Finding The “New Normal”: The Shock of the New

If you are looking for an organized, systematic approach to making decisions about the best uses of technology in learning and talent development, you may find the new book The Shock of the New: The Challenge and Promise of Emerging Technologies (Association for Talent Development, April 7, 2019) helpful.

Chad Udell and Gary Woodill offer a thorough methodology, backed up with plenty of references and resources. It is applicable from the broadest levels (what mix of technologies offers the best fit over the next few years to your organization’s mission?), down to the more detailed levels of planning and execution (where to invest funds when planning next year’s budget, or how to best meet specific performance challenges).

Dealing with the new normal

In the preface, Udell and Woodill say, “This book is our effort to raise awareness of technological changes that may be coming your way, to give you the tools to assess emerging learning technologies and their relevance to your enterprise.

“Given that the pace of change is accelerating, how do talent development and learning professionals keep up with what is new? How do we judge what is important for our organizations? How will we know something is not just a fad but will change the way the world works forever? How can we plan for the near future in a world of constant change?

“Learning is still critical for companies to remain competitive, to keep up with innovation, and to win in the world of business. This means learning leaders need to ditch old ideas of being mostly experts and sources of information for the more exciting challenges of guiding individuals and teams into a ‘new normal’ that uses technologies to support the company, helps build relevant collective shared knowledge and a ‘learning culture,’ and reignites enthusiasm for accomplishing goals that meet real human needs.”

This is a challenging set of promises to meet, and the authors more than make good on their promises. They begin by suggesting a pretty eclectic list of emerging technologies that they expect will continue to create disruptions to the practices of talent development and learning professionals for the next five years, and on out another 10 – 20 years. They define emerging technologies as ones that already exist, but not all of which are well known or in widespread use, including:

  • 3-D printing
  • Artificial Intelligence (AI)
  • Augmented Reality (AR)
  • Big data and analytics
  • Cloud computing
  • Internet of Things (IoT)
  • Mobile learning
  • Personalization algorithms
  • Robotics
  • Virtual reality (VR)
  • Wearables
  • Information and communication technologies (ICT)
  • Affective computing
  • Ambient intelligence
  • Bioelectronics
  • Redesigned internet
  • Human-machine symbiosis
  • Neuroelectronics
  • Quantum computing

Some of these have obvious application to learning and talent development, and others, such as 3-D printing, seem like a stretch.

The BUILDS framework

To assist in evaluation of these diverse technologies and trends in the context of learning and talent development, Udell and Woodill built a framework based on six perspectives:

  • Business
  • User perspectives
  • Impact
  • Learning
  • Dependencies
  • Signals

They then came up with a rubric of 30 questions—five per perspective—to consider when evaluating any emerging learning technologies. It’s still difficult to comprehend the learning case for some technologies.

To help, the authors offer examples: they walk the reader through use of the BUILDS framework to analyze six specific technologies (some not-so-obviously-applicable), as they may relate to learning and talent development:

  • Blockchain
  • Adaptive learning and personalization
  • 3-D printing
  • The Internet of Things/Internet of Everything
  • Artificial intelligence and machine learning
  • Augmented reality and virtual reality

The examples are intended to help the reader to identify uses in learning and talent development for some of these technologies. Some of them might still be a stretch, but keep in mind that the authors are not suggesting that every one of them will be a match to every context.

Udell and Woodill also discuss the role of change management in the process of dealing with disruptive technology. Additionally, long appendices containing extended lists of references and resources provide examples and context that may be of further help in evaluation—but you don’t get much help from the text in choosing from among the many (many!) references and resources provided.

A step-wise approach

In eight chapters and two appendices, the authors deliver a thorough discussion of their approach to disruptive technologies. Chapter 1 reviews the last 20 years of the effect of digital technologies on the learning and talent development field. Not all technologies, of course, have turned out to be successful or useful—their chief example is Second Life, which they now accurately describe as a digital ghost town.

Chapters 2 to 7 provide detailed presentation of the six perspectives of the BUILDS framework, and Chapter 8 addresses development of strategies for managing changes sparked by the introduction of new technologies (change management).

The appendices provide a glossary, the entire BUILDS framework, and six examples of the framework applied to specific emerging technologies.

A helpful set of guides

As with many such systems, it takes some thought and understanding to apply their rubric without getting lost in the weeds—a common challenge with structured planning processes ranging from SWOT analysis to zero-based budgeting. Over-simplification is as much a danger as overly-detailed application.

The specific examples that Udell and Woodill offer for application of the BUILDS framework when considering various technologies in the context of learning and talent development will be very helpful guides, in my opinion.

I believe that Udell and Woodill succeed in their overall goal: to help the reader to identify new missions for learning and talent development introduced by new technologies, and to apply the ideas at the higher-order levels of planning, strategy and change management, as well as at the day-to-day level of implementing specific learning technology in the reader’s organization.

From the editor

Chad Udell will present a session on “Real World Case Studies in AR and Machine Learning” at The eLearning Guild’s Realities360 Conference 2019, June 25-27.

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