The concept that training is now becoming a digital experience is changing our learning experiences at work. Technology provides us with both communicative and content-driven devices, which are more efficient, a better use of time and far more progressive and inclusive enabling people to learn in way that suits them, catering to the plethora of needs within every office environment, Neil Morris, director of digital learning at the University of Leeds, agrees that digital technology is fundamentally changing learning and teaching.
Three key areas, or trends that have been developing are the use of both virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) within our working lives, along with these developments, chatbots and gamification have also been cited as influential and useful technology-based learning aids.
We spoke with Sarah Mason, to find out what she believes enables to be more curious, the lurking isolation attached to technology, the challenges around becoming fully digitalised and whether being digitally fluid goes hand in hand with brand reputation.
How can we encourage people to be more curious at work by using different technology?
We need to encourage a learning culture by promoting the message that learning doesn’t only happen inside a classroom and technology can be an enabler of this.
To heighten this curiosity, we need to ensure that technology fits the needs of those using it. Often the technology is chosen first, and the people are expected fit around it, which often doesn’t work.
We need to make sure our technology is fit for purpose. We also need a clear understanding of the vast differences between technologies. There are two camps; content-driven systems and conversation driven, or network systems.
Both encourage curiosity in very different ways. The content-driven system provides a huge raft of information, whilst the conversation driven platform allows curiosity in a dialogue format.
Do you think technology promotes communication, or in fact makes us feel more isolated?
It depends on the person and the role they are playing.
Some people are more naturally introverted than extroverted and technology isn’t necessarily going to promote communication with those people if they aren’t built that way.
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If we look back to the content and network driven technologies again, in terms of being isolated – some of those content-driven platforms can encourage individual learning, for instance, if you are watching videos or reading articles eventually this could end up being isolating as your interaction with others is limited.
However, the network-based approach (Slack, yammer etc) are encouraging learning through interaction, enabling those who are working remotely to be more interactive. This can be across different offices, regions, and countries.
What would you say to business leaders who are struggling to digitalise their workplace?
I’d firstly want to understand why they want to entirely digitalise the business and the reasoning for taking away any face-to-face contact that exists.
It all depends on the outcome those people within the business are aiming and if a purely digital experience would deliver that. I find blended approaches are better, ensuring a healthy mix.
If they are struggling to get people involved in digital learning, I’d want to ask people what the common barriers are? For instance, if people aren’t using the learning equipment on offer, it usually is because of a few different reasons; the technology isn’t right, or the culture isn’t right, or perhaps there were some psychological barriers.
Another barrier could be the over-reliance on email, you can integrate a user-friendly communication tool yet people will still use email as a habit. There is some research around technology barriers carried out by Venkatesh who analysed the barriers around using technology and something called ‘effort expectancy’ – which defines whether the effort put into learning the system is worth what you gain from the system.
The psychological barriers can be born out of people being actively discouraged from using digital learning platforms during working hours. We often see that many companies very much include ‘learning’ and ‘personal development’ yet management will send out an email asking employees not to chat online. Discouraging employees from spending time on digital learning platforms which isn’t the right idea.
Other barriers include fear of embarrassment from a question they’ve asked online or on the flip side not wanting to share their expertise with others – who they are perhaps competing with. Sometimes cultures can focus so much on individual performance and status that it discourages people from sharing ideas with colleagues who they are actively competing with’.
My advice for leaders who are struggling with this is to build a strategy around behaviour and culture because that’s just as important as getting the technology right. Many companies invest in learning-based technology but often don’t invest in a social or engagement programme to ensure staff understand the benefit of using the system. There’s no engagement around why workers actually benefit from using these platforms or specific technology.
Do you think digital savviness is vital for a company’s reputation?
A lack of digital savviness can certainly cause problems, but digital savviness alone won’t build a reputation unless it’s linked to a really good service or product offering.
There isn’t really a perfect formula, a company that is more technology-based offering would be more likely to have a strong digital presence like Facebook for example, compared to a more people-centric like a restaurant for instance – this is driven by the food and the service, the technology offering suddenly isn’t that important. It’s a case by case situation.
What would you like to see happen in the future?
Predominantly more investment around engagement during the integration of technology and really helping people to connect across different regions and countries.
We need more conversational technology alongside content storing platforms, bolstering strength in both areas will be very beneficial to our overall capacity to learn.
Sarah Mason will be speaking at our up and coming HRD UK summit 5th and 6th February about overcoming online learning barriers.
*Venkatesh, V., Morris, M.G., Davis, G.B. and Davis, F.D. (2003). User Acceptance of Information Technology: Towards a Unified View. MIS Quarterly. 27 (3).