By Mirjam Neelan

The Learnovate Centre is a regular guest at the Learning Technologies conference, both as a visitor and as a speaker. This year, Learnovate’s Centre Director Dr. Martyn Farrows and Johny Parkes, founding Partner at Versari Partners and Chairman of Learnovate’s Industry Steering Committee spoke on the API economy and specifically how the explosion in ‘EdTech’ APIs will have a profound impact on how we manage and deliver learning.

Data Science

The challenge of data science was another trend that clearly came to the surface in the various sessions. There is a lot of buzz about big data, collecting data, using data, and so on. However, in many instances or contexts we don’t seem to know what to do with all these data, how to use them in a meaningful way, how to gain insight in learners, the way they learn, and the impact of their behaviour on business results, just to name a few.

Technology and Jobs

It was also pointed out several times that “Software is eating the world”, for example in Rudy de Waele’s session on new technologies, new ways of working and learning “ Complexity is brought down to ones and zeros, and Artificial Intelligence (AI) is going to revolutionise everything.”


In his excellent keynote on Thursday, Ben Hammersley pointed out the exact same by discussing how technology is destroying jobs. Although it might sound science fictiony, Hammersley says it’s a fact that, when things are digital, you can change their capabilities. They can learn. For example, AI will change the way professionals work. If we can design a junior lawyer robot now, we might have an experienced one in the next couple of years.
This future creates problems as well as a certain type of people who Hammersley calls ‘meatpuppets’. These are the people that keep the seat warm and wait for AI to take over their job. Taxi Drivers, GPs, Secretaries, be aware. And although it won’t happen at the same time for everyone, it will happen eventually, so Hammersley says. Is this necessarily a bad thing? In the Star Trek version of science fiction this is seen as a good thing, leaving humans the time to develop and self-actualise.

Technology, Culture and us!

Our intense use of technology is not only about systems, it also comes with socially embedded cultures and even new syndromes, such as the phantom vibration syndrome, which refers to reaching for your phone in your pocket because you feel it vibrate, only to find out that your phone is not even in your pocket. Is this real? No. But the reality is that we show different behaviours because of our relationship with technology.

It is crystal clear that technology is advancing exponentially and fundamentally changing the ways we work and learn. Other things don’t seem to be so crystal clear and seem to be very much up for debate. For example, many argue that people should no longer learn facts because ‘everything is on Google and knowledge constantly changes.’ It was very refreshing to hear De Waele challenging this by saying that “knowledge increase is questionable”. Some seem to confuse information and knowledge. The amounts of information overwhelmingly increase but that doesn’t necessarily mean that knowledge increases at the same pace.

Stephan Thomas, former Global L&D Director at Google, and Jeff Turner, EMEA L&D Leader Facebook challenged the current focus on skills and competencies in the organisations. According to Thomas and Turner, skills and competencies are only base level; there is a much stronger need to focus on high level capabilities and culture drivers as that is what really matters to organisations. Thomas strongly emphasised that front line managers have a huge impact on culture and hence if you need a culture shift, you should start with the microcultures. Change can trickle through bottom-up but doesn’t work when driven from the top down.

This required culture shift has everything to do with how the role of L&D needs to change. The discussion on how L&D needs to brand itself and go after learning and performance stuff that has never been done before is still alive and kicking. Move away from the focus on formal learning and training, focus on performance support on the job, on changing behaviours, on informal social learning, user-generated curated content, and always keep the business in mind; that’s it in a nutshell.
It’s obviously not easy to accomplish that shift as the discussion has been going on for a while now. It might even become more challenging to fill the gap between the resilience in organisations and L&D departments to change the way we support learning and performance in an organisation and the learning technologies that continue to change at the speed of light.
Keep your priorities straight though. As Marshall Goldsmith encourages us:
Be happy
Go for It
Be kind.