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Technology Manager Discusses Technological Trends That Will Impact the Future (Interview)

Frank Nguyen managed the development and deployment of learning strategies and technologies for various Fortune companies including American Express, Intel and MicroAge. He was formerly an assistant professor in educational technology at San Diego State University.

Frank has been involved in various service and research committees for the Adobe eLearning Advisory Board, ASTD, Brandon Hall Research, British Journal of Educational Technology, eLearning Guild, and ISPI. He has also contributed to various articles, books and chapters on eLearning, instructional design and performance support. You can contact him by email frank@frankn.net or at his website.

Q. The multiple stakeholders involved in training and development initiatives face many challenges. What challenges have you run into?

I think we’re in the middle of a paradigm shift in the T&D field. The last significant paradigm shift was around Y2K with the advent of eLearning. That scared some people with the forecasted end of classroom training and it unsettled all of us as we had to learn how and when to best use traditional ILT versus new forms of online learning.

Now that we can finally talk about “traditional eLearning,” we have to figure out how T&D should/must adapt to the current evolution that is currently underway due to Web 2.0, blogs, wikis, social networking, mobile devices that are more powerful than computers a decade ago. We have to figure out how T&D adds value in a new world where learners will learn with or without our intervention.

In this light, my general observation is that senior leaders are struggling with how and when their organizations can transform themselves and best leverage these technologies. Of the new technologies that are constantly emerging, which will survive, which should they adopt, and how will that capability impact their stakeholders’ business needs?

The struggle at the middle/front line manager level seems to be more around managing the change to their people and to themselves that results from adoption of new learning capabilities. For example, if my organization is about to adopt wikis, what processes must we put in place to foster user contribution – yet at the same time ensure that content in the wiki is correct?

In addition, how do I prepare T&D professionals and the general user population on how to best share and find information in the wiki?

Meanwhile, instructional designers and developers have to figure out how to integrate, combine and blend the new with the old. They have to figure out how to design a cohesive learning experience that may include traditional interventions like ILT and eLearning with a set of capabilities and technologies that still have not yet matured.

Q. What role might technology play in workplace collaboration?

Like learning, collaboration happens with or without our intervention. In fact, we have to acknowledge the fact that collaborations happen with or without technology.

What Web 1.0 technology bought us is the ability to facilitate collaboration across location and time. I can easily email, IM or web conference with peers in London, Bangalore or Pluto (assuming they get broadband there).

What Web 2.0 technology buys is democratization, more public access to knowledge and social status. For example, back to the wiki example earlier, fundamentally wikis aren’t much different than knowledge management systems that were popular in the 1990’s. They are databases with very simple authoring tools.

The key difference however is that in KM, only recognized subject matter experts were invited to contribute. With wikis and Web 2.0 in general, anyone can contribute anytime and anywhere. On the flip side, anyone can access that knowledge be it in a blog, Facebook or YouTube anytime and anywhere.

The side effect of this democratization is that subject matter experts are no longer identified, chosen or christened, but they emerge in a much more organic way. Web 2.0 experts might be identified by the number of Twitter followers, Diggs on their blog posts or reputation on a social networking site.

Q. What are some technology trends today that will have an impact on tomorrow?

Whether you subscribe to the iPhone, Android, BlackBerry or Palm, I think Apple changed the paradigm of a smartphone to be more than a phone with some bells and whistles to a legitimate portable computer that happened to have a phone built into it. We have talked about mobile learning for a number of years, but I think the effect of the iPhone and mobile on T&D is just now beginning to unfold.

We saw our first training conference program on smartphone earlier this year. Audience response systems will have to evolve from being proprietary hardware/software systems to being inexpensive smartphone/laptop paired applications (think iPad/iPhone Scrabble). And rapid eLearning for mobile will FINALLY start emerging over the course of this year.

Q. What do you think the world of training and development might look like 5-10 years into the future?

If we talked in 2020, my hope is that we will be looking back at our current paradigm shift in the way we can look back at eLearning now. We know the classroom didn’t die. We generally know how to best combine web-based training, virtual classrooms and the physical classroom to meet the needs of our learners and customers.

In 5-10 years, we will have figured out how to best combine those tools into a cohesive learning experience that includes content generated by our users in various ways delivered to devices that we couldn’t even imagine in 2000.

Q. Our readers are asking us about these two terms: “social learning” and “collaborative learning.” Maybe you’ve heard of these buzzwords. What comes to mind when you hear these terms? In what ways might these two terms be interchangeable and in what ways might these two terms be different?

From my recollection, social learning is more of a theoretical construct that describes how we as humans can learn through observation of others and our environment. In crude terms, it is “monkey see, monkey do” learning.

Collaborative learning on the other hand is based more on constructivist theory. For instance, you and I might collaborate together towards a shared learning goal.

I can see how these two terms could at first glance seem to be interchangeable, but looking at the established terms within educational psychology, these are two distinct ideas.

You could build a learning experience that might include a social learning component such as having a new hire observe an expert worker. That could be followed by a collaborative learning activity where pairs of learners are asked to derive a list of best practices and behaviors they observed of their respective experts.

Q. What role might social learning and collaborative learning play in 21st century training and development, if any?

Whether we like or not, the collaborative nature of Web 2.0 technologies has forced us all to confront and integrate constructivist methodologies into our learning strategies and instructional design toolkit.

Where you could use a range of instructional theories — from behaviorism to constructivism to cognitivism — in ILT and to a lesser extent eLearning, “Learning 2.0” singularly relies on our ability to design learning experiences that involve learners working together to solve problems and arrive at shared goals that enable their performance.

Q. What books, blogs, and/or magazines would you recommend for fellow trainers?

I’m a big fan of Ruth Clark as I think there’s an important connection between research and evidence-based practices. I also frequent CLO Magazine, eLearning Guild’s eZine, ASTD’s T+D and ISPI’s Performance Improvement Journal.

No offense to all of my blogging friends and colleagues, I have gone on RSS overload so I haven’t kept up on blogs!

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