Gartner Reimagine HR 2018, Orlando.
The digital transformation of learning and development offers HR leaders new opportunities to embed learning within their talent strategies and make the business case for L&D investments crystal clear. Part of the promise of digital learning comes with the application of data and analytics, enabling organizations to measure and communicate the impact of these programs more precisely than ever before. Unfortunately, as with all new technologies, the rapid emergence of new options can be overwhelming, not every solution is right for every business, and adopting a technology without a clear understanding of how it will generate value can be a very expensive mistake.
To survey this new landscape of learning analytics, Justin Taylor, Director, Talent Solutions at Gartner, moderated a panel discussion at our ReimagineHR conference in Orlando on Monday, bringing together Patti Phillips, Ph.D, President and CEO of the ROI Institute; Dave Vance, Ph.D, Executive Director of the Center for Talent Reporting; and Kimo Kippen, a former Chief Learning Officer at Hilton. The conversation covered the range of new technologies emerging in this space, the opportunities they provide, and the challenge of figuring out how to take advantage of those opportunities.
When considering an investment in learning analytics, the L&D function should keep a few strategic considerations in mind. Based on Monday’s discussion, here are a few of the key questions leaders should ask themselves:
What is your objective?
There are a number of technologies currently on the market that apply analytics to L&D in different ways and to different ends. There’s adaptive testing, in which training modules and skill assessments automatically adapt to each individual’s level of ability. Learning record stores and xAPI record and track learning experience data, allowing organizations to track the progress of learning employee more closely and draw more insights from that data. Learning experience platforms offer new ways of delivering learning to employees on an individualized, self-directed basis. Natural language processing, machine learning, and augmented and virtual reality are also finding applications in learning.
With all these options out there, the panelists agreed, it’s important for an organization to identify just what they hope to get out of learning analytics before buying a new piece of enterprise technology. Don’t chase a shiny toy, Kippen advised, but ask what the business objective is and whether the investment is worth it. You might find that the extra dollar is better spent on fundamentals, Vance added, as new technology won’t fix more fundamental problems in your L&D program. “Without algebra,” he analogized, “you’re not ready for the calculus.”
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:
The Swiss staffing company Adecco has made a deal to acquire the New York-based coding bootcamp and education technology startup General Assembly for $413 million, Axios’s Dan Primack reported on Monday. The acquisition reflects the evolution of GA’s business, which is increasingly focused on enterprise customers rather than individuals:
A majority of GA’s revenue by year-end is expected to be business-to-business, whereas it was only 15% two years ago. Most of that is in terms of re-skilling workers, including a “talent pipeline as-a-service” business whereby GA acts not only as a recruiter, but also as a trainer (with hiring companies paying the freight).
GA will continue to operate as an independent division under the umbrella of Adecco Group, co-founder and CEO Jake Schwartz said in a statement. Schwartz will remain at the helm of the company, reporting to Sergio Picarelli on Adecco’s executive committee, Jonathan Shieber adds at TechCrunch.
Joining the European conglomerate is “not an ignominious outcome for General Assembly,” Shieber comments, “but not the exit that many in the New York tech ecosystem had hoped for”:
Amazon Web Services appears to be developing its own enterprise learning management system (LMS), CNBC technology reporter Jordan Novet noticed recently, suggesting that the e-commerce giant’s cloud computing business is shifting its focus from digital infrastructure toward ready-to-use business services:
Amazon already has online training programs for partners to train their employees on how to use AWS offerings. This would be a broader general-purpose service that companies could use to manage all kinds of corporate training and learning programs. Amazon explored the learning-management field and concluded that none of the available tools were just right for its own workers, and executives decided the company would build its own system, one person familiar with the matter told CNBC. The idea was to build something “commercializable,” the person said. It’s not clear when the service could become available publicly.
Novet points to several job listings Amazon has posted recently for roles related to this project, including one for a solution architect that is billed as “an opportunity for an experienced technologist to be on the ground floor of building a learning platform.” Several companies that offer existing learning management platforms, including Instructure, Cornerstone, and Workday, are AWS customers.
The news also helps explain Amazon’s recent hire of Stanford professor Candace Thille, an expert on non-traditional learning, applications of technology in education, and data-driven approaches to training with a background in both academia and corporate training. While Thille’s role as director of learning science and engineering is focused on developing Amazon’s training programs for its own employees, a version of whatever the company develops internally could ultimately be marketed to customers, as Novet’s source indicated.
As Amazon is a prominent leader in the technology and user experience space, the learning and development community is interested to see what they can do with an LMS: a staple of L&D. Our research at CEB, now Gartner, finds that most organizations are already striving to create an “Amazon-like experience” in their learning portals (recommending learning based on your personal profile and experiences, in the same way Amazon recommends products); now Amazon has the opportunity to build it themselves.
While Amazon’s search for a location for its second headquarters and the opening of its 40,000-plant greenhouse/workspace have made headlines recently, another new move by the Seattle-based tech giant is getting less attention but may prove just as consequential, if not more so: namely, the hiring of Candace Thille to serve as its director of learning science and engineering.
“Thille will work ‘with our Global Learning Development Team to scale and innovate workplace learning at Amazon,’” a company spokesperson told Doug Lederman of Inside Higher Ed, who refers to Thille as a “Higher Ed Superstar.”
Hardly a lifelong academic, Thille brings a balanced background from nearly 20 years working for corporate training company Interaction Associates, LLC, reaching the Executive Vice President level before beginning her graduate studies. She founded the Open Learning Initiative at Carnegie Mellon University, working as its director from 2002-2013 and earning a Masters in Information Technology 25 years after completing her Bachelors in Sociology from UC-Berkeley. She earned a doctorate in education from the University of Pennsylvania before starting at Stanford. Her research has focused on non-traditional learning, applications of technology in education, and data-driven approaches to training.
“She has done groundbreaking work on using cognitive science and rich data on how students learn to try to transform the teaching and learning process,” Lederman adds. Her move to Amazon, the purpose of which neither she nor the company is discussing in detail, has set education experts abuzz with speculation as to what she will be doing there:
Salesforce, the San Francisco cloud computing company known for its widely adopted customer relationship management software, is going public with its internal online learning platform. Conceived in 2014 and launched internally in 2016, the Trailhead program has allowed numerous employees at Salesforce to develop tangible digital skills and make stark career shifts. In a recent profile by Elizabeth Woyke at the MIT Technology Review, one employee shared how he moved from recruiting to engineering after getting certified in two programming languages through the self-guided, interactive platform:
[Greg] Wasowski’s chances of making such a transition seemed unlikely—until he began spending several hours a week (in the office and on nights and weekends) on Salesforce’s online learning platform, Trailhead. Within a year, he learned two programming languages, earned certification as a Salesforce application developer, and got a job configuring Salesforce software for customers.
The occasion for this profile was Salesforce’s announcement that it will soon release a version of the platform called myTrailhead, which will allow clients to customize it to train their own employees in the specific skills they need. Trailhead, which uses micro-learning, gamification, and a system of points and virtual badges to make its short, consumable training programs engaging and effective, already contains a range of tutorials geared toward Salesforce users, including on how to master, administer, and program for the Salesforce software itself.
In addition to allowing the tech giant’s own 26,000 employees to upskill for career shifts, the platform has also allowed them to get up to speed on technology changes after coming back from leave, thus mitigating the career risks of having a child or taking other extended career breaks due to family obligations or illness. Woyke also interviews a mother at Salesforce who used the system that way:
Google Glass, originally developed from a passion project of company cofounder Sergey Brin, was supposed to unlock the next frontier in digital connectivity. While the smartphone has made technology and information omnipresent in our lives, Glass promised to remove the cumbersome barrier of a handheld device and allow for hands-free computing using voice and optical commands. Apps would seamlessly integrate with reality and life would never be the same. But that grandiose vision fell infamously short, as Glass failed to take off as a mass consumer product and the company stopped offering the product in 2015. Development went on in semi-secret, however, and the product has now found a second life as a business solution, which Alphabet, Google’s parent company, is calling Glass Enterprise Edition. In a fascinating profile of the surprisingly resurgent product, Wired‘s Steven Levy catches us up on recent events:
For about two years, Glass EE has been quietly in use in dozens of workplaces, slipping under the radar of gadget bloggers, analysts, and self-appointed futurists. Yes, the population of those using the vaunted consumer version of Glass has dwindled, tired of being driven out of lounges by cocktail-fork-wielding patrons fearing unwelcome YouTube cameos. Meanwhile, Alphabet has been selling hundreds of units of EE, an improved version of the product that originally shipped in a so-called Explorer Edition in 2013. Companies testing EE—including giants like GE, Boeing, DHL, and Volkswagen—have measured huge gains in productivity and noticeable improvements in quality. What started as pilot projects are now morphing into plans for widespread adoption in these corporations.
The new version has also undergone design advancements and now has more processing power, networking capability, and battery life, but that’s the least interesting part of the product’s evolution.