Technology, training, and learning

May 17, 2011 by Wally Bock

Lately my screen has filled with notice of grand new ways that companies will reduce the costs and improve the quality of training by means of that marvelous magician, technology. Talent Management magazine reports that the use of learning and development technologies is on the rise and the Globe and Mail carries an article on how we’ll use games to learn key skills.

We can certainly use technology to aid learning on the job. And we can expect technology to become more and more effective. But I worry that we’re so dazzled by the technology that we see it as the answer, instead of part of the answer.

We need to go carefully because good training technology, especially games, is very hard to design. My son worked for some time early in his career as a video game tester. He shared many a story of the long bug reports he wrote on the way to getting a game ready for market.

And that was for a game whose purpose was entertainment. Add the challenges of teaching a specific skill or knowledge set and the challenge increases by an order of magnitude.

To increase the degree of difficulty, many business problems don’t have a “right” answer. Instead, businesspeople find themselves choosing among an array of possible solutions to an issue, all of which are flawed.

In the current state of things and as far as my predictive eye can see, technology can support learning, but it can’t do the whole job. For that you need people. You need the equivalent of the shoulder-to-shoulder learning of apprenticeship. Technology can take you part of the way. Then an on-call expert or colleague comes in very handy.

Also, a lot of what people need to learn on the job comes under the heading of “tips.” In real life they get those valuable “tips” from other workers. It’s not a big technological stretch to replicate the wisdom-sharing that technicians do over morning coffee. That lets you reap significant benefits from very little technological sophistication but I don’t hear of people doing simple things like that. Maybe we’ve been so dazzled by the glitter of the technological promise that we’re not willing to use simpler, more human, ways to learn.

Wally Bock is a coach, a writer and President of Three Star Leadership.

Posted in Leadership Development

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  1. Well said Wally. I agree 100%! thanks.

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