Signals and Boundaries at DevLearn 2017

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Large corporations are “complex adaptive systems…characterized by intricate hierarchal arrangements of boundaries and signals” (John Holland).

As a learning technology futurist, I looked forward to discovering some of those signals and boundary shifts in the sessions and exhibits at DevLearn 2017, the eLearning Guild’s main conference on new developments in learning. In particular, I paid attention to keynote speaker Amy Webb’s warning that “futurists practice how to distinguish between shiny objects and real trends.”

One of the best places to look for changing signals and boundaries in the corporate learning industry at DevLearn is in the exhibit hall. Over 140 exhibitors at the conference provided the usual lineup of LMSs and LCMSs (although the boundaries among learning platforms are converging), collections of familiar authoring tools, a myriad of translation and voiceover services, several cloud storage solutions, loads content providers for various industries, gaming and gamification galore, and many claims to being “the future of learning.” But I was on the lookout for something fresh, new and likely to be a trend shortly.

I toured the entire show looking for ideas and products I hadn’t seen before. I found five strong trends and two faint, but interesting, signals.

Microlearning offerings have more than doubled

In my pre-conference blog post, I reviewed the many offerings for microlearning platforms, content, authoring tools, and services that would be presented at the show. Microlearning is a relatively new development that was jumping out at me (and Float had a product on offer). Because I reviewed 20 companies with microlearning products or services in that pre-conference post, let’s move to the other trends and signals I found while at the conference

Data, data, everywhere helps a bot to think

Learning applications are collecting more data on each, including their demographics, activities, assessments, locations, communications, and clickstreams. This is reflected in the increased number of applications that use xAPI and learning record stores (LRSs) besides the various data that traditional learning management systems collect.

An increased focus on data and data storage was also clear in the number of learning analytics companies exhibiting at DevLearn 2017. Examples of vendors with data analytics offerings include HT2 Labs, Time to Know, Torch LMS, Watershed, Yet Analytics, and Zoola.

Moving to machine learning

There’s a reason why there’s so much more data being collected. All this data feeds new machine learning algorithms that allow for more automated procedures in applications, adaptation and personalization for learners, and the rise of robotics. (While robots were not in evidence at the conference, you can expect them to arrive soon.) Deep learning, where computers learn without human intervention, is coming fast, too. Exhibitors that showed products featuring adaptive or personalized learning included Chameleon Cloud, Impelsys, and mAuthor by Learnetic,

Online role-playing gets a second life

Way back in 2009 I co-authored a book (with Alex Heiphetz) on learning with virtual worlds. Sadly, the technology of the time didn’t live up to the hype. Efforts at developing virtual world training were clunky, unreliable, and frankly, boring. Much has improved over the past eight years because of the astonishing changes in technology available for online role-playing, augmented reality, and virtual reality. We now have 360° VR video, augmented reality overlays, interactive video, highly realistic virtual gaming worlds, Tango technology that builds models of environments in real time, and highly distributed cloud-based virtual environments. Training with virtual worlds is now back with a vengeance, taking advantage of all these technological improvements. Exhibitors at DevLearn 2017 with amazing offerings in virtual experiences included Cinécraft, Float, Forio, Mursion, and Rehearsal. The eLearning Guild had a specialized area of the exhibits where they showed the use of 360° video in learning.

New LMS reinvents open source

At DevLearn 2017, they introduced me to Totara, a new (since 2015) “open source” learning management system. It turns out I’ve labored under the misconception that open source means free, but for Totara, this is not the case. Totara is the technically open source by the GPLv3 definition of that term but works through partners who charge fees and remit part of those fees back to Totara. The case for this arrangement is ably made by Totara CEO Richard Wyles, in a post at Totara is a spinoff from Moodle, “tricked out for the corporate market” explained Cammy Bean, Senior Solution Consultant for Kineo, one of the original Totara partners.

Faint signals from the future

Besides the five trends, I noticed two other exciting signals coming from the show. One was a Learning Environment Modeling Language (LEML) explained by Dr. Bucky Dodd of the University of Central Oklahoma. (UCO  had a booth in the DevLearn exhibit area). That was unusual – to have an academic institution offering innovative ideas at a corporate learning conference. The purpose of LEML is to give curriculum designers a visual tool for planning. Mapping and visualization have become one of the primary ways of communicating with lots of complex data.

The second interesting signal I saw was from LearnerVerified which is using biometrics to identify learners to verify that the person taking a course or test is really who they say they are. We can expect more of this approach in years to come as touchscreens, and mobile phones become more reliable in recognizing faces, fingerprints, and voices.

At Float, we are especially proud of being part of two of the trends I’ve identified. Our micro-learning platform, SparkLearn, is an integrative solution that pulls together content created in multiple authoring and content delivery systems, creating a mobile app that is easy to use. And, our Realities360 conference app is a leading-edge use of augmented reality, showcasing our capabilities as a custom software developer. If we can be helpful to you, please contact us – we love hearing your thoughts on emerging learning technology trends.

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Gary Woodill is a senior analyst with Float, as well as CEO of i5 Research. Gary conducts research and market analyses, as well as assessments and forecasting for emerging technologies. Gary is the co-editor of "Mastering Mobile Learning," author of “The Mobile Learning Edge,” and the co-author of “Training and Collaboration with Virtual Worlds.” He also presents at conferences and is the author of numerous articles and research reports on emerging learning technologies. Gary holds a doctor of education degree from the University of Toronto.

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On November 8, 2017
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