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Interview: Learning technologies and how to ensure technological integration


Recently I conducted an interview with Rob Mason, the Chief Technology Officer at Hult International Business School, to explore his thoughts on the importance of relationships between learning professionals and their IT departments. Rob has been in his position at Hult for three years and his role spans all parts of the technology spectrum across Hult and Ashridge Executive Education. The key points from the interview are outlined below. 

There has been a formidable evolution over the last few years of learning platforms that academics use, which organisations buy, and that are now actually almost self-service. A few years ago, it was the IT department that had to do anything and everything that was technology-based. However, the technology world is now moving so rapidly, that end users can today use those platforms with more ease, administrators can set up new users, and in some cases can build learning courses themselves. As a result, for Chief Technology Officers (CTOs) such as Rob, and their technology teams, their modus operandi needs to adapt as well. Technology specialists, within each respective organisation, need to improve their behaviour and manner in how they partner with those involved in learning technology; be that the clients, be that the academics, be that the faculty or the learners themselves. 

It is not only the partnership with learning technology stakeholders, but perhaps the integration behind the scenes in terms of how technology departments are reusing the assets that are created. As such, new roles have appeared bridging the gap between the technology team and the HR team. For example, half a dozen years ago, an instructional designer was not a role that existed in either team. However, such a role now blends some of the modern design skills with how you provide learning and development within a browser environment, so learning professionals and IT have to transform collectively. Now, organisations have to identify those people who can do an instructional design role, and they possibly aren’t the traditional IT people who are usually coding new programmes or help with IT support. 

How should a L&D professional approach their technology department when they look to buy in new learning technology products or use in-house solutions? 

The approach of someone seeing something new and shiny and deciding that it will be a valuable addition for the respective organisation, without involving the technology team, will inevitably cause challenges and issues. In a variety of ways which are relatively negative, the risks and concerns which come from such an approach are: 

  • The system or technology is not actually fit for purpose
  • The technology may not integrate with other systems around the organisation
  • The system or technology may simply be the wrong technology, where it isn’t built right for the organisation in question, or will not be appropriate for the use intended 

As such, the best behaviour recommended in that situation, is to work in partnership with your IT department to identify and articulate the needs, the beauty parade of solutions which may be suitable, and then prototype together combined with a level of mutual trust. This trust means that the technology team will not just take requirements and get back to you in six months’ time, but rather as a partnership, discussions with vendors can take place to understand better how their solution has been used with other clients and how those systems then integrate with other parts of the organisation. 

We have seen over the last 10 years how technology has evolved from being incredibly code dominant, where there is a database with code above it, to today where in every sector, not just educational technology, learning professionals have solutions available to them in the browser that offer a ‘freemium’ model whereby you log on as a user and get yourself up and running. This type of behaviour can encourage innovation, and encourage those user groups to be proactive and empowered to develop themselves using digital learning solutions. Technology’s challenge and similarly its opportunity, is to help people through the challenges that arise and find the right approach, without holding them back and allowing them to be innovative and constructive. 

Due to technology becoming more and more about the configuration of the digital learning solutions in the browser and less about the coding, CTOs and their technology team now have to alter their behaviours and develop capabilities to enable them to be more open to different approaches, open to different solutions, and perhaps acquire a more nimble way in which they think of solutions and actually try them for a month, or six months. This of course is now possible with many solutions, as agreements are beginning to reflect the modern working day. Subsequently, that ethos and behaviour change not only affect the solutions which organisations deploy but it also affects the people in the technology and L&D teams.  

Rob offers three top tips for learning professionals when looking at new learning technologies for their respective organisation:

  • Build a partnership with IT and all other stakeholders
  • Do not be restrictive in the systems and technology you are thinking of implementing; they need to be modern, open and provide a seamless experience for the learner
  • Make certain the technology can be integrated with other systems within the organisation and other learning technologies. 

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