Learning Technology Is Grossly Overrated

Learning Technology Is Grossly Overrated

In a world where technology rules the day, the question should not be whether or not it is necessary, but if it is effective. I am, and always have been, a harbinger of utilizing technology for learning initiatives. However, I am also wary of how quickly new technology is deemed the “best thing ever”, particularly when it comes to training programs.

By way of example, I consider my mother. She has been a personal tutor for a little over 35 years. Most of her students come to her because they are underachieving and are in need of guidance not just on academic disciplines, but also best behavioral practices for studying, developing confidence, and multitasking. At the end of their grade school career, almost every one of her students graduates and continues on to the college of their choice (she also helps with the application process, and appears to have a knack for it). By all measurable statistics, their “job” performance as a full-time student is a success.

Oh, and she does all this without any of the modern learning technology, just a pen and some paper.

This made me wonder: just how effective is learning technology? Is the emergence of new players in our field the result of truly a better way?  My mother’s success over her career would suggest otherwise, but why?

The way I see it, my mother’s students experience success in their “jobs” because they have internalized their learning, and when learning is internalized it is more likely to have an effect on behavior. Internalization is the twin of motivation. The students are motivated to succeed. Some may be motivated by getting better grades, others by getting into the college of their choice, and others perhaps just to get their parents off their back. Regardless of the reason, there is a motivation. Motivated students place themselves into a culture where “job improvement” is the norm, and because of this it becomes the expectation.

There are cases where the student is not motivated. Their parents “assigned” them learning (in the form of tutoring session with mother) because they were worried about their child’s performance. Sound familiar? How often have employees been assigned learning by their employers? In most cases, the usual response is not a positive one. In the context of tutoring, my mother almost always wins over the students, but it takes work - it takes the teacher that has enhanced learning, not the technology.

In the corporate world, we cannot expect our technology (i.e. eLearning) to win over students that have been forced to learn. The employer is the teacher and must work to create a culture of continuous learning and improvement in order to make it the expectation.  Purchasing “the next best thing” in training and expecting to see a positive ROI, by any definition, is a recipe for disaster. Just like the child whose parents forced him into tutoring, it is going to take immense effort from the teacher to win them over.

Am I saying that learning technology doesn't have a place in today’s training environment? Absolutely not. I am suggesting that relying just on the technology and expecting positive measurable results is rather naive. Companies need to be educated on how they can create a culture of learning, not sold on gizmos and gadgets.