Last month I was at DevLearn in Las Vegas. As usual for a really good conference, I left with a stretched mind and new perspectives (and, as is regrettably common in a conference, there was little about documentation, or templates, or any of the other themes that I’ve recently been discussing).
One thing that caught my eye was what seemed to be a recurring theme of technological determinism. That is, the (often unstated) assumption that technology drives culture, human events, and, in this case, the field of learning and development. Hints were present in several of the keynotes, such as David Kelly’s interview of Sophia the robot, about how artificial intelligence will transform the future; in Helen Papagiannis’s discussion of how augmented reality will shape training; even in Kate O’Neill’s discussion of the need for human-centric design when working with emerging technologies.
On the surface, this approach makes sense. In elearning in particular, and in training in general, we work within technological structures—websites, learning management systems, learning record stores, development tools. Even in-person training can be seen to be shaped by technology, whether it’s the software we used to create content or the projector we use to show it.
Using technology to design and deliver training, though, doesn’t mean that technology drives learning and development. It doesn’t mean, for example, that we passively live in the world that artificial intelligence creates. People, after all, are the ones who create technology to achieve particular ends, whether profit, service, or training.
This human-driven idea of training was present in the conference as well. A session on good storyboards might have been solely about the software used to create them, but instead turned into a discussion on how to work effectively with stakeholders. A session comparing elearning authoring tools discussed how to use the technology; guiding the discussion, however, was the desire to manipulate the process to develop effective training.
Instead of technology shaping the world we live in, it may be more accurate to say that it’s people—their needs, wants, and business decisions—that are driving technology; both what artificial intelligence is, and how it might be implemented; what augmented reality is, and how it should be deployed.
At DevLearn, thousands of people got together to disprove the idea that technology determines what we do. Instructional designers, instructors, training managers, software developers, vendors, elearning programmers, and project managers gathered, fundamentally, to figure out how to create and shape the technology needed to help people do what they need to do—and do it in the best way that they possibly can.
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