Technologies that will shape the future of workplace learning

learning technologies that will shape the future of workplace learning

Over the last 30 years there have been some momentous changes to the way that people learn and use technology for learning. In the early 1990’s approximately 4% of organisations were using some form of e-learning, today that’s nearer to 90%1. No one knew what a Learning Management System (LMS) was in the early 90’s as the first one, Blackboard, was launched in 1997. As businesses started to invest in this new technology online training gained momentum and today approximately 45% of people in the UK have attended an online training course for work2, and this will continue to grow as employers can evidence the benefits of online workplace learning.

The first real change in the type of device used for accessing online training came about in around 2010, when the Apple iPad was launched. Around the same time, we saw the early smart phones being used for learning, with some of the early adopters who created online learning creating mobile friendly versions of their courses. In 2013 the release of Google Glass really sparked the interest in the potential of wearable technology for learning, and led to researches exploring how augmented reality (AR) glasses could be used to enhance learning experiences, such as providing real-time information and interactive simulations.

So we can see that technology advancements have historically impacted the way we’ve learnt, but what does the future look like? Well, it’s certain that learning will take place on a wide range of advanced devices, each tailored to specific training needs and environments. Let’s take a look at some of the key devices that will likely shape the future of learning:


  1. Wearable Technology isn’t new, smartwatches and fitness bands have been used for monitoring physical activity for many years, but wearable technology hasn’t become a mainstream learning device, for reasons such as:
    • The cost has meant that they have been too expensive for the majority of organisations and learners.
    • Practicalities; they are often bulky and uncomfortable, and have a limited battery life, not great for more lengthy training sessions.
    • There has been a lack of quality training content that is specifically designed for wearable devices.
    • Integration of wearable devices for learning into existing organisational learning and development processes is challenging and requires a lot of effort.
    • Devices have had technical limitations, which has meant quality content doesn’t run as it has been designed to do so, giving learners a poor learning experience.

      However, as technology evolves and addresses existing challenges, we can expect to see more innovative and impactful applications of wearables in the future, such as:

    • Smart glasses, for example Meta’s Ray-Ban Meta Wayfarer smart glasses, which use voice commands to capture memories, make calls, send messages, listen to music and much more, will offer massive potential for learning. When we consider Augmented Reality (AR) overlays for training content, offering fully interactive and immersive learning through the glasses, the potential is endless.
    • Virtual Reality (VR) Headsets, such as the Meta Quest 3, Sony PS VR2 or the Apple Vision Pro, offer fully immersive learning with the ability to simulate real-world scenarios creating a powerful learning experience. They can create highly detailed and realistic environments, allowing learners to practice their skills and procedures in a safe, controlled setting. For example, simulations of virtual meetings, presentations, or customer interactions, allowing learners to practice communication, teamwork, and conflict resolution skills in a realistic setting.
    • The additional benefits of VR headsets is that they are cost effective, reducing the need for physical training spaces, travel expenses and specialised equipment. VR training programmes are easily scalable to deliver them to large numbers of learners across the globe. Due to the immersive experience of VR, learning is more engaging and enjoyable, resulting in a higher motivation to learn and knowledge retention rates.

  2. Tablets and Phablets (a mobile device combining the size formats of smartphones and tablets) have not been as popular in the world or work, for learning, as they have in education. They were used in business as early as 2010 for basic tasks such as taking minutes in meetings, communication and the showcasing of products, but for learning they didn’t really make a massive impact. Now they are used quite extensively in sectors such as hospitality, design and healthcare, and they are essential tools for remote workers, offering great portability. Will we see an increase in their use for learning over the next 5 years? Well possibly, when VR increases in online training, and even with the technological advancements and increased screen size of smartphones, a tablet is the preferred viewing size.

  3. Hybrid and 2-in-1 laptops combine the functionality of laptops and tablets, such as the Microsoft Surface Pro, and offer flexibility and capability for businesses and those undertaking learning. The touchscreen and stylus are ideal for handwritten notes and annotating documents, or training screenshots. They have a long battery life making them popular with mobile workers, and are durable, withstanding the rigors of the workplace. For those wanting to switch between workplace tasks and learning activities, they offer a good solution, so I’m sure we are going to see their continued use, but probably not an increase for learning.

  4. Smartphones are continuing to improve as a device for learning and will continue to do so, as learning professionals increasingly look for new ways to make online learning immersive and engaging. Their increased processing power and high-resolution screens, which enhance the viewing experience, can handle complex applications, multitasking and augmented reality. This makes them ideal for course developers to create online courses that embrace technologies such as Augmented Reality, (AR) are fully mobile responsive and offer a convenient device for microlearning. The smartphone will increasingly enable learners to access 3D, immersive AR generated learning at the point of need, whether that’s at their desk or when taking a break in a service station.

    Of course, learning can take place through informal methods, rather than formal training sessions or courses, for example, learning from others via online messaging, collaboration, video conferencing and platforms such as YouTube. Smartphones make informal learning available 24/7 and with the availability of assistive technology and language support, it makes learning accessible to the 98% of 16-24 year olds and 86% of 55-64 year olds who own a smartphone in the UK5.

    IoT enabled devices

  5. IoT (Internet of Things) enabled devices have been rapidly advancing and will continue to do so, driven by technological innovations and the increasing demand for interconnected systems in various industries. An IoT-enabled device is a physical object, in fact all those devices we’re covering here, including wearable smart shoes! Yes, smart shoes exist and use body-tracking technology that records movement. Other IoT devices include fridges, light bulbs and TVs. In learning and development IoT-enabled projectors and smart whiteboards transform training rooms and workshops into environments that facilitate collaboration and delivery of multimedia-rich content.

    AI (Artificial Intelligence), ML (Machine Learning) and the development of a wide variety of sensors can collect a diverse range of data, essential for creating sophisticated IoT solutions. Along with enhanced security protocols and encryption methods IoT devices are now better protected from cyber threats, something that has been a barrier to engagement by some. So we will see a rapid increase in all types of IoT devices for learning.

  6. Robotics are already being used in many industries, due to the rapid development of Artificial Intelligence (AI), machine learning, and sensor technology. Around 30,000 ‘Lucki’ Robots, a service robot powered by AI, are working as supermarket promo robots and food delivery robots in restaurants like McDonald’s6. The logistics industry is using robots to stack warehouse shelves and pick stock to meet customer orders. To deliver hands on skills training, robots are teaching engineers to weld7, healthcare practioners patient care procedures8 and construction workers safety procedures9.

    Robots are very likely to transform how we learn in the future, learning themselves from interacting with us, observing us, being given data to analyse or being programmed, to provide personalised learning, contextualised to the employee’s role and required knowledge and skill development.

  7. Holographic Displays are an exciting new development in the workplace, education and learning and development, providing a fully immersive and interactive experience. To see how holographic devices allow students and teachers to experience holographic learning techniques at the highest level take a look at:

    Holographic displays are gaining traction in businesses to provide life-sized, 3D projections which don’t require a headset, for example Interactive Hologram Kiosk to Selfridges in London. We’re also seeing early adopters in education, for example The University of Southern California (USC) recently added hologram technology to their international hub for arts, technology, and business. 

    Holographic displays are revolutionising training, providing simulated environments that replicate real-world scenarios, such as customer interactions, emergency responses, and machinery operation. Two industries that are embracing holographic displays are healthcare and engineering, to teach complex procedures.

  8. Smart desks with built in technology were invented in around 2010. These desks offered built-in features like wireless charging, USB ports, and cable management systems. In 2020 we saw the first smart desks with AI and app integrations that offer:
    • Built in touchscreen
    • Bluetooth and wifi connection
    • Activity tracking to monitor sitting and standing time
    • Posture correction
    • Environmental controls to change the lighting and temperature
    • Productivity tools such as task management and collaboration apps

      As smart desk technology develops, we’re likely to see more physical well-being features, for example a voice telling us we need to take a break or move around. Accessibility features will include voice activated commands and customisable interfaces. The next step will be to deliver byte sized learning at the point of need, based on questions posed by the individual or sent to the smart desk by a manager observing applied skills. The opportunity to deliver personalised learning just when required is extremely powerful.

  9. Brain-Computer Interfaces (BCIs), enable direct communication between the brain and computers, by interpreting neural activity and translating it into commands that control computers or other devices. We’ve seen their use with an individual with paralysis, enabling them to regain precise control of a limb.

    The future of learning

    It is early days for this technology, and there are many challenges, including the ethical perspective, however it’s possible that in the future we will see BCIs controlling more and more devices which could mean a revolutionary change to the way we learn, particularly for those with a disability.

The future way we learn will undoubtedly be driven by technology advancements and we will be using quite different devices to the ones we are using today. However, the aims for the use of these devices will not change; we will still aim to offer learning that is more engaging, interactive, immersive and personalised, that equips learners with the skills and knowledge they need to thrive in an increasingly complex and interconnected world. In this complex and interconnected world we can be certain that sophisticated learning devices will enable us to train employees better, faster, more safely and in great numbers, but technology will never be able to replace the human mind.

Author: Carolyn Lewis

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