Tag: technology

Game changer

As a blogger, I’ve been struggling.

Historically it has been a rewarding pastime for me – both personally and career wise – but it has also been challenging. It’s time consuming, it requires large doses of vulnerability, and on occasion the reaction from my fellow “professionals” has been downright unprofessional.

Combine that with some private matters and a dwindling readership, I’ve been wondering if it’s worth it any more.

Prior to posting I don’t know earlier this year, an illustration tweeted by Harsh Darji convinced me to give it another crack; and I felt passionately enough about transforming conventional digital training into blended learning experiences to follow it up with a potential last hurrah.

Which prompted me to wonder: What do I feel passionate about?

A fuzzy heart shape labelled Over-Thinking leads to a clearly defined heart shap labelled Writing.

After ruminating over the question for a surprisingly long time, I’ve concluded that my passion is nature and its conservation.

I studied environmental biology at uni and got my first full-time job in water management, before the trajectory of my career thrusted me deep into the corporate realm. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it’s just different.

After further pondering, I also recognised that I’m fascinated by cryptozoology. Not so much of the Bigfoot variety – although I do find that entertaining and sometimes informative, especially when the investigators employ cutting-edge technology; but rather more along the lines of whether the Tasmanian Tiger (Thylacinus cynocephalus) still exists on the Apple Isle or in pockets on the mainland, or whether big cats (Panthera spp.) roam the Australian countryside.

Having done a fair share of it myself, I can tell you that biological surveying is a tricky business. Traditional methods of identifying the various species that inhabit a given area – eg observation, tracking, scat analysis, cage trapping, motion-sensing photography – are a bit hit and miss, to be frank. To get a sense of the magnitude of the task, imagine trekking through the Amazon forest… you know jaguars live there, but you almost certainly won’t see one.

In that light, finding a cryptid is hard – otherwise they wouldn’t be cryptids. Even when video evidence is forthcoming, it’s infuriatingly inconclusive.

Which leads me to another interest: Environmental DNA. Abbreviated to eDNA, this term refers to the analysis of minute traces of organic matter in samples of soil, water and even air to identify the wildlife that’s present in the vicinity.

I consider eDNA a game changer, not only for cryptozoology but also for mainstream ecology. A case in point is the University of Otago’s search for the Loch Ness Monster. While this foray failed to find the fabled plesiosaur, it did showcase a novel approach to biological surveying that found evidence of a whopping 3,000 species in the water. Not only aquatic animals such as salmon, pike and eel, but also terrestrial animals such as rabbit, badger and vole (presumably because of rain washing detritus into the lake from the surrounding catchment).

I’m so enamoured by eDNA that I urge the scientific community to give it a proper go before we “resurrect” the Tasmanian Tiger via Jurassic Park-style genetic engineering.

A tweet by Ryan Tracey stating: Before we resurrect the Tasmanian Tiger, can we please give eDNA a proper go? It can be done with air samples now.

I’d also be delighted to see it used in the hunt for big cats down under, if not to prove they exist, then to prove that they don’t.

Having said that, I realise eDNA is no magic bullet. Firstly, it’s a snapshot: for example, the University of Otago’s survey failed to identify animals such as seals and otters which are known to visit the loch. Then of course you have the politics of science to contend with: fuelled by anecdotes such as the one about the leopard scat sampled from a local zoo being identified as “dog” by a wary lab.

Despite its limitations, however, I contend that eDNA will revolutionise our study of biodiversity.

DNA strands.

Lest I stray too far off topic, I’ll conclude by reaffirming what we already know about Learning & Development: we also benefit from the advancement of technology.

Amid the rise of virtual reality, artificial intelligence and the metaverse, what do you consider to be our game changer?

Double defence

In a past life I worked with a fellow named Jim who was very good at what he did.

As what I would term a “trainer”, he was well versed in face-to-face delivery and widely respected in the business as a subject matter expert. He had also racked up quite a tenure at the company, so he was considered something of a stalwart.

In my own role, though, I could see what Jim couldn’t: the incoming wave of e-learning. Sooner rather than later, it was clear to me that not all our training was to be delivered to everyone in the same room at the same time. On the contrary, management’s salivation over the potential efficiency gains of online courses meant that f2f was in danger of extinction. Rightly or wrongly, this was the business reality.

We had a healthy cross-skilling culture in our team, so I actively sought opportunities to share my e-learning know-how with my colleagues. Some of them leapt at the chance to add another arrow to their quiver; but Jim wanted none of it.

I couldn’t work out whether his reluctance was due to laziness, fear, or something else. The typical excuse for this kind of thing is lack of time, however I’d wager that if I were to offer him $1000 for turning up to one of my sessions, he’d be there with bells on. In any case he never lifted a finger, despite the investment in his own career that would surely amount to many thousands of dollars.

Anyway, like clockwork, the dreaded spectre of redundancies swept through our division; and as predicted, Jim was let go.

He was shocked and bitter.

Vintage robot

I hark back to this time whenever I hear the phrase skills of the future.

Just as back then when the internet disrupted Jim’s work, so too are the likes of artificial intelligence disrupting our work today. Digitisation of the workplace is an unstoppable force, so an ability to work with emerging technology remains a skill of the future.

Working with is a critical distinction. While technology will inevitably take jobs, just as it has done in the past, in many cases it will complement them. So the trick here, if there is one, is to use technology as a tool to enhance what you do.

For example, the deployment of machine learning in medical imaging is unlikely to replace doctors; rather, it’s a tool the doctor can use to improve the efficacy of diagnosis. Similarly, robo-advice is unlikely to replace financial planners; rather, it frees up the planner to focus on complex portfolios and provide other value added services.

In other words, the future of work isn’t so much about competing against the robots as it is about leveraging your human talents to do what the robots can’t. The software can crunch the numbers in a heartbeat… it’s up to you to interpret what they mean (critical thinking) and use them to inform a course of action (decision making).

Moreover it’s not just about interacting with technology; it’s also about interacting with people. I’m referring to “soft skills” such as communicating your findings to your target audience (storytelling), hitting your mark (empathy) and motivating them to change (influencing).

And of course it’s about your own innate ability to handle change (eg adaptivity, resilience and active learning).

Robots - You - Humans

Of course, even if Jim did upskill himself in online course development, the company may very well have ended up outsourcing that work to an offshore provider. So the question isn’t merely whether the work you do can be automated, but also if it can be done by someone else at a fraction of the cost.

Hence ongoing employability demands lifelong learning to continue to do what other people can’t.

Skills of the future aren’t just your defence against the robots. They’re also your defence against other humans.

Back to the future

I’m both a science nerd and a history buff, so naturally I’m fascinated by the history of science.

When I visited Bern several years ago, the Museum für Kommunikation was at the top of my “to do” list. This captivating institution is dedicated to the history of technology-mediated communication, from the cuneiform tablets of the Sumerians, through the gamut of the postal service, telephony, telegraphy, radio, television, computers and the Internet. Upon my return from Switzerland I eagerly blogged my highlights from the museum.

More recently, I’ve just come back from a trip to the UK, where of course I continued my exploration of geeky curiosities. I was delighted to have discovered three excellent museums, from which I will now share some of my highlights.

The Museum of the History of Science in Oxford.

My first discovery was the Museum of the History of Science in Oxford, which houses “an unrivalled collection of early scientific instruments”. Indeed this institution houses a wide diversity of vintage apparatus – from microscopes to telescopes, abacuses to astrolabes.

I think the strength of this collection is the sheer age of some the artefacts, such as the spring-operated prosthetic hand (Figure 1) which is thought to be from the 1500’s!

Artificial hand

Figure 1. Artificial Hand, 16th Century?

My second discovery I wish to share with you, which I’m ashamed to admit wasn’t originally on my “to do” list, was the Science Museum in London. Tight for time, I had bigger fish to fry, but my good friend in Kensington urged me to visit this place a mere tube stop away. And boy I’m glad I did.

The Science Museum in London.

If the Museum für Kommunikation and the Museum of the History of Science are impressively stocked, the Science Museum is the mother lode. I could have spent days poring over its expansive collection, and I intend to return to do so.

I think the strength of this collection is the sheer fame of some the artefacts. For example…

Faraday's magnet and coil

Figure 2. Faraday’s Magnet and Coil, 1831 – that’s Michael Faraday. You know, the godfather of electromagnetism.

Lumière Cine-Camera and Projector

Figure 3. Lumière Cine-Camera and Projector, 1896 – the type of camera which recorded that ground-breaking footage of a train arriving at La Ciotat.

An Enigma machine

Figure 4. Enigma Machine, 1934 – a suitable corollary to Faraday’s magnet and coil, this ingenious electromagnetic device needs no introduction for anyone who’s watched The Imitation Game or The Bletchley Circle.

Watson and Crick's 3D model of DNA

Figure 5. Watson and Crick’s 3D Model of DNA, 1953 – the glorious double helix.

Babbage's Difference Engine No. 2

Figure 6. Babbage’s Difference Engine No. 2, 1985-2002 – in the 1980’s, the museum began building Chuck’s 138-year-old design for a mechanical calculating machine, finally completing it in 2002.

My third and final discovery I wish to share with you was the Wellcome Collection, yet another destination which was inexplicably omitted from my “to do” list. The only reason I visited it was because my wonderful wife pointed it out as we were walking past.

This institution founded by pharmaceutical magnate Henry Wellcome specialises in human health. Hence I think the strength of this collection is focus, particularly the “Medicine Man” exhibition including the following array of medieval surgical equipment (Figure 7).

An array of medieval surgical equipment

Figure 7. Centuries-old surgical tools.

There’s just so much good stuff in these museums, highlighting more would make this blog post a mile long and might breach some sort of copyright regulation. For more of their artefacts, including several that are relevant to financial services, follow me on Twitter where I’ll post them over the course of the next week or so.

Unlike the “vintage future” whereby people of the past predicted a largely fanciful civilisation, each of the objects I have highlighted here offered a glimpse of our real future. In their respective moments in time, they weren’t theoretical constructs or figments of imagination; rather, they were manifestations of advances in technology upon which further advancements were rendered possible.

Which begs the question: What will be our next advances in technology, given the manifestations we see in this moment in time?

While we await our brave new world, I hope you have the opportunity to visit the museums I have mentioned and embrace your journey back to the future.

The foundations of innovation in L&D

There are two sides of the innovation coin in corporate learning & development: technology and pedagogy.

The former is rather obvious and is often conflated with the term innovation. Futuristic hardware and magical software that educates everyone at the press of a button are tempting “solutions”. Some folks call this mindset Shiny New Toy Syndrome, and by golly, it’s a pandemic.

The latter is less obvious because it involves thinking, and I’m not being facetious when I say that thinking is hard. Traditional ways of learning in the workplace are, by definition, ingrained in the psyche of the vast majority of the workforce. Changing the concept of how we learn and redefining how we can help people do it better involve shifting the organisation’s culture, and that is a challenge greater than any IT implementation.

I see technology as an enabler of the pedagogical outcome, rather than it being the outcome per se. And just as we must learn to walk before we can run, so too must an organisation lay the foundations of innovation before it can reach for the stars. Though not as sexy as their more tweeted-about alternatives, these foundations are the building blocks of long-term efficiency, flexibility and creativity.

So what are the foundations of innovation in L&D?

I will hereby attempt to answer this question by looking through the lens of the 70:20:10 model. Whereas previously I have advocated this approach when designing a solution for a specific learning objective, this time I’m elevating the approach to the strategic level, with a view to designing a future-proofed solution for all the organisation’s learning objectives.

The Foundations of Innovation in L&D: content library, knowledge base, enterprise social network, and performance-oriented training

The 70

From the get-go, a false idol that must fall is the belief that the role of the L&D department is to create all the training to meet the organisation’s learning needs. These needs are so diverse within and across all the different job roles that the task is an almost comical impossibility.

Moreover, a large proportion of these needs is generic; despite what many organisations think, they’re not that special. Analytics is analytics. Decision making is decision making. Difficult conversations are difficult conversations. The nature of such content is universal.

So my first building block is a third-party content library. There are many players in this space, and sure it makes sense to pick one that matches your organisation’s profile, but their pedagogical purpose is the same: to provide your people with immediate access to an extensive suite of learning assets, covering a broad range of topics, on demand. Such a resource empowers self-directed learning which, in the language of 70:20:10, can be done on the job, just in time.

Another false idol to fall is the myth that all the information we need is at our fingertips. Clearly, not all our needs are generic. The organisation is special in the sense that has its own products, processes, systems, policies, etc, which a third party will never cover.

So my second building block is an in-house knowledge base. Whether the underlying technology is an intranet, CMS or wiki, again the pedagogical purpose is the same: to provide your people with on-demand access to bespoke content that improves performance.

The 20

Despite the best intentions of a content library and a knowledge base, they will never meet every conceivable learning need. An enterprise social network covers the “in-betweens”, principally by empowering everyone to ask their own questions to the crowd, and to keep abreast of emergent knowledge in the moment.

The 10

The building blocks in the 70 and the 20 spearhead an informal first approach to learning and development which lifts a mountain of weight off the shoulders of the L&D team. Freed from the burden of training everything, we can now focus our attention on what should be trained.

Furthermore, these building blocks enable change in the nature of the training. With the bulk of the content hosted elsewhere, it doesn’t need to be shovelled into the course. The class can be flipped, the narrative pared back to its key messages, and a scenario-based design adopted to train not the content, but its application.

In this way, the training becomes performance oriented.

A man working on a house frame

By no means do these building blocks exhaust the 70:20:10 model, nor do they represent the extent of innovation in L&D. Rather, they form the bedrock of further innovation.

For example:

  • User-generated content has a home, not only where it can be housed, but also where it can be governed.
  • Blended learning goes beyond pre-work online modules by integrating social activity and ongoing performance support.
  • Corporate MOOCs have a delivery vehicle.
  • Micro-learning and micro-assessments have a rich source of reference content to which remedial feedback can link.
  • If the content library, knowledge base and ESN are mobile accessible, they support mobile learning.
  • Any reduction in training volume creates more space to explore emerging technologies such as AI, VR and AR.
  • An orderly, structured L&D service offering provides the basis for a proper consideration of the value that a next-generation learning management system may add (or not).

So while I remain an advocate of ad hoc innovation, I see it as a necessity in the absence of a plan. My preference is a much more strategic approach, bedding down what matters most to meet the immediate needs of the business, prior to building additional innovative initiatives that stand firmly on that foundation.

In this way, not only do we innovate now, but we have a platform for innovating into the future.

25 more real-world examples of Virtual Reality

A couple of years ago I started up Virtual Reality Working Out Loud Week to promote real-world applications of virtual reality.

The inaugural #VRwolweek unearthed 20 real-world examples of the emerging technology, and the enduring popularity of that blog post tells me that we are hungry for more.

Loath to disappoint, I hereby present 25 more real-world examples of virtual reality, drawn from this year’s and last year’s events. I thank everyone who contributed to the following list.

A virtual hand grabbing a virtual drumstick.

  • Kicking off with the Colonel, it would be remiss of me to omit KFC’s virtual escape room The Hard Way. Widely criticised for its evil genius paradigm, I urge us to appreciate the game’s otherwise authenticity. If used as a primer for training in real life, then it’s an engaging example of setting up an employee for success.
  • Anchor Construction uses virtual reality to train its construction workers, while UPS uses it to train its truck drivers.
  • South Wales Fire and Rescue uses interactive 360° video to train its new recruits on extricating a casualty from a road traffic incident.
  • The Dutch Fire Department uses 360° video to teach the public how to react in case of an emergency, while on the other side of the flames in Australia FLAIM Trainer combines VR with haptics and heat-generating clothing to immerse firefighters in realistic situations.
  • In Africa, Meet the Soldier aims to increase empathy among warring cattle farmers, while Cisco and Dimension Data are helping save the rhino.
  • This charming Kiwi uses 360° video to record pov tutorials for mobile productivity apps. “See the apps and devices in action, in the context of where we work, live and play.”
  • A group of middle school students has used 360° photos to create a virtual tour of Fort Vancouver, while the Chatham Historic Dockyard Trust uses 360° video to take you on a tour of their Age of Sail galleries.
  • This Australian agency creates virtual tours and visualisations for the mining, architecture and tourism industries.
  • Have you ever wondered how a self-driving car senses the world around it? Wonder no more with the Waymo 360° experience.
  • Emmy Award winner for Outstanding Innovation in Interactive Storytelling, Pearl is a beautiful 360° animation that heralds the future of narrative.
  • Virtual reality isn’t new to gamers, but now it’s social. Check out Evasion and Poker VR.
  • I’m continually amazed at what can be achieved with CoSpaces Edu, such as the Virtual Reality Learning Lab’s uber cool reboot of Frogger. And while we’re going retro, have a laugh at Mario in real life.
  • Topshop allows their customers to ride a virtual waterslide over the black cabs and double-deckers of central London.
  • SeaWorld hybridises the real world with the virtual. Patrons of The Kraken Unleashed ride a rollercoaster while wearing VR headsets that plunge them into the abyss.It reminds me of Batman Adventure at Australia’s Movie World back in 1992, when we all sat on moveable seats in front of a big screen simulating the batplane screaming through Gotham City.A rollercoaster ramps the immersion up a few notches, to say the least, and I can see why it’s the perfect vehicle for a pre-recorded experience because the timing is precise.
  • In Norway, Audi lets you test-drive their new Q5 in a giant virtual sandbox. It took me a while to work out the prospective customer would dig the racetrack in a real sandbox, which was then scanned and transformed into virtual reality. It’s a modern-day twist on Daytona USA presumably intended to attract the Amazon generation in-store to be worked over by the sales reps.Incidentally, I see the clever Scandi’s have now moved on to Augmented Reality with the Quattro Coaster app, which lets you build a road and drive a mini car on it in your living room.
  • VR needn’t have an Audi-sized budget to be effective for marketing. A product manager in the medical industry created a WebVR experience to promote the hi-tech material in her range of surgical gowns. Given her name you may deduce I know this person, so I can tell you this impressive project was done on a shoestring.
  • Finally, these other examples of virtual reality in healthcare – for autism, disability and pain management – must surely turn the most ardent of sceptics.

Hugo Gernsback wearing his teleyeglasses.

Oh how far we’ve come since Hugo Gernsback strapped on his teleyeglasses back in 1968. Long may this wonderful technology continue to evolve!