The printing press, telephone, radio, television, internet all technology equalizers of people and information.
Upon the advent of each new technology phase people became more and more connected with each other, more informed and more knowledgeable about events surrounding them. We are in the middle of a technology movement that is having a huge impact in the learning industry but comes with it unfortunate control issues. There is a reason why during an uprising, that communications are the first thing to be stopped or censored. Is there a connection here? As you would expect, I have an opinion – but I’ll get to the thought in a moment.
First, remember when pagers were shiny and new? Wow! Predictably, the momentum swung from amazement of the new technology in front of us, to feeling burdened by that very same technology. “This is great! We can be connected!” (Cue pendulum swing) “Damn! This is terrible, I can’t escape!” Despite the fact that when the pager buzzed, most of us still had to search out a payphone to find out what all the buzzing was about – it was still a nifty little piece of technology. Then as expected, for the most part, the populous was divided on the progression of technology being able to find and connect us.
Which leads me to learning technology as it evolves today. At any given conference or ASTD chapter meeting there is a confluence of generations, leadership styles and learning philosophies. In the past, the L&D person of a newer generation would accept the wisdom of the tribal knowledge of the group – however, technology has now become the great equalizer. No longer does the new generation of thinkers have to accept the norm as standard practice. They have Google at their instantaneous touch to conduct their own research. They have twitter to reach a network that is wider than ever before. They have WordPress, tumblr, blogger to connect themselves with other thought leaders who share their philosophical mindset. In what would take years of certifications, courses, and book readings for those of us in the Boomer generation to gain information; now only takes half the time, and the information gathered is equally rich.
Suddenly, technology in the learning field has made us intellectual equals. No more “sage on the stage”, no more “because I said so”, no more having to accept research conducted back in 1965 as gospel. Now, don’t get me wrong – I don’t want to get a bizillion comments/emails taking me to task about those veterans in the industry who deserve our respect. There are many of us, myself included, who have been around the block a time or two. I’ll be the first to raise my hand to say that experience doesn’t equate to useful knowledge, or most importantly, up to date knowledge; the people of this “digital age” have much to offer veterans like myself, and I’m happy to have them teach me a thing or two. Technology has put us on the same playing field of striving to reach the goal of making learning a business that organizations respect and take seriously. Technology is teaching us that while the classroom has its place, that place can be anywhere at any time. Those new in the learning industry have much to teach me about engagement, about learning stimulation, about collaboration and about bringing excitement to learners. (Not to mention the upswing in wearable technology.) Their use of technology plays a huge role in achieving the goal of learning connectivity without the binding structure of directed learning modules. We can let the learning be free to move, allowing people to be more self-directed or not, if that is what people prefer the beauty is allowing for choice. Social media tools used for learning, curation and collaboration creates an unlimited expansion for our use of learning technology and we all need to be leading the way. Sitting back, being fearful of the future and what it brings will lead to brain atrophy – and really, who wants that?
Back at the beginning of this article, I mentioned censorship. Censorship as a control mechanism. I’m sure we have all sat in the same room with the “experienced” L&D person who, while despite voluntarily attending a session on new technologies in learning, was the first to shout out about control. “Facebook isn’t secure, Skype isn’t stable, twitter is just for announcing your lunch menu, and we can’t trust people to say the right things at the right time“. Therefore these tools must be stripped from our lexicon. Up goes the firewall. Down comes the offending site. BYOD (Bring Your Own Device)? Don’t be ridiculous, how do you control the information? How do you keep people focused? Sounds a lot like a scared dictatorship to me. Scared of people who may give critical and important feedback. As is standard operating procedure for dictatorships across the world, to control the populous, one must control the technology of the day. Well, I’m here to break the bad news to you: Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram, Vine, Facetime, twitter, WordPress, et all – are out of the bag. No putting those cats back. Technology is the great equalizer of people and the equalizer of our industry. It’s the new social learning.
The question now, is not how do we contain or control the forward momentum of using technology for learning – the question is how to leverage, how to explore, how to learn, and how to become real knowledge leaders for the 21st century as opposed to trainers of the 19th century. Let’s not look back.
How technology has affected learning today? Share your experiences.