Friday, 19 September 2014

The Technological Acceleration

It's well known that we're living in a world full of technological change.  Most of us can look over our own lifetimes and see a remarkable change - for me I remember my first computer (ZX81 - thanks Sir Clive) and a wobbly 16kb additional memory pack, my record player that could play both sides of the record without turning over, my Philips original CD player, my Betamax video recorder and various other things that have advanced over my (relatively) short time on the planet.  In fact if you look back over the last few hundred years you won't see a gradual list of change; from the industrial revolution in the early 19th century to the massive scientific gains (communication, nuclear, birth of the internet) in the 20th century to the start of the 21st century.  In fact, this century is only just over a decade old and we've already seen an explosion in technology; led by the expansion and availability of high speed internet and the ever increasing mobility of technology - think Apple Watch and latest mobile phones.  There's a word for a rate of increase; it's acceleration.  We're a part of technological acceleration not just a fast-moving environment.
Scientifically acceleration doesn't mean fast; it means getting faster.  Of course from our relative perspective it's not quite possible to stand far enough back to see just how much things are getting faster, but look at your own lifetime.  In that relatively sort period things have come further than in any other period in the history of time of the same length.  That's not the scary thing about acceleration, the scary thing is that if left unchecked things that are accelerating get faster and faster.  If you apply a force in space to an object it accelerates (same as on earth of course), but without air to resist the acceleration it will continue to accelerate unchecked and get faster and faster and faster.  What this means to our technological world is that although 2014 may have seen some great changes (down to your computer on your wrist), 2015 will have more and you'll probably have as many changes in the first month of 2020 as we had this year.
Where does this leave learning?  If you're digging your heels in about all this learning technologies stuff and adamant that learning only takes place in a controlled environment like a classroom the chances are you're either already out of the learning world or you're heading that way soon.  Learning itself has evolved both in its theories and in its use of the technologies that are accelerating.  The issue for many organisations is that they feel they are behind the curve; no or very little elearning, no LMS or only basic functions used, no virtual classrooms, no social learning, or very little or very poor of any of that list.  In fact some organisations will use the speed of change (remember its actually accelerating) and their being behind as an excuse to actually hold fast.  Really?  The property market is racing away so the best thing I can do is not get on it?  It makes no sense to hold off from the changing world because it's changing, but what can you do?

For starters let's make sure that we're aware of what's going on and always looking for opportunities that will arise with the technological acceleration.  If we firmly fix our plans based on what was known ten years ago, or five or even two years ago we'll be unnecessarily checking our own progress.  Your strategies should not be about trying to set in stone something that's rapidly changing, but setting your attitude to how you handle that change.  For example, investing in research and development (or R&D) is no longer a luxury commodity, it's an essential part of core business.  Building R&D into all your key roles, changing your environment to one where your people are constantly on the look out for new opportunities, removing 'because that's the way we've always done it' from your workplace, looking inward, outward, forward and not just backwards.  For learning that means recognising that your learners are part of the learning too; they need to be a part of the process, part of the design of the learning, able to access 'stuff' when they want to, opening up your systems - maybe even losing a little control along the way.

If Change Managers were a necessary part of the late 20th and early 21st century, maybe Acceleration Facilitators are the necessary way ahead - that may not be a formal role (yeah, I made it up), but people with the ability to work in an accelerating world should be high on your list.  Acceleration Facilitators are not Gen X, Gen Y or any of the newfangled names we may be given for when we're born.  They're attitudinal based not upon when they started, but how they adapt to that world around them. 

My last point is that no-one knows what the future holds.  Technologically it may be fine to assume Microsoft or Apple has the next big thing lined up and we all know it will be the i-thingey this or that.  But the truth is the mass population probably don't know what the next big thing is - Facebook came from nowhere to change the lives of billions.  The good news is that the so called experts don't really know either so you're in good company.  I can speculate and I have some views of my own, but I'll probably be wrong (nothing new here).  The only thing I can tell you about the next big thing is that it will be coming soon.  Then the one after that will probably be sooner still.

Remember it's not just a fast-moving world, it's an accelerating one so being able to keep up now is no guarantee for the future, but your ability to adapt in that accelerating environment is vital.