10 Years Of The iPhone And L&D Has Some Learning To Do

It’s unlikely to have escaped your attention over the last week that it’s 10 years since the iPhone was first unveiled. This is significant whether it’s your smartphone of choice or not, as it has provided the blueprint for subsequent handsets, tablets and phablets ever since.

But, as innovative as the technology was (and still is), it’s the way that smartphones have changed and shaped our lives since then that is the true legacy of what Steve Jobs introduced to the world in 2007.

“We’ll look back and see the iPhone as the demarcation point between when the web was growing, and the era when the web was ubiquitous and something where everybody, even your grandmother, is using it – not only daily, but on an hourly basis.” Fast Company: How The iPhone Helped Convince Us We Need The Web All The Time, Every Day  

According to Pew Research, the smartphone is the most quickly adopted technology in recent history, with more than three-quarters of U.S. adults (77%) owning a smartphone, up from 35% in 2011.

The Link Between The iPhone and Learning Technologies

I’m writing this having experienced the problems that in-company learning technologies have posed to us since the 1990s.

Compliance aside, engagement in LMS’s and e-learning are low because, despite workers saying that ‘learning’ is something they value highly at work, it’s not the stuff that’s crammed into the LMS they value. Instead, it’s the opportunity to do well; to try new things; to improve themselves; to gain greater capability in their professional field – or just within their organisation. On the other hand, L&D people are a unique bunch who value the separate act of ‘learning’ to such an extent we decided to make a career from it!

But where learning technology has failed is that it’s been designed to support L&D far more than workers. Consider this: eLearning takes the course and pops it onto everybody’s desk, helping L&D to efficiently deliver at scale, whilst the LMS provides ‘learning metrics’ to justify the investment in L&D activities. This is in blatant disregard for what workers want and need and what businesses require from L&D, which is enhanced performance and increased capability to do jobs better today and prepare to face tomorrow’s challenges.

Going back to the iPhone, Apple (and other smartphone manufacturers and app developers since) looked at ways that their technology could help users do what they wanted to do better. This includes (but not exhaustively):

  • The opportunity to connect and converse with others, which has become so easy it could be taken for granted. Whether for personal or professional purposes, technology connects people, moments, knowledge, insights, and real-time happenings;
  • Not just making better maps but changing maps for better utilisation. From reading them, where the user had to work pretty hard to keep on track, to now guiding and leading the user wherever they start from to wherever they want to go to;
  • Smartphone cameras not just capturing moments, but kickstarting social experiences, sharing moments between friends, families and followers; and
  • Web-browsing, which has become so integrated into what people are trying to achieve in each moment that individual apps are geared towards the achievement of micro-tasks – as well as the accomplishment of huge life goals.

Learning Technology For Workers Not Learners

It is often confused that L&D’s clients are Learners, when in fact they are Workers. On the surface, the difference may seem petty but when we consider what a Learner may require, we offer learning content and courses. But when we consider what a Worker needs in pursuit of better work, we might think of answers, advice, insights, local know-how and other types of support.

So, rather than using technology to scale L&D initiatives, how can we learn from the success of the iPhone and find ways to help workers to do what they want to do, better?

This might mean:

  • Performance Consulting rather than Learning Needs Analysis: When we look for Learning / Training Needs we find them. When we look for ways that workers and teams need help to achieve better business outcomes, we see other (dare I say) more useful opportunities to help them. Performance Consulting means exploring the actual problems being presented; understanding who (specifically) is involved; how things are working and how they should be working; and then planning to bridge the gap between those two.
  • Designing for the workflow: Despite the best efforts of L&D, the vast majority of learning occurs whilst doing. So, supporting workers where they face their challenges, providing them with access to resources that helping them to perform with more confidence and competence is likely to be more effective than a course.
  • Start by connecting people, information and know-how online and use face-to-face events for what people do best: Like Google and YouTube are there for us as we explore new topics and seek immediate help, when we want to connect with others or reach out, the technology enables this. We can then converse with more confidence, based on what we want to explore further and then achieve.
  • Measure impact based on defined outcomes: When Performance Consulting uncovers real performance and capability issues, then addressing and improving these should make a demonstrable difference. Measuring and reporting on this difference is far more likely (and useful) than measuring and reporting on ‘learning’, which can only really mean ‘exposure to content’ or ‘results of an assessment’ anyway. As a result of Performance Consulting, the chances that a one-and-done event will be required are going to be limited. Solutions designed with and for the client are likely to result in a successful intervention, scaled by using technology that supports better working – rather than delivering, accelerating, transferring or embedding ‘learning’.

Happy Birthday, iPhone!

10 years of the iPhone have seen industries disrupted as music streaming, video on-demand, social media, Uber and Amazon, as well as countless other services, help consumers achieve so much more in far less time.

For learning technology to really work – for organisations and its workers – it needs to focus more on the work itself.

People learn from ‘doing’ and also advance their careers within organisations from the results of their ‘doing’. But for L&D, this seems to have been disregarded in favour of the far less measurable – and far less adequate – ‘learning’.

To affect better working, L&D should address the biggest priorities and use technology to scale what already works in organisations: observing colleagues and peers to understand what works, role modelling behaviour, asking questions, sharing anecdotes and web-searching for credible resources that help us with the work we are doing.

David James is Digital Learning Strategist with Looop and a seasoned Talent Management, Learning & OD leader with nearly 20 years of experience in the field. Most notably, David was Director of Talent, Learning & OD for The Walt Disney Company’s EMEA region.

Looop help their clients all over the world to digitally transform their L&D and capitalise on how people really want to learn today with a platform that is renowned for its extraordinary levels of learner engagement.

See also:

Leading Away From Face-To-Face Training Towards Self-Directed Learning

Digital L&D pt 2: Resources Before Courses?

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