Digital Transformation of Our World

Steve Wheeler writes, below are some thoughts ahead of his presentation at Learning Live 2019:

I have been invited to speak about digital transformation of organisations for an invited audience of industry leaders, who will predominantly be drawn from Learning and Development and Human Resources departments. They will be on the look out for new ideas, trends to watch and insight into what to do to prepare for rapid and irreversible changes that are happening in industry over the next few years.

My thinking is always shaped by the writings of others in the field, and one book that has exercised my mind in recent weeks was written by Thomas Siebel. In Digital Transformation (Siebel, 2019) Siebel uses the theory of evolution as an analogy for the current disruptions we see across the business world. He particularly draws on the work of biologist Stephen Jay Gould, whose New Scientist article Punctuated Equilibrium hypothesised about the periods of disruption and stasis that have occurred over the history of our planet (Gould, 1982). In essence, punctuation is an event, or a series of events, that causes a disruption in the normal equilibrium of life. Such events (one example is the Yucatan peninsula meteor strike that supposedly wiped out the dinosaurs) create chaos and then establish a new order, and the subsequent change brings about new life or speciation. In the case of the meteor strike, there was a mass extinction and speciation in which dinosaurs ultimately gave way to mammals.

Siebel claims that we are in a similar mass extinction event right now, where businesses are struggling to cope with the rapid and irreversible changes that are taking place due to new and emerging digital technologies. He cites several cases of well established industries that suddenly disappeared, because they did not adapt quickly enough to the changing environment. He also lists a number of companies who have emerged in a new speciation of business, because they are more agile in coping with and exploiting the affordances of new, connected technologies.

As with biological evolution, where long periods of stasis are punctuated with rapid speciation events, Thomas Siebel points out that in the past, long periods of equilibrium occurred between transformational events such as the introduction of new inventions or radical ideas. He argues that in the digital age, these periods are lessening in length, while disruptive punctuations are occurring with increasing regularity. He predicts that the four key technologies that will shape the future of our world are Artificial Intelligence, Cloud Computing, the Internet of Things and Big Data.

It is on this basis that my presentation will be founded. I will argue that for organisations to succeed, they will need to learn to rapidly adjust to new conditions, anticipate new trends, and be agile enough to respond quickly, to keep ahead of the competition, to survive and thrive. The best, and only future proof way to succeed is to maintain a knowledgeable and flexible work force who are digitally ready to respond quickly to the rapid changes as they happen (and in the best cases, to actually cause those changes to occur). Learning and Development professionals within each organisation will thus play major roles as change agents and each work force will need to become digitally literate in many new and varied skills. I’m looking forward to discussing these ideas with my audience at Learning Live.

About the author – Steve Wheeler:

Steve is a Learning Innovations Consultant and former Associate Professor of Learning Technologies at the Plymouth Institute of Education where he chaired the Learning Futures group and led the Computing and Science education teams. He continues to research into technology supported learning and distance education, with particular emphasis on the pedagogy underlying the use of social media and Web 2.0 technologies, and also has research interests in mobile learning and cybercultures.

He has given keynotes to audiences in more than 35 countries and is author of more than 150 scholarly articles, with over 6000 academic citations. An active and prolific edublogger, his blog Learning with ‘e’s is a regular online commentary on the social and cultural impact of disruptive technologies, and the application of digital media in education, learning and development. In the last few years it has attracted in excess of 7.5 million unique visitors.

See Steve Wheeler LIVE when he takes part in Learning Live – simply click here for further information.

Gould, S. J. (1982) “Punctuated Equilibrium—A Different Way of Seeing. New Scientist 94 (Apr. 15): 137-139.
Siebel, T. M. (2019) Digital Transformation: Survive and Thrive in an Era of Mass Extinction. New York: Rosetta Books.

Photo by Markus Spiske on unsplash


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