As someone who has worked in the enterprise learning and development field for the past 20 years, I can attest to the fact that the industry moves cautiously when it comes to the use of new technologies. But information technologies march relentlessly forward with no end in sight.
I am writing these words from an Air Canada flight with an Internet connection, 37,000 feet over Texas on my way home from the eLearning Guild’s inaugural FocusOn Learning 2016 conference in Austin. It’s amazing how far and how quickly technology has come – whether one is traveling on a plane, or working in the learning space.
The well-organized annual event in Austin featured many different learning technologies, as I documented in my post last week. As I toured the offerings of 42 vendors on the exhibit floor, this became evident in terms of the different features highlighted on the exhibit backdrops, in my conversations with various participants, and in the projects shown at the popular DemoFest evening showcase of best practices.
Some exhibits were not new, but improved. Vendors offered the following…
Revamped learning/learning content management systems
Easier-to-use authoring systems
Bigger content libraries
More comprehensive assessment software
Better eLearning services
Add-your-own-content gamification platforms
Mobile applications were ubiquitous, and most conference attendees I spoke with were either considering a mobile learning project, or had started one. In other words, a lot of what was at the show was based on incremental changes in learning technologies that have been developing over the past 5-10 years.
Still, I was able to identify some new trends:
1. The Acceptance of xAPI
Four years ago, Float was the first vendor to build an app based on the new xAPI standard for tracking learning (we won an award for it the next year). Now at least 7 companies (Adobe, dominKnow, Float, Mzinga, OnPoint, Riptide, RISC) at the conference offered products and services based on the xAPI and learning record store (LRS) concepts. This is clearly a growth area in terms of innovation.
2. Increased Complexity with Multiple Sources and Endpoints
Learning technologies have simply become more complex because of expectations for multiple endpoints for content, different operating systems, content file formats, and the need for interoperability with other enterprise systems. Most vendors have to take multiple formats into account; for example, Float won an award at DemoFest for its mobile security application for multiple operating systems, and vendors dominKnow, Gomo, and Riptide address ways of dealing with this complexity in their platforms. As I mentioned in my recent post on “deep linking,” everything is being connected to everything else as the Internet of Things explodes on the scene.
3. A Shift to Interactive Video Content
With the emphasis on video at the FocusOn Learning conference, it is not surprising to see new interactive video solutions for learning from Hapyak and Viddler. Mzinga showcased its new team-based video learning app called TWIL (“This Week I Learned”). Two other vendors, Biz Library and VideoBlocks, offered huge video libraries for training. Video is everywhere, and now works well on mobile devices.
4. The Move from Courses to Performance Support
With a few exceptions, vendors have stopped offering full eLearning courses on mobile devices, and, instead, have chunked their materials into small pieces that can be delivered using a mobile device when and where it is needed, a concept called performance support. Reinforcing this trends is the fact that many of the conference presentations featured “microlearning” content, usually based on very short video clips. At least a dozen companies had performance support or microlearning solutions, including:
- Mobile Coach
- Train By Cell
5. The Rise of Analytics
Analytics is the “word-du-jour” in learning industry PR materials, but for most vendors, this means delivering reports and dashboards on the use of the learning product in question or on assessment results. I saw little use of big data in terms of personalization, adaptation, predictive analytics, or machine learning. We are at early stages here. Vendors who mentioned analytics at their booth included:
6. The Move to Mobile Collaboration
A number of vendors stated that their mobile products could be used for collaboration, a shift of emphasis from individual learning and desktop-based mobile collaboration tools. Collaboration was mentioned by these vendors as part of their solutions:
7. Hints of Robotics and Augmented Reality
Finally, I saw a few things that could be considered leading-edge technologies, such as robotics and augmented reality. Kyron Systems had their Leo Robotic Process Automation video, while Mobile Coach offers SMS-based chatbots for performance support. Float presented some results for advanced augmented reality projects they completed in 2015 and earlier in 2016. Float was also showing prototypes of augmented reality solutions they are working on – look for the results in next year’s conference.
Overall, it was a smoothly run and energetic conference. The keynotes were informative and on-topic, while the crowd’s enthusiasm and engagement was palpable during our entire time in Austin, the live music capital of the USA. The Guild organized the event so that exhibitors get lots of traffic between sessions, and participants come ready to explore the latest in learning technologies. The Float team looks forward to seeing what’s new at next year’s show in San Diego.