In the cloud on any device: A look into the future of learning technology

SAP’s Duncan Williamson looks at how cloud and mobility will drive a radical shift in learning technology, offering huge gains in IT education.

When I first started working in the corporate world, workforce training involved traditional instructor-led classes with textbooks and poster boards. Everyone had to be in the training at the same time and the material was standardised throughout the company. What worked 20 years ago, and even five years ago, is now just a part of what training can look like in our social, mobile and networked business environment. Thanks to cloud computing and mobile technology, teaching and learning processes are changing dramatically to fit the way people work today.

Modern corporate learning challenges

Learning is a complex process, and despite what our school teachers wanted us to believe, it isn’t always fun. That’s why training organisations are developing new types of training programs – programs that are engaging, relevant and convenient and deliver immediate as well as long-term rewards. Training organisations know that if they can engage employees in productive training, there will be a strong benefit to their bottom line. US companies alone made investments of more than $156 billion in employee learning in 2011. In addition, every dollar spent on training yields an approximate 15 per cent gain in productivity. Still, a growing number of companies cite an IT skills gap as negatively impacting productivity, indicating more work needs to be done.

Learning with cloud and mobile technology

Some of the new gains in IT education are coming in the form of cloud- and mobile-based learning. These offer greater flexibility for busy employees, with round-the-clock access to courses from any location, no buying or installing of software or hardware, and a large space to store data that makes it easier for workers to actively engage in training.

Significant improvements in technology, explosive growth in smartphone adoption, the lowering total cost of ownership, and the emergence of strong cloud- and mobile-based learning tools, as well as success stories from early adopters, make this an opportune time for any company to add cloud- and mobile-based learning strategies to the mix.  

Studies show flexible learning options pay off

According to a 2011 survey of US companies by Unisfair, 60 per cent of respondents said they plan to increase spending on ‘virtual events and environments’, and 42 per cent of the companies surveyed use virtual environments for employee training. Additionally, nearly 70 per cent of the respondents in a recent survey by E-Learning 24/7 cited mobile learning as an essential component for their learning management system (LMS) platforms.

SAP has experienced this through projects involving cloud and mobile technology in the SAP Learn Now mobile app, SAP eLearning, Virtual Live Classrooms, and SAP E-Academy. Of particular significance in this area has been SAP Learning Hub, our cloud offering which lets companies give their workforce 24×7 access to the latest training materials for all SAP solutions. These mobile and online courses complement tried-and-tested classroom-based training, allowing users to improve or maintain their skills by building online and mobile learning into their schedules. From my own personal experiences in learning, I can tell you that having this flexibility to determine what, where and when you want to learn is incredibly helpful. It also significantly lowers the overall cost of learning, with the opportunity cost being much lower, if not zero.

Future of learning technology

Looking to the future, we see a couple of trends taking shape. While still very popular, the growth rate of eLearning is slowing (9.2 per cent), while the growth rate for mobile learning is speeding up (22.7 per cent). In addition, we predict an increase of contextual and social learning – programs that will, for example, integrate just-in-time learning and education into applications as people use them, bringing the power of education and understanding to employees at each phase of an application’s lifecycle, not just at the time of implementation.

Changes in learning technology will reflect the way the IT landscape is shifting. Organisations now widely use social tools, video platforms, and knowledge-sharing as a major part of their training infrastructure, as they do in other areas of their business. Additionally, out-of-the-box learning techniques such as gamification are emerging in training and are drastically transforming training models.

Gamification refers to the application of game design and game mechanics to non-game scenarios. The introduction of gaming concepts into business, and in particular learning, can drive commitment, engagement and enthusiasm from employees, improving retention and performance. I’m a huge fan of this trend since it gives workers a great understanding of solutions while also being fun, and believe it will continue to be adopted as a training strategy in more businesses. This active approach to learning will continue to shape corporate education, and companies adopting next-generation learning methods stand to reap significant benefits.

Although gamified programs and mobile and cloud-based learning will not completely replace traditional classroom education any time soon, these methods can have an instant impact on companies by providing training in flexible, easy-to-use formats for today’s dynamic workforce.  

Duncan Williamson is vice president and head of education, SAP Asia Pacific Japan. This article was first published in the Inside SAP Yearbook 2014.

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