Thursday, April 4, 2013

Learning tech dies. We don't have to.

Rest in peace QR codes. You had great potential for informal and on-the-spot learning, but you’re no longer needed. And you’re ugly. You’ve been rendered moot by mobile browsers like Layar[1] and Aurasma[2] that recognize the item itself; no “barcode” necessary.

Typically, learning technologies perish not because they’re ugly like QR codes, but because they require too much work for too little performance or monetary return. Serious games, immersive learning simulations, gamification, learning content management systems (LCMSs), virtual worlds, virtual reality, haptics, and even custom Flash interactions get heavy scrutiny from learning & development managers interested in ROI; the payback often isn’t there.

Another cause of death for learning technologies is the realization that formal learning is, quite literally, “old school”. (Isn’t it ironic that serious games and virtual worlds might be considered old school?) In other words, learning researchers and practitioners[3] are confirming the notion that most learning – as much as 90% – is informal; talking to people, heading out to YouTube, Googling, etc. 

Some people call it the 70/20/10 learning model[4]. Some people don’t believe such a model exists[5]. But whether the model exists is inconsequential. We all know that informal learning outweighs formal learning through empirical evidence. Think about your own job – do you spend more than 10% of your time in formal training events? Probably not. But you do learn things – probably every day. Therefore, if you’re an instructional designer, media developer, or learning & development manager spending most of your time building formal training, you’re wasting quite a bit of that time.

So what learning technologies do I think offer a good payback in terms of time, money and informality? 1. Augmented Reality, 2. Video, and 3. Performance Support Systems (PSSs) that are easily searchable and deliver mobile-friendly information. Notice that I didn’t include company-wide social networks; they’re very tough to search.

Augmented Reality (AR)
AR offers information on the spot through your phone or tablet. It puts the information in context perfectly. And, right now, it’s free to build using Hoppala[6]. It’s also fast to build as long as the content you want to link to already exists. You might link to Wikipedia, YouTube, or your PSS. Once you’ve built it, deliver your AR through Layar, Junaio, or Aurasma. I’ve built AR “apps” in half a day.

The trouble with AR is that we L&D folks might end up sending it to its grave if we try to get too fancy with it. We have a tendency to do that: “The learner needs to be more engaged.” “We need to include more interactivity.” When you utter these phrases, ask yourself, “Am I just trying to show off, or does the learner really need it?”

Video is potent for learning; plus, it can be very quick and cost effective. I made the argument here:

But, again, the danger is if we get too fancy. Are you seeing a pattern here?

Performance Support Systems (PSSs)
This is where I spend most of my working day – putting more content into the PSS and making sure it’s easy to find –.pdf files, Word documents, instructions, FAQs, or anything that will help people on the job. You can use your LMS for this as long as it’s easy to search and delivers mobile-friendly content. If that’s not an option, start your research into a PSS here:

The point is that L&D won’t go the way of the QR code as long as we:
  1. Pay attention to shifts in technology that change the way learners learn.
  2. Spend most of our time on the projects that give us the most bang for our buck.
  3. Don’t get too fancy. 


Brian is the Practice Leader of Workforce Performance at virtualwirks. email him at if you want to: 
  • Roll out a virtual workforce, but your internal training department is not familiar with multi-week virtual training programs
  • Create a more efficient internal training department
  • Implement training programs that exceed performance goals in minimum time
  • Meet or exceed predicted L&D ROI

[3] Godwin-Jones, R. (June 2009). Emerging technologies personal learning environments. Language, Learning & Technology, 13(2).
Levenberg, A. & Caspi, A. (2010). Comparing perceived formal and informal learning in face-to-face versus online environments. Interdisciplinary Journal of E-Learning and Learning Objects, 6.
Manganello, F., Falsetti, C., Spalazzi, L., & Leo, T. (January 2013). PKS: An ontology-based learning construct for lifelong learners. Educational Technology & Society, 16(1).
[5]Howe, N.J. (May 2010). Let’s kill a few learning holy cows – 70:20:10 is dead (or at least seriously ill). Retrieved April 3, 2013 from

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