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How new learning technology (EdTech) adds value

MOOC, Gamification, Augmented Reality, Predictive Learning etc…. New technologies (EdTech) in learning has boomed in recent years. An increased need to develop new skills combined with rapid technological innovations means that we are facing a dramatic change in the way training is performed. In two articles I describe why we need to use more technology in training and what we need to do to really make use of the technology.

Right now there is a major growth for technology-based learning. The global eLearning market this year is SEK 880 billion with an annual growth of 20%. It’s currently one of the hottest industries for venture capitalists in Silicon Valley.

Why is it like this?

It is not only the training industry that is in strong transition. Many industries have a high rate of digital transformation right now, from manufacturing industry, to telecom, banking and healthcare. In all these industries, technology is a driving factor. As a result, the lack of key skills and the demands for transformation have never been greater than it is now.

Brist på nyckelkompetenser

A percentage of business leaders who see the lack of key skills as the biggest challenge, PwC CEO Survey 2016

Many other forces impact the development of learning technology; access to the internet, broadband, mobile platforms, cloud services, etc.

A “disruptive change” completely changes an industry, such as we have seen in the travel industry. In 2000, 5% of all journeys were booked online. A common thought was that a travel agent was needed to organise a trip, the customer needed personal service. More than 85% of journeys are now booked online. An entire industry is transformed and almost all of the travel agent store personnel are gone.

So where do we stand in learning & development today?

I’d say the journey has barely started. Some companies use technology in learning, such as Ericsson, but most people I know use between 5-10% technology-based learning. In many cases, L&D does not meet the speed of the business.

Digitalisation of learning and use of EdTEch is addressing this challenge.

However, EdTech does not automatically mean that learning will be improved. Therefore I am going to start my series of articles by discussing the benefits some of the EdTech categories.

How to define value within learning?

How do we define value within learning? I usually talk about two dimensions. The first dimension is that, what we learn is translated into results in the job we perform. I call it the effect of learning.

Here is an example of assessing the impact of learning according to Tony O’Driscoll (Professor Duke University):

  • Only 15% of employees’ performance depends on learning, the rest depends on motivation, leadership, process, environment, etc.
  • Only 15% of the learning is formally arranged learning, the rest is informal learning.
  • Only 15% of what is learned in a course is applied in the job.

The conclusion of the example is that the effect of formal learning on employee performance is less than 1%! Can this really be the case? Of course, this is an exaggeration. However, most research show that the effect of a single training event, e.g. a course-day, is low.

The second factor is about efficiency in the development and delivery of learning activities. This can be about usage of resources, costs and time. An example is that a day in classroom costs about 10-15,000 SEK per attendant and has a limited reach while learning just-in-time has an unlimited reach and cost approx. 2-3,000 SEK per attendant per day.

The image shows how technology can impact the effect of learning. From adding relevance to learning interventions to enabling better work results and organizational capabilities. At the same time the efficiency in delivering these result can be improved, whether this is costs, speed or reach of learning interventions.

At the bottom left, you would find courses that are:

  • Not targeted to the unique needs of different target groups.
  • Which are conducted as one-off sessions without any element of practice or support at work.
  • Which are only delivered in classrooms where employees also need to spend time on to travel.

How EdTech adds value

So how does the new technology contribute to creating value? Let’s review some typical new phenomena and how they contribute to the impact of learning and the effectiveness of developing and delivering learning activities.

MOOC/Course Library

Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC) allow a teacher to reach large numbers of students. It provides greater reach and speed when 1000 students take the course instead of 20. The modularized content, the course being spaced in time with elements of real assignment and collaboration with other students add to the effect of learning.

In this way, a MOOC adds both to an increased effect and efficiency in learning. The current, very large amount of video/elearning courses provided by sites such as Coursera, EdCast, Linkedin Learning and Udacity provides access to high-quality content at low cost. Companies that develop and deliver general courses themselves have much to gain in cost-effectiveness. The same applies to those who buy external local classroom courses for subjects that are general to the market.


“Smart LMS” – Predictive Learning, Learning Portals and skill based learning

By a “smart LMS”, I mean a LMS that can suggest learning based on your job role, skill gap, past performance, what you liked, what others thought was good, etc. A bit like “Amazon” or “Netflix” for learning. This increases the proportion of learning content that is relevant to the student. My own surveys at customers show that only 15-20% of the employees believe courses they have taken have been relevant to their needs. Employees also want to get suggestions on other types of learning activities such as videos, instructions, websites, experts to follow, etc.

More relevant learning activities increases the impact of learning. My experience is also that when you go from general courses made for a general audience to role-based learning, you can decrease 60-70% of the time students spend in learning, which makes role-based learning very cost effective.

Technology for learning at work

Examples include new ways of delivering training and instructions directly in systems, such as the sales system. Mobile platforms (or glasses like Google Glasses) with video-on-demand or “Augmented Reality” provide the opportunity to move learning and instructions to the place where the work is done.

This ensures the effect of learning in work. You do not forget what you have learned once you apply it. This type of learning is usually “how-to” knowledge. It can be recorded by the experts themselves in short periods of time. It affects the cost of development and delivery of learning not to mention the reach and speed of reaching out with new ways of working.


Social platforms

Social platforms with forums, activity streams, followers, knowledge sharing, etc. are now an integral part of most LMS. Collaboration and knowledge sharing have always existed at an informal level within smaller groups. Social platforms scale up the scope of collaboration and knowledge sharing. They provide an opportunity to capture experience and knowledge in the business and thus support to develop new capabilities in the organization while increasing the scope of conversations, collaboration and knowledge sharing between employees.


“Gamification” means building goals, points, levels, leaderboards and other game mechanisms into LMS and courses. The aim is to increase motivation and commitment to wanting to develop in an area. It is not as clear how it contributes to effect and efficiency. “Gamification” instead work by increasing the willingness to learn rather than directly contributing to impact and efficiency.

Learning technology (Edtech) increase both efficiency and Effect of learning

In the imageI have placed different new technology to show how they contribute to the values of learning. My conclusion is that new technology strongly contributes to the effect and efficiency of learning compared to current classroom deliveries.

Is EdTech enough?

Does technology solve the problems just because it is available? Will an organization that procures a Video-on-Demand (VoD) platform automatically get the benefits? No, it’s not quite that simple. We also need:

  • Awareness in the organization how VoD is to be used in relation to other learning methods.
  • The skill among users and experts to create movies and good presentations.
  • A culture that says it is “ok” to share, to the manager, oneself and colleagues.
  • An organization that can encourage and support usage. In L&D, we need to be able to support the creation of videos but even more understand the approach behind just-in-time and how it matches other learning methods.
  • Communication and awareness that allows users to find and use the recordings.
  • A responsibility for structuring and moderating the channels established on the platform.

In short, it is about the organization’s ability to work with learning. It is also about the implementation of new technologies. Too many studies show failed technology implementations.

In the next article, I’ll describe how to successfully introduce new technology to create the benefits for your organization.

Author: Johan Skoglöf
Johan är visionär och senior konsult med missionen att hjälpa företag att skapa framtidens lärande organisation. Med över 25 år i branschen och kunder som Ericsson, Volvo, Scania, SEB, Handelsbanken, HM och ICA har Johan en bred erfarenhet i hur lärande organisationer skapas.

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