Edtech Is Ready to Graduate and Join the Workforce

Edtech Is Ready to Graduate and Join the Workforce

The ASU+GSV Summit, the world’s largest industry-facing conference in the field of education technology, took place earlier this month in San Diego, California. Edtech strategist Frank Catalano, who attended the conference, offered his take on the industry’s current direction at GeekWire last week. The main lesson Catalano took away from the event was that edtech companies and investors are seeing the workplace, not the classroom, as the most influential and lucrative venue for deploying these technologies in the future:

An emphasis on training the workforce, both current employees and future, was evident throughout ASU+GSV. It seemed to outshine earlier years’ emphases on disrupting the K-12 classroom (perhaps students do that well enough now) or completely upending college as we know it (MOOCs, or massively open online courses, are now corporate training tools, too). An entire programming track was focused on “talent,” including human resources, recruiting, and staff education.

In a session titled, “Mixed Reality: Can AR/VR Transform Enterprise Learning,” Dan Ayoub, Microsoft’s general manager of mixed reality and education, said that Microsoft HoloLens is skewing toward universities and the enterprise so far. Part of its appeal, he said, is that HoloLens has a front-facing camera that allows a remote expert to evaluate how the wearer is doing. …

Derek Belch, CEO of ‎STRIVR Labs, talked about the work his company does with virtual reality for WalMart, noting that 70 percent of trainees who used VR did better than those who did not. He also described how STRIVR was able to put what had been a three-hour lecture into a 12-minute VR experience for an insurance company, and found retention of the training material was about the same.

Amazon’s ongoing foray into learning technology was also on display at ASU+GSV, Catalano added:

Ramona Pierson, the founder of startups SynapticMash and Declara who recently joined Amazon as its director of learning products for HR leadership & development, spoke about creating “a new operating system for learning.” Noting that these are concepts she’s been developing since SynapticMash, Pierson described her vision of using consistent metadata about learning content to better personalize workplace training.

While Pierson said she was focused on building learning tools for Amazon’s own staff, audience members asked whether Amazon will sell those learning products to others or launch an online learning business. Pierson kept coming back to the worthy challenge of her work within Amazon. “It’s like building for multiple companies,” she said.

Another recent hire of note at Amazon is “higher ed superstar” Candace Thille, a professor at Stanford University with an eclectic background in corporate training, information technology, sociology, and education theory, who took a leave of absence in February to take a position as the e-commerce giant’s director of learning science and engineering. Amazon has been staffing up with luminaries like Pierson and Thille as part of its ongoing foray into learning technology, which envisions leveraging its cloud capabilities to build a state-of-the art internal learning management system that could eventually be commercialized.

Other business-to-business companies have also been making waves in the learning technology space in recent months. Just this month, Adecco announced a $413 million acquisition of the edtech startup General Assembly, reflecting on one hand the increasing enterprise focus of GA’s business and on the other, Adecco’s efforts to grow into more comprehensive HR service and technology provider. Late last year, Salesforce released a public-facing version of its internal online training platform, Trailhead, which uses micro-learning, gamification, and a system of points and virtual badges to make its short, consumable training programs engaging and effective.

For Learning and Development leaders, familiarity with digital learning and the edtech market is becoming more and more of a requirement, as opposed to a “nice-to-have” skill. Enterprise learning is also embracing emerging technologies like virtual reality to offer new types of learning experiences. STRIVR’s work with Walmart is just one of many examples here: VR systems are now being used to train employees in tasks from frying chicken to performing surgery much more safely and cheaply than in the past. They are also being used in recruiting to offer candidates unprecedented immersive views of their prospective jobs and workplaces, enabling both them and their recruiters to better gauge their interest and fit for the role.