The Disconnect Between Technology and People

It’s no secret that the bulk of the research and webinars I do are centered on learning technology. I’ve been studying learning technology for the better part of a decade and a majority of the work we do here at Brandon Hall Group is focused on technology. I think we can agree, I talk about technology a lot. This week at the Fall CLO Symposium, put on by Chief Learning Officer, technology was once again front and center. I participated in a panel discussion on Learning in the Machine Age. But this time around, something was different.

learning technologyWhether in a keynote, a panel, or an informal discussion at a lunch table, talk of technology almost inevitably turned back to people. Given the speed with which technology advances and how every bright shiny object is even brighter and shinier than the last, we very often lose sight of the very thing the technology is designed for: people. Geoff Colvin, Editor at Large of Fortune, and author of Humans are Underrated, spoke at length about whether we’ve gone too far with technology. With driverless cars and autonomous robot surgeons, what is left for people?

Essentially, what we are going to see, and rather soon, is a new and widening skills gap. These skills are not going to be things like robot technician or algorithm programmer, but much, much softer. A premium will be placed on human skills – things like collaboration and human interaction, the “magic” that happens when people are together, face to face. Not only will these skills be in demand simply because a machine can’t do them, they will be in short supply because we are training them right out of people.

Think about it. Most of the technology we are experiencing is supposedly designed to keep us more “connected,” yet it is doing the exact opposite. We no longer have to talk to someone because we can text. We don’t have to get teams together because they can collaborate virtually. We don’t need to visit family members because Facebook keeps us up to date.

This is the real threat of the Millennials coming into the workforce. It’s not that we don’t have the social, mobile and contextual technology they crave. It’s that some will have no idea how to act in a room full of other people. In the land of the blind, the man with one eye is king. We’re reaching a point where the first person to look up from their phone and say hi could be CEO.

Far-fetched? Perhaps, but the need for more focus on people is real. It’s not like we aren’t aware that technology often does the exact opposite of what we want. If we added up all of the free time we were supposed to get thanks to technology since the advent of the spinning wheel, there would be 30 hours in a day and we could sleep for most of them. Yet, no one has any more free time than they did before. In fact, we have less.

So yes, this technology evangelist does acknowledge a point of diminishing returns. In fact, almost any time I’ve spoken about technology, it’s usually less about the technology itself, but rather about the human concepts underneath it. So the focus needs to be on these things – connection, communication and collaboration.

David Wentworth, Principal Learning Analyst, Brandon Hall Group

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