Leading experts, thinkers, innovators and practitioners from North America and Europe will examine and discuss the future of learning at the upcoming OEB MidSummit, a new event that will take place for the first time in Reykjavik on the 8th and 9th of June this year. Few are better placed to provide insights into how emerging technologies are rapidly disrupting existing industry structures and business models than Tony O’Driscoll, who will present at the MidSummit second day plenary, ‘Looking At Tomorrow’s Learning Landscape Under The Light Of The Midnight Sun.’ The Plenary will examine the transformations wrought by machine intelligence and personalised learning, assessing both their challenges and opportunities.
Throughout an 18-year career in EdTech, Tony has held a variety of leadership positions at the cutting edge of the formation of learning and human performance strategies at enterprise level. As the current Global Head of Strategic Leadership Solutions at Duke Corporate Education, Tony’s research examines how emerging technologies affect existing industry structures and business models. In particular, his work illuminates the skills both organisations and leaders require in order to adapt to the growing disruptive and uncertain contemporary business world. His most recent book, Learning in 3D: Adding a New Dimension to Enterprise Learning and Collaboration, examines the consequences of the growth of the immersive internet of human capital, in both strategy and practice. Ahead of the MidSummit, OEB caught up with Tony to discuss the future of learning technology.
What are some of the key areas in which learning technology is being held back?
I actually think that the education industry is the only industry that has enjoyed longevity without disruption since the time of Socrates. That is a long time to form beliefs and habits around courses, content, curriculum, objectives and lesson plans. It has become so unquestioned that whenever we hear the word “learn” we think of these things. But people learn all the time and now have many other opportunities outside of this framework to learn.
This is our biggest issue: the blindness of our own bias regarding what learning means. We assume that learning means training and teaching, and that it is done in a classroom, and you grade students on how they remember things. Up until now, the world has not conspired to force us change.
How can we best overcome the limitations caused by learning and development orthodoxies?
I think we’re at a bit of an inflection point here: we’ve been talking about learning needing to change for a very long time but the world has conspired to make it non-negotiable at this stage. Technology is forging ahead, and it’s going to cause us to question what exactly learning is and how it adds value. Fundamental questions like who or what is learning and for what purpose are actually changing.
What are the risks of the rapidly adapting to this transformed world? What do we risk leaving behind?
I think we have to adapt to the concept of learned helplessness. We’ve outsourced knowledge to the network. But the trends are pretty clear: more robust connectivity with better algorithms to make sense of an increasing flow of data will continue. The top five companies on the planet are all making attempts to increase connectivity across the globe. So I think the fix is in: we will be in the third wave of the internet sooner than we think, and the likelihood that we will be left unconnected is becoming lower and lower. As we automate, we create more room and capacity for humanity to shape its destiny in a more compelling way. As with anything there are risks and unintended consequences, but I don’t think that is a sufficient argument against moving to generative learning.
What are the opportunities in a qualitative sense? How can education be better than it was before?
The real purpose of the education system has been about rules, roles, and regulation. It’s been a mechanism for people to find their place in life. We have to parse out, however, training from education and learning. Learning is something people do all by themselves: independently of learning institutions. The opportunity for autonomous learning, where people just look to feed their curiosity, has expanded in all directions at the same time. There are three types of learning: learning for conformity, for curiosity, and for creativity.
The education system has mainly been directed toward learning for conformity, which of course makes sense in a number of jobs: say, nuclear power, for example. But technology is much more open to learning for curiosity and creativity. The technological accordances that we can access today through a phone are creating communities of both interest – for curiosity – and communities of purpose – for creativity – that are coming together to figure out new ways to do X, Y or Z. Technology has opened up new channels that are competing with that classic conformist model of education.
What, do you think, will be the most important technology for learning in the future?
With most technologies it’s not actually the discrete technologies, but the convergence of these vectors that create a whole new platform that redefines an industry. So with Steve Jobs envisioning the iPhone that was the convergence of internet technology, mobile and touch screen technology. Those three things came together: and he had the vision to foresee it. There is no algorithm for this; this is the stuff we need more people to engage in – the human creative capacity to foresee these convergences. With regard to learning, there is a vector of connectivity that is indisputable – it is a trend and there is no uncertainty here: people are increasingly going to be connected.
The second is artificial intelligence. Algorithms that put data into formation, to allow people to make decisions, to take action etc. Because we’re creating so much data, we’re drowning in it and starved of insight. AI is bridging that gap, and is getting smarter and smarter. The third one is virtual reality. We need geography to become history, so that we can connect and convene in a context where all the latest data can be rendered, so people can work jointly, figuring out what to do. VR can create the feeling that people are together, allowing them to interact and engage with data. So the convergence of these three things is going to create a new tomorrow.