Liberating Learning Professionals from Old Technologies
As the CEO of a learning technology company, I spend a lot of time with learning professionals at companies of all sizes. I’ve seen a renaissance in the L&D profession over the last few years as learning has become an important executive focus. But I’ve also noticed that the profession is hamstrung with old, frustrating technologies. Everyone wants a way out, but nobody knows how.
Learning Technology: Late to the Party, but Catching Up Fast
Improvements in learning technology have been slow to come for a number of reasons. First among them is the complexity of the learning practice itself: it’s very content-centric, and software that’s used to create and manage content is complex, too. This category of software, by virtue of its complexity, is the last to move into the cloud. Luckily, the shift to mobile, BYOD trends and shifting demographics in the workforce is forcing many learning professionals to rethink their use of technology.
When the migration of software into the cloud began in the 2000s, the simplest applications moved first, like Salesforce.com, which lets people manage basic databases of customer information using a web browser. The benefit to sales and marketing teams was massive. More sophisticated applications have followed suit, creating exciting new businesses: Netsuite for accounting and Workday for HR management, to name just two. Now, with the increasing power of web browsers and network connections, we’re finally able to move content-heavy applications into the cloud. That’s where it gets interesting for learning professionals.
Why Incumbents Innovate Last
History shows that this innovation will not come from incumbent companies. Salesforce, Netsuite and Workday were all new, “cloud-first” companies, and many incumbents suffered for their success. In learning, we’ll see the same thing happen to the likes of Adobe, Articulate, and even LMS providers. While they’re commonly used today, it’s difficult for them to reinvent their business model, technology foundations, and product stories all at once.
For example, just open a new document in one of these older tools. What you get is a standard slide deck with some additional features specific to instructor-led training. Before the cloud, mobile devices, and the modern web, this kind of “slideware” was sufficient for classroom settings and PC-based instruction. Years of development have gone into building applications that optimize for the connected desktop environment. Because of this, slideware applications cannot be repurposed to naturally work with mobile devices, even if they try to incorporate responsive design features or export to HTML5. Sadly, by trying to be something they’re not, these older tools have become increasingly more cumbersome. Learning technologies need a fresh start.
When a Cloud Isn’t Really a Cloud
It’s easiest to pick on the most popular solution: Adobe. In a rather cynical marketing ploy, they have slapped the word “cloud” onto their product names. It’s a misnomer. Their products are desktop applications that lack any of the most basic characteristics of cloud software. Here are three easy examples:
- Cloud applications allow everyone to see the same content at the same time, and collaborate on it simultaneously. Desktop applications require you to share files with one another and track versions manually.
- Cloud applications receive improvements every week, and you’re always automatically running the latest version. Desktop applications have to be downloaded and will “nag” you to update them; when your version is newer than someone else’s, collaboration becomes difficult or impossible.
- Cloud applications are always connected to end users, so they can provide up-to-the-minute data about usage, project statuses and the like. Desktop applications don’t provide real-time data about anything.
With New Technology, a Stitch in Time Saves Nine
So what are the practical implications for learning professionals? The bets you place on technologies today will last for years, so it’s important to break the addiction to older technologies as soon as you can. Content has a shelf life that’s sometimes longer than the software itself, which makes it doubly important in the learning business. In general, it’s better to adopt up-and-coming technology and deal with some short-term feature gaps than to adopt old technology and miss the long-term opportunity.
Of course, choosing the right up-and-coming technology is critical to your success, too. Recently, I outlined five simple principles to guide your selection of vendors and technologies that will upgrade your learning, as well as some easy ways to ascertain if a proposed solution is following these rules. By following principles like these, you’ll be able to make future-proofed decisions that move away from the old toward a more engaging, exciting world of corporate learning.
New technologies advance at an incredible pace. At Inkling, we issue multiple updates to Inkling Habitat, our authoring environment, every week. These updates are driven by our customers, as we work together closely to define our product roadmap, ensuring that the most important gaps are filled first. It’s like that with any young, fast-moving software company. And it’s important to note that every young, fast-moving software company is building its products in the cloud. No one new is building desktop software any more. That’s a signal in itself.
Just as the cloud computing wave improved the work of sales, marketing, and finance, it will now begin to dramatically change the work of learning. The rate of change will be rapid, and the benefits will be broad. Early adopters will be rewarded with control over the direction of its development, and the freedom to innovate beyond today’s constraints, so focus your energy on taking appropriate risks. When learning professionals break the addiction to old technology, the renaissance in corporate learning will finally blossom.
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