In the early pages of my book M-Pact Learning: The New Competitive Advantage, I included a quiz for my readers to assess how their companies were doing when it comes to meeting the critical learning needs of their employees. It’s a simple quiz, measured 1-5 on a gradient. For the question: “What is the role of technology in your training program?” the range of responses runs from a “1” of “ensure we are using the latest technology” to a possible “5” of “careful to match learning design to device strengths.” The range between those two responses is actually night and day. Simply having the latest technology holds very little value. Understanding how to maximize your use of that technology to enhance learning is what will increase your advantage over your competition.
The presence of technology should never be confused with quality teaching or strong instructional design. Don’t get caught up in the “oohs” and “aahs” of emergent technology. That’s not where the value is. While it’s true that there are some amazing technologies available—like virtual reality devices that can create any simulation you could need—it’s still a “garbage in, garbage out” world. You’ve got to put skilled learning designers in charge of what goes into a V/R module in order to ensure that the learning happening is relevant to what will be used on the job and the information included is accurate, understandable, and learnable. Let’s say, for instance, that you need to train technicians (as we have done) how to use a robotic surgical device. To use a highly realistic V/R environment before they try their hand on a live patient makes sense, right? But if that software doesn’t anticipate all the kinds of problems they might encounter in real life and place them in circumstances where they must resolve such problems, then the technology is actually pretty useless.
Right Technology for the Right Job
Maybe your learning needs don’t involve robots. Maybe your greatest need is a learning support tool for a salesforce that has products that are constantly changing. To have them carry a device where they can easily pull up a full sales catalog with all the changes highlighted makes a lot of sense. But if that device does not also contain learning modules that ensure they become familiar with product changes, the knowledge they have to demonstrate they have retained in order to use the full functionality of the device, then your salesforce will be embarrassed in front of clients. And certainly, such a support tool won’t have any value if it’s on something the size of a phone where a sales representative can’t share their screen with their customer.
A hammer doesn’t work when the job calls for a screwdriver. Maximizing the effectiveness of your technology to enhance learning starts with using the right technology for the job. And it requires that the material the technology applies is focused on learning principles. You don’t want technology that becomes a crutch; you want it to be a tool in the hands of a knowledgeable, skilled employee.