In the world of corporate training, hardware is a complicated issue. Training departments are reliant on IT and other departments to make hardware decisions. Training managers adjust their strategies according to the hardware purchases, processes, and policies required by the business. Only in very rare instances do training departments buy specific hardware to support training programs. In the past it was as simple as filling a training room with computers, monitors, keyboards, mice, projectors, and connectivity. Things aren't so simple anymore.
Not only do your employees often come with their own devices, but in the hyper-connected world of the Internet of Things, just about everything becomes an input/output (I/O) device. You may read about this in the news, but events like CES, showcase the realities of the not so distant future of hardware and the emerging dominance of software. As hardware becomes cheaper, smaller, and more powerful, software is becoming smarter, faster, and given a voice. Your credit card has a chip, your employee badge opens doors, your fingerprint unlocks your smartphone and your laptop. The Internet of Things is really more about the Internet, the software, than it is about the "things."
Software runs the tiny pieces of hardware, but it also runs applications in the cloud that connect to that hardware. Software runs everything. The "Things" are getting smarter because software is getting smarter. Software is beginning to understand context by analyzing hundreds, thousands, millions and even billions of data points. Since the things have connectivity they can send that data to other devices, or into the cloud where larger systems can analyze the data and give it meaning. It all depends on what you need software to "understand". That output determined by those data points is what helps you get better at what you do. And that's where it will impact training, learning, and performance. What happens when even the simplest devices get higher tech?
When Course Hammers Begin to Treat Every Business Nail
As a user of any modern device, we are happy the device exists to help us achieve our goal. But it's the software in that device, or sent from that device that improves how you use it. There is a famous quote tossed around the eLearning world by Abraham Maslow: "When all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail." eLearning professionals were often accused of making every training issue solvable with an eLearning solution. When famous quotes begin to make the rounds, regularly within professional conversations, you can be fairly certain of at least a small amount of truth in the statement.
Let's take a closer look at the simple hammer. It's done it's job well for centuries, and more. If you've never used a hammer to drive a nail into wood, then let me clarify that it's harder than it looks. There are many factors involved in the perfect swing. And there are MORE factors involved in each recurring swing adjusting for the results of the prior swing. A master carpenter will make this process look easy. But join the kids in the craft workshop at your local home depot and you will learn for yourself just how hard this process truly is.
Repetition is the key to success in most physical endeavors. Driving a nail with a hammer is no different. Over time you will begin to adjust your movements, tempo, strength, angle, etc. Currently the only feedback you receive is the nail bending before it's driven completely into the wood. You learn to adjust your swing of the hammer so that it hits squarely on the head of the nail. And then over time, as if by magic, the process of driving a nail into a piece of wood is now easy for you. Let's say that process took 6 months of multiple weekend projects. If the hammer could collect data based on your initial efforts and give you feedback on how to improve, you could probably cut that time to 3 months or less.
Do All Devices Need to be Smart Devices?
Is there a need for a smart hammer? Because nails are so cheap, it doesn't cost much to practice. However, I can tell you that it can be painful when failed attempts connect the hammer with your thumb while holding the nail. In the past we applied expensive technology solutions in training to situations that were expensive or dangerous to simulate. But when the cost of a small simple microchip is not much more than a box of nails, adding smarts to a hammer seems possible and likely.
And what about the interface? Maybe a button or two? What if you could talk to your hammer and it could talk back?
- Me: Hammer, how am I doing?
- Hammer: How is your thumb? Shall I contact 911 for you?
An old school tech solution might involve a USB port for data transfer. But this is when the hammer becomes TOO complex. Let's not do that.
Instead, I hope we see voice-user interface devices like Amazon's Alexa handling interactions with our smaller tools.
Me: Alexa, activate my hammer.
Alexa: Your hammer is ready for use.
<I begin working on my project and drive a few nails>
Alexa: Brent, you're doing okay. But I've cued up a YouTube video that will improve your use of the hammer which will speed up this project by 25%. Shall I play it on monitor 1 or 2?
Your hammer will still look like a hammer and work like a hammer. The only difference being that somewhere in the handle, and even the head, are sensors and processors gathering information about it's use and sending it to Alexa. Alexa is sending the data to the cloud processing and analyzing the data and determining possible responses. The doesn't adjust itself or change in any way. It just becomes an input device for other devices; no keyboard or mouse required.
The keyboard and mouse have dominated computer input since the 80's. The voice-user interface (VUI) is getting better and better, and is part of the new software tech eliminating the need for antiquated hardware tech. When technology like Alexa enters the enterprise, how will corporate training respond? Have you thought about it?
When our industry holds events like ATD TechKnowledge, DevLearn, and others, we don't have these conversations. I would be very interested in hearing from others about the future of hardware/software and new interfaces like VUI in training systems, and what they mean for learning. Is cognitive load an issue when communicating via voice with a computer? Does it matter? Could Alexa freak out and send us TOO much content?
As hardware as we know begins to disappear into other devices, and input becomes voice-driven or device driven, what does that mean for training professionals and the solutions they provide? I see face-to-face training events becoming more popular along with basic media like video, audio, and text. Interactivity will become the realm of backend systems and high end simulations in virtual spaces. And I don't see it that far into the future.