Steve Wheeler is Associate Professor of Learning Technologies at Plymouth University, in South West England. Originally trained as a psychologist, he has spent his entire career working in media, technology and learning, predominantly in nurse education (NHS 1981-1995) and teacher education (1976-1981 and 1995-present). He is now in the Plymouth Institute of Education, at the Faculty of Arts and Humanities.
In your opinion what is the biggest anxiety within the world of learning and development at the moment?
There are many anxieties and stresses, but probably the one that is exercising the minds of educators and trainers alike right now is the problem of testing. is becoming increasingly problematic. Whichever sector you work within it’s likely that you will be under pressure to demonstrate the effectiveness of your programme of study. Teaching to the test has become a common struggle. When testing and exams are on the horizon – particularly the high stakes tests – all of the teacher’s and learners’ energy goes into learning how to take the test. The related content is rote learnt so that it can be used during the test. At the end of the test, the content is largely forgotten, but the student knows how to take a test. This has a knock on effect to other areas such as compliance training, especially the electronic page turning that we see endemic in large companies. Employees rote learn the content so they can get a score on multiple choice questions that ensures they don’t have to return to the programme and try again. Exactly how much of the content is remembered is a moot point. The score is all that matters, because it means the employee has ‘passed the test’ and doesn’t have to repeat the experience. I think the entire system of testing from primary school up to L&D needs a complete rethink.
Who or what is informing your thinking around L&D?
There are several key people I currently follow in this field, including Andrew Jacobs – who has a refreshingly deviant approach to L&D that aligns with my own! – Donald Taylor, who is doing some tremendously innovative work in bringing networks of professionals together, and Donald Clark, whose somewhat cynical and anarchic approach to debunking learning myths and holy cows really appeals to me. I think we can learn a lot (albeit different things) from each of these. There are also a number of colleagues on the other side of the pond whom I respect, including David Kelly (who is a really creative thinker around new technologies in L&D) and Amy Burvall (an educator in Hawaii) who has pioneered the use of video to teach history (See the History Teacher channel on YouTube). Joyce Seitzinger on Australia is doing some sterling work around encouraging teachers and academics to get involved in new and digitally rich learning environments. All of these people are creative thinkers, are innovative on their various approaches, and each deserves a lot of kudos for the trails they are blazing.
What is the most exciting innovation on the horizon for learning?
There are too many to mention in one single post such as this. However, the rich combination of mobile and personal devices, social media, and apps that extend our capabilities such as sensing tools, augmented reality and biometric tools, will transform our learning on the job needs.
What “game changers” would you like to see and why?
I would like to see more gamification in the industry especially around aspects such as compliance training. We learn by making and we learning by doing, and it’s no longer sufficient for learners to sit and receive information passively. Getting them engaged at various levels, including games playing and gamified contexts will in the long run be much more effective. Companies such as Sponge UK (on my own doorstep here in Plymouth) are forging ahead with this kind of approach, using a combination of gamified content, cartoons and animation as well as interactive content, to transform the online training concept.
What do you think the world of L&D will look like by 2020?
It’s hard to predict a year down the road, let alone 5! If I’m pressed, I would say that the future of L&D will be threefold: We will have a lot more mobile learning, which can take place also at any time and at the pace of the learner. This leads into more personalised learning, where people will choose not only the pace and place of their learning, but also how and what they learn. Bespoke curricula and courses, possibly from a huge bank of content will be created for individuals through a combination of sentiment tracking (user’s previous behaviour), recommender systems and crowd sourcing (the user’s network of contacts), and intelligent filtering (machine intelligence). Finally, learning will become even more social. It has to really, because people are the greatest asset any company can have.
What advice would you give your 21 year old self?
Take every opportunity that comes your way, because you may never get the chance again!
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