2020, in Orlando, Florida. Register soon for the best rates!