Donald Clark has been creating and writing about all types of learning for over 30 years. His popular blog features a mix of learning theories and modern technology.
We spoke to Donald about some of the tech trends in online learning and how they’re going to affect every aspect of workplace learning.
What do you think are the opportunities for AI in learning?
Let's start with the opportunities, because I think those two letters, AI are terribly important. Google, Facebook, Amazon, Apple - everyone's bought into the idea that AI will be the underlying technology that will make things work in the future.
As a learner you use AI all the time, when you search on Google, nothing but AI. Social learning on Facebook and Twitter is AI-driven on your timeline. Buying a book on Amazon? You're nudged by AI. Watch Netflix? It's AI-driven.
So surely we learning people have something to learn from this? This will be the future, but where's the learning world? It's stuck in the world of LMSs, content, text, graphic, multiple choice questions, a bit of gamification. This is the old paradigm.
Gamification isn't going to transform learning. If anything, it may turn it into an even more condescending approach for adults, although there are some very good things about gamification. I'm a games player. My son is a game player. Good games are full of artificial intelligence. The sort of gamification we get in learning is a bit ‘hokey’ because we don't really have those skills.
But to come back to the question, I think that AI will be the fundamental technology behind learning in the future. I've got no doubt about that whatsoever, it already is in Google.
Does learning face any threats from AI?
I think we just need to get rid of the idea that AI is some sort of Terminator or Robocop robot that will murder us in our beds on one evening.
The truth of the matter is that it's much more benign than that. It's more like Google, Netflix or Amazon. It's an invisible, hand-nudging us in the right direction.
The bits of software I've been involved in deal with the creation of content. One click and AI creates the content in a way that no designer could, and literally in minutes, not months at about a tenth of the cost.
I think adaptive learning is coming, in terms of a sat-nav view of the learner, so they get a much more sophisticated learning journey through content, as opposed to the fairly flat and linear stuff that most online learning is now.
Artificial Intelligence, when you bring in the algorithms behind this stuff, start to capture learning theory and do very clever things with learners. I think that's where this is all going.
How do you think workplace learning will change as we move away from touch command to voice command computing?
Over the last couple of months, we've seen this big pendulum swing in terms of investment and marketing by the big players in the market and that's certainly true of the three big ones Amazon, Google and Apple.
So we have Amazon Echo, first into the market and a surprise hit, people actually like having a little box in their kitchen or living room and talking to it. Google follows suit. Suddenly, they’ve got Google Home, and of course the reason for this is that voice has come of age, and this is also AI.
Launched in late 2014 in the US and recently released in Europe, Amazon's Echo devices use the AI voice assistant Alexa to allow users to get information, control internet connected devices, play games or place orders using only their voice.
Google Home was announced at their developer conference in May 2016. Google leverages their already powerful AI assistant that's bundled with Android devices to offer a voice controlled home hub.
Let me go back to AI, the reason voice works is that you can understand it as either text or speech. Suddenly, once you get voice recognition above 95% efficacy and it really does understand complex sentences, you've cracked it because why would you want to type things in?
Speaking is our natural mode of human communication. We evolved to speak and communicate like this, and in learning, we've forgotten about Socrates. You know Socrates, the greatest teacher probably ever, didn't write a book, didn't have a blackboard, didn't work in a university, he talked to people.
We invented the chalkboard and suddenly every lecturer in the world turned his or her back on the audience and started scribbling things. Technology has followed that road. It's a broadcast medium and we lost dialogue.
Now, with voice, and bots, I've been playing around with that technology. You can train bots. We already have an example of a bot in Georgia Tech. Three hundred AI students - smart kids - didn't realise that one of their nine tutors was a bot. In fact, they put it up for a teaching award! So let's not imagine that this stuff's not going to affect the learning world. That would be stupid. Of course, it will and the idea that bots can't do some things that teachers do, that's laughable. It's not that difficult to stand and talk to people for an hour from a script - that's what lecturing is. They call them lecturers, if you don't think that's going to be replaced, are you kidding me?
But the best thing is the more sophisticated aspects of teaching, tutoring and training, which is real dialogue, feedback, motivation and aspiration. I think increasingly some of those components will be taken over by artificial intelligence because our brains forget things. We get hangovers; we're inattentive; we die; and we can't network. I can't transfer the knowledge I've got into your head, but two pieces of AI could do it in a millisecond.
So with networked intelligence, there's no doubt that this stuff will get better and better and better! Remember, it's machine learning so they're like super learners, and super learners become good teachers. I think there's some profound implications for AI in terms of its impact on both learning and teaching.
Our next Sponge podcast will feature the whole interview with Donald Clark and includes more on virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) in the workplace, and other emerging technologies.