Mark Harrison.

Offering predictions are fun because you can do in the fairly safe knowledge that no one will remember them. So you can say what you like because you’ll never be held to account for them.


So I was delighted to discover that, about this time six years ago, Mark Harrison – formerly of Epic and now of Kineo – offered his predictions for learning technologies in 2012. He was speaking at a meeting of the eLearning Network – now known by the acronym, ‘eLN’.


Taking as his guide Simone Weil’s comment that ‘the future is made of the same stuff as the present’, Harrison commented that this means that the future is around us now. We just haven’t seen it. He said – and, remember, he was speaking in the distant days of 2006:  “New technologies are at the heart of most of the ways in which we learn today. That’s because it’s informal learning that relies on all these technologies.”


He went on to predict that some of the key influences over the use of technology in learning in 2012 would be:

  • Unnecessary travel will lead to ‘poor PR’ because of the need to be ‘eco-friendly’ as well as incurring high travel costs (because of ‘greenhouse gas taxes’).
  • Vendors who are promoting workflow learning gave up speaking to those in learning and development departments some six years ago [ie in 2006] and are now dealing with IT departments.
  • Company intranets provide information that people need to do their jobs.
  • People can do all the learning they want through virtual classrooms, coaching and so on.
  • There is embedded e-learning.
  • E-tutoring and short, sharp visits to virtual classrooms are facilitated by those people who didn’t retire at 65 but stayed on as ‘company mentors’.
  • Wikis never made it because they were too complicated.
  • Blogs were too rambling and everyone had one.
  • But document sharing via a company-wide information base caught on.
  • Podcasts are used – and many are automatically transcribed.
  • Team learning is still used but there is no learning department. In each part of the company, there are performance improvement managers.
  • Specialised e-learning and workshops are still provided but 85 per cent of the content is generated by people in the company. The results are sometimes ugly but they are always useful.
  • More managers than ever are setting up and facilitating learning programmes for their teams.


Comment: Maybe Simone Weil has a point because Harrison wasn’t too far off in his predictions. The tough economic times have, among other things, forced up the price of fuel so we’re not only being ‘greener’ by not travelling so much, we’re also keeping costs down. This has depressed the market for instructor-led training and fostered technology-delivered learning.


Just in case you’re wondering, workflow learning was a term coined by Jay Cross and refers to ‘contextual, short pieces of learning, accessed when needed, that result in continuous improvement of performance for the user’. In a way, Harrison was right again – but mainly because, thanks to today’s economic challenges, learning and development departments don’t have the budget to talk to learning technology vendors.


And, ah, the happy days when people in the UK could retire at 65! Again, Harrison wasn’t far off on points three to six inclusive. There has been strong growth in informal learning and performance support, delivered via technology.


He was right again about wikis – but not (yet) about blogs, thank goodness.


His final points – which deal with taking control of learning content development and delivery away from the learning and development professionals – have been supported by the growth in the use of rapid authoring tools and the reduced headcount among in-house L&D professionals.


So, in those days, you really did hear it first at the eLN.