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Feature: Future Technologies for Learners Today


Mark Watkinson, associate director at management consultancy Hay Group, takes a look at the brave new world of communications technology and what it means for learning now and in the future.

The term 'blended learning' is no longer new, but in the short time since the concept first burst on the scene, it has come to be considered the most effective way to learn. Both isolated classroom sessions and e-learning courses provide learners with only a partial learning experience; blending the two gives the learner the best of both worlds.

The question nowadays is not such much whether to blend learning, so much as what to blend, ie what is available today to put into a blended learning solution? The boundaries are fast expanding beyond a fixed-place, fixed-time approach to learning, to providing content on any anywhere, anytime basis.

Learners’ expectations are also changing, from the school environment though to the workplace. People expect to be continuously in contact with others, and require engaging and interesting content to keep them learning. We are becoming ever more intolerant of poor quality, boring training material. We want interactive sessions and rich multi-media! As a result, our attention spans are becoming more and more limited. The so-called ‘MTV Generation’ is getting into the habit of not concentrating – research from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology shows that obsessive web browsing can reduce attention spans down to a mere nine seconds.

Learning itself is no longer considered to be purely the domain of the classroom. There is continuous pressure within our modern, media-driven societies to gain knowledge from a whole range of sources and devices, even, increasingly, when we are on the move.

Technology in use
The mass acceptance of mobile phones and, more recently, so-called ‘smartphones’ is enabling people to access a range of knowledge and learning content anywhere, anytime. The relentless growth of readily and affordably available bandwidth is enabling the delivery of high quality content to high-resolution screens. This in turn is prompting content providers to consider increasingly sophisticated virtual learning environments, to be delivered to a range of devices.

For instance: the boredom factor, combined with the power of technology, is driving the increased use of gaming to speed up and enliven corporate learning. The proliferation of collaboration and the changing ways in which people work together are also being expanded through, for example Wiki. The notion of Massive Multiplayer Online Gaming (MMOG), and the ability to cluster on-line learning communities of many hundreds, if not thousands, of people are creating new ways of working and learning together.

It is however, not just about the technology. Technology, after all, is merely the enabler. There is a bigger picture to be considered: attention needs to be given to the cultural and social implications of a content-hungry, technology-attached society. Where is this all leading, and are we managing to harness the technologies that will drive real learning and real value?

We need to be asking the question: “It may be cool, but is it any use, and if so, how would you actually put it to work supporting learning?'

That, however, is a debate for another day…

* Mark Watkinson will be speaking on this topic at the Learning Technologies Conference at Olympia 2 on 25 January. For more information on the conference and exhibition click here.


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