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GE TV: Elliott Masie on the Future of Learning Technologies

Elliott MasieWe’ve got a whopper of a guest on this week’s episode of GE TV! The one and only Elliott Masie stopped by to share his wealth of expertise with all of your lucky viewers!

Elliott is one of the rock stars of the learning and development world, having been one of the industry’s most prominent thinkers for decades.

He heads up The MASIE Center, a think tank focused on supporting learning and knowledge within the workforce. He also leads the Learning CONSORTIUM, a coalition of 200 global organisations cooperating on the evolution of learning strategies. On top of this, Elliott runs the annual Learning conference in Orlando, which attracts some of the biggest speakers in the world!

Watch this interview to find out:

  • The most exciting areas of research at The MASIE Learning LAB
  • The current state of gamification in learning
  • Why Elliott dislikes the term ‘social learning’
  • How machine learning will transform personalised training
  • How stories and music can be used in learning
  • Where we stand in the engagement war
  • Learning technology innovations to look out for
  • What to expect from Elliott’s Learning 2016 conference

Check below the video for a full transcript.

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(0:00) Hello and welcome to GE TV! We have got a whopper of a guest for you on this week’s GE TV! The fantastic Elliott Masie is joining us.

Elliott, as you know, is one of the rock stars of the Learning and Development world, having been one of the industry’s most prominent thinkers for decades.

He heads up the MASIE Center, a think tank focused on supporting learning and knowledge within the workforce, and he also heads up The Learning Consortium, a coalition of 200 global organisations cooperating on the evolution of learning strategies.

And if that is not enough, he also runs the annual Learning conference in Orlando, which attracts some of the biggest speakers in the world.

Elliott, we are hugely excited to have you here on GE TV, thank you so much for joining us!

We thank you very much Juliette, it’s an honour to be here, and hello to everybody who’s looking from out there!

(1:10) So without further ado, let’s kick off with the first questions. Which key areas of research are currently exciting you the most at The MASIE Learning Lab?

We’re looking really at three different pieces. One of them is not going to surprise anybody, but it is how video is evolving, shifting, changing. How it’s getting in some cases virtual, and in some cases Pokémon-like. We are continually looking at that role of video as part of the learning and collaboration process.

The second piece that we’re looking at is an intriguing friend of the first one – the role of on-the-job training. We’ve become very obsessed over the years with ‘eLearning’. I get credit for helping expand that term. But when you talk to 100 employees from any country and ask them how they learned to do their job, inevitably they describe on-the-job training, although it’s not a phrase they have.

But we’re looking at what that means and how we support that.

Then the third area we’re fairly obsessed with is what learning apps may become. We’re all used to downloading an app to help us pick a restaurant or do a function or support a process. We believe that the beginning of learning apps is coming.

A learner or their organisation will suggest or get a very targeted app, that helps one person do one thing continuously a bit better.

So those are some of the areas that we’re exploring here at the Lab!

(3:06) Fantastic, I feel like I have loads of questions that I’d like to dig deeper in, but I need to move on and ask you about gamification. I know it’s high on your radar. You invited our mutual friend Karl Kapp to talk about gamification at your Learning conference in 2015.

How well do you think that the industry is utilising gamification right now, and how do you see gamification evolving in the future?

I’m a little schizophrenic on the term, because I’m a gamer. I’ve been a gamer since I was a little kid. I played chess in the park with 65-year-old retired people. And now I’m 66 years old, so I guess I was playing with some ancient version of me! I play video games. I’m a fan of crossword puzzles.

I really believe that simulation and engagement like that are enormously important.

What excites me about gamification, and our friend Karl Kapp is a big advocate, is the idea that you can take a game element and wrap it, or weave it, or Velcro it, to a learning activity without having to build out a million-dollar game. I think that’s important because at the end of the day, the employees and the stakeholders want them to do work related to learning, and not necessarily playing.

In addition, we know that there are a lot of games that are really interesting for a little while, but they might not be sustainable. So we need to build out a sustainable model.

I think the word gamification is a good interior word. It’s kind of like insulation on your house. We have a technical term to talk about it, but you don’t necessarily want to say ‘go look at that house with Bipolar 78.4 Insulation’.

I’ve not been using that word a lot externally. I’ll tell you one reason why, and Karl and I would not disagree about this. I’m not sure I want it appearing in a print newspaper story about how employees in an organisation that had some failure were trained. I’m not sure I want it to say ‘Bank X used gamification’.

I think what gamification does is it leverages game elements, competition, engagement, and some degree of getting at that emotional part of us that gets triggered when we’re in a good game. It’s powerful.

It’s still just at the beginning in terms of being large and scalable.

We start to see things like Pokémon GO. I watched these two people who I’ve known for decades. They’re not techy, they’re not gamers, and they were walking around my town and it was very clear within about four seconds what they were doing.

I wonder whether that may be a bit of a tipping point for looking at how we build in that competition, engagement in a sustainable way, without turning our learners into games, but tickling the competitive part of them.

I love that thinking, it’s really interesting. And your point about cost is particularly interesting. Certainly here in the UK there’s a perception that when you turn learning into a game, the costs are very difficult to scale, and that having a gamification strategy can only ever be part of your learning culture.

One issue I think we have to look at is that people who are truly gamers will look at the corporate workplace games and think ‘those are lame’. They’re used to operating a $10 million video game.

I thought that one of the interesting games would have been to take Angry Birds and turn into an Angry Customers game.

But find ways of getting things that are simpler and graphically less complex, that don’t require the same kind of cost, so that they can be done more agilely.

And once again, we’re at the beginning. It’s truly the infancy of this, and I’m excited about it! It’s going to add pizazz to the process of learning and knowledge acquisition.

I think that particularly in terms of that engagement piece, some of our customers that have a much younger audience, particularly with retail and things like that, it’s a lot easier to get them engaged in something which is gamified or game-based, rather than traditional learning.

So I think as you say, though we’re at the early stage of it, it’s quite exciting to see how it’s evolving and how learners are much more readily wanting to engage with learning. If it’s presented in a way that’s part of what they do naturally in life.

And I think the one thing we have to be a little careful of is leaderboards, for instance, which are quite popular now. The leaderboard is really good if you’re on that board, but it’s not so much fun if you’re not on it.

Somebody said to me ‘oh they’re doing gamification, but I’m on the bottom board’. It’s that interesting element of us competing against each other, which is one model.

The other model is where we’re competing against an aspiration. We’re not on a leaderboard showing that Juliette is better or worse than Melissa, but rather Juliette is getting towards that goal.

Some of this is design, it’s user-experience. Who was expecting Pokémon GO to blast onto the planet? But maybe it’s related to the vote in Britain and the political campaign here in the US. We all need a way of escaping a little bit. There’s probably always a context that’s out there.

(9:55) Fantastic! And again, I could talk about this all afternoon, but I need to get your thoughts on Question 3 which is all about social learning.

Now I know in the past that you’ve disliked the phrase ‘social learning’. Could you tell us a bit about why, and how would you prefer to approach it?

I little bit of credentialing. I’m probably one of the earliest facilitators of online forms. I worked at The Well as a facilitator, as a place called CompuServe that your younger viewers hear their parents talking about.

I’m a big believer that digital technology gives us a way of collaborating socially that’s powerful. There’s wonderful, decades-long research showing that learners need to be social, it’s part of their process. We go through a thing called ‘cognitive rehearsal’. I learn something and then I need to explain it to somebody else.

Where I get a little suspicious of the term ‘social learning’ is the over-simplification that if I give people a social place: a) they’ll go; b) they’ll value it; and c) they’ll learn.

Having been one of the first CompuServe board coordinators, what we found was that intriguingly the people who came and spent the most time were the angry, the annoyed and the departing. The highest-knowledge people didn’t stick around.

You look at SharePoint, an incredibly sophisticated product from Microsoft, and probably the most abandoned technology in the universe. Not because SharePoint is bad, it’s like a whiteboard, you can make it interesting or not.

But there’s been this false assumption that if I’m teaching a group of eight people something like money laundering detection in a bank, that then if I put them on Jive or Yammer or SharePoint, that something magical is going to happen. And I think that’s naïve.

I think what we need to do is not to think about ‘social learning’, where social is the describer. It’s the same reason I never use ‘mobile learning’. I’m a user of mobile devices that help me do learning, but a lot of times mobile learning was reading a course done in tiny type on a screen I couldn’t read on. Well social learning does that.

I take a different position. Let’s build a way to connect our employees with other people in and outside the organisation, with some way of detecting those that have knowledge expertise. Let’s figure out a way to create structured ways for people to learn together.

Not just sending people to SharePoint but saying that the five of you are in our money laundering programme, and you’re going to need to work together on a project and it might go much further. We’re going to give a test to all five, and nobody passes unless all five pass. Now there is powerful learning, using a social process. But it’s not defining it as time on Jive.

The worst thing was one company which said ‘We think social learning is everything!’ And their annual performance review looked at how often they went onto a SharePoint site and left a note. Well you know what happened. About one week into the process, somebody wrote a little algorithm that logged them in every day saying ‘good point! J’ and they got a really high SharePoint rating having never participated.

I’m a big believer that as learning people we should engage other learners. We should use the technology to do it. But let’s not be naïve in thinking that if we build it, they will come. If they come, they’ll learn. And if they come, they’ll stay.

I’m more of a design maniac around that. Use it well but don’t do it theatrically or symbolically.

(14:32) Very interesting. Let’s talk briefly about personalised learning. I’m interested in your opinion on the current state of personalisation within learning tech and how you see it developing.

I know that you’ve published a book on Big Learning Data, will we see more of this taking a role?

Oh, hugely! One of my colleagues and collaborative mentors in this is Sir Ken Robinson. He and I are both convinced that personalisation is a phenomenon.

Here’s the most interesting paradox. Personalisation is a phenomenon that will work because learners want it, not because our systems purport to do it. Which means that what’s happening now is that at home, the learner is involved in the personalisation of content.

Nobody really watches a lot of live TV anymore, they can do it on-demand. I very often will go an watch the last five minutes of a sporting event that I’m not really interested in, so that I can talk about it at a party that night.

On the other hand, I take some on-demand things and I marathon them. I have a friend who’s in the TV series ‘Orange is the New Black’ so I watch all 13 episodes in a marathon weekend.

I also think we’re now at a point where we have not just one, but dozens of choices for content. We can watch the video, read the PDF, listen to the podcast. So the learner is now almost overwhelmed by all of that choice.

So now the interesting question becomes ‘how does the learning get to efficiency?’ and I’m talking about the learner’s efficiency. You and I, even though we share a lot of interests, might be very different in how we learn.

Somebody may want to see a demonstration and then the conceptual level. I, on the other hand want to not touch the manual, open it up, try it, break it, fix it, and learn that way. And by the way, I’m not faster as a learner, that’s just my native approach to that.

We believe that learning is going to increasingly become personalised, covertly. The learner is doing it.

The best example is webinars. We get so excited, in an hour-long webinar people, by minute 43 are eating lunch, they’re doing an email or they’ve left. Not because it’s bad, but because they made their own efficiency. I got what I wanted from Elliott within 20 minutes, I didn’t need the next 20.

On the other hand, there’s another level of personalisation that we’re not yet seeing, but we’re about to see. I’m doing a lot of work with MIT now in machine learning, where essentially if you imagine what an online store like Amazon might do, to know what you want, buy and how you respond, and they’ll give you a unique offer that’s all about you.

There’s no LMS that does that yet. It’s sad, there ought to be. Because efficiency in learning is way more important than efficiency in sock purchasing.

But I really believe that we’re going to start to see a machine learning side of personalisation. And we don’t know if it’s going to live on the corporate computer, or on me, the learner’s computer. ‘Here’s the one thing you ought to watch, because the people you know on LinkedIn all like that video as well’. That may not be corporately given, but rather personally given.

I think we’ve got about 36 months where we’ll watch this roll out of machine learning. I think we’re going to get used to the phrase ‘recommendations’. Machines will start to recommend, not prescribe, recommend what works for you or me. And bluntly, we’ll take a look at what I don’t know well, and suggest to me either that I learn it better or that I avoid doing that.

Do not have me doing a few functions in Excel, I’m not good at a few functions. I wish they were marked out in my Excel with a warning – ‘Do not push this button, you’ll get it wrong Elliott!’

It is hugely exciting. But my view is that we won’t design personalisation as learning professionals. I’m not putting our field down, but it’s a larger phenomenon. It’s going to be in the larger world of information, and we’re going to leverage and borrow in and adapt it to our world.

Very interesting. Lots of potential I think for the functionality in terms of feature sets for LMSs and mobile applications.

(19:58) So onto something a little closer to your heart! One of your key interests in music, and in fact you’re also a Broadway producer, having been involved in the production of Kinky Boots, amongst other shows.

I’ve seen that you’ve previously talked about the power of songs in the workplace, and we’ve certainly got a couple of teammates at Growth Engineering who love a good sing-song. Have you got any thoughts about how songs can be used in learning?

A double-whammy here in a way. One, I believe that we should be calling ourselves not instructional designers, but learning producers. I love being a producer. It’s an honest thing! As a producer, I don’t write the songs, I don’t perform them, I’m not necessarily building the costumes. I’m pulling things together for hopeful or desired experience.

So I’m a producer on Kinky Boots. An American in Paris is about to come to London, a show we started in the US. In all of those shows, what we find about music is that there’s an emotional/biological reaction to it.

Just the other day, because I’m doing a theatre project at our headquarters, I brought a piano that we happened to have for different projects into a seminar room. It had nothing to do with music, I just brought it in! I put it on demo, it was one of those keyboard things.

It was playing and I said ‘by the way, we’ve got ten minutes before we get started, anybody play the keyboard?’ Well, for the rest of this programme, every break somebody came up and jammed out. The environment in that room was pretty good to begin with, but it got great!

Because we understood the emotional reaction. Years ago, people who studied neurolinguistics programming talked about how we get activated. For me when I was growing up, I remember learning vocabulary. A little TV show called School House Rock, so I learned a vowel is this, a consonant is that.

So I actually think we haven’t embraced the arts the way we could in learning. That is music, I think it’s also acting, I think it’s storytelling. We’re going to see some brain research coming out, probably in about a month, that looks at a new map of the brain. They found this one area of the brain that’s only stimulated by a story.

I think what we’re going to start to find is that our cognitive processes are impacted by the role of things other than – Nowhere do I know anybody who gets chills from watching a PowerPoint slide with eight bullets. It’s good organisation, but it doesn’t exactly get our juices going.

But how do we get the learning juices of our learners going? I think it’s from stories and music, and it even goes to memory. We memorise songs that we never sat down to say ‘let me memorise this’. They become part of our brain, just because we process that differently.

I’m a learning producer. By the way, you get promoted better if you’re a producer. Instructional designers get kept where they are. Producers, they go up in the world.

I love that thinking. With that kind of thinking, you really can change things. It’s just an immense power to get that creativity in the room, or online or wherever it is. Great thoughts, and thank you so much.

(23:56) Question number six. As an industry, are we turning the tide on the war of engagement with learners?

In the past you’ve said that you’re enormously intrigued to see what we can do to get managers more actively engaged. What’s your thoughts on where we are in the process, and what would you like to see?

I’m confused about it, I don’t know. My good colleague Marshall Goldsmith, who’s written widely about coaching and engagement, he would argue with me that he’s confused, because engagement works when it works, for the people it works with.

We sometimes confuse engagement with what we invite people to do, when really engagement is what they then choose to do with each other.

Where I do think we’re shifting, and I think technology is helping us, is to break down the barriers for collaboration. To break down the barriers to find whether there’s anyone out there who’s had that same problem.

This is the social dimension, without that phrase ‘social learning’ to it. And I do think there’s this opportunity for engagement to be woven into our curriculum.

Now here’s our dilemma. Most of our designers are not engagement rich. They are publishers by heart.

I had a great experience when I was in India visiting a programmer that was working with us, for his wedding. I was with a group of eLearning developers in Mumbai and they were excited to get together with me.

In the beginning everybody introduced themselves, and it went round the room. ‘Hi my name is X, and by the way I have a BA in English and an MA in Music’ and it went all the way around. I was confused because more eLearning is often developed in India than any place in the world, as a part of outsourcing, you all have this music and theatre background, what happened to the Bollywood that ought to be in learning?

I love Bollywood, I wish you had people on top of trains dancing! But it was interesting because what they were saying was that their clients or more likely their manager wanted to make eLearning efficient and dry.

We as a field are much better at laying out content than building engagement strategies. I hope it’s changing. And I think that some of it once again is that we need to bring new people into the process, who have a background in theatre, coaching, collaboration, I would even argue feedback.

I went to give a lecture about a year ago to a group of 25-year-olds who were about to be promoted. I asked them to give me a piece of advice they’d love to give to the older generation that you don’t have the courage to give. They said ‘cut the crap on feedback, tell me where I’m screwing up’.

They said that those guys are all psycho-babble, they would rather be told their writing stinks, or that layout sucks. In other words, tell it to us directly, so we can actually make it better.

So I actually think we might find some of this engagement by bringing people in who have a different framework.

I definitely agree with you. Fascinating insight into your experiences in India as well, very interesting. It’s a sort of polarisation on that.

(28:14) Elliott, you’ve been analysing the world of learning and development for a long time. In fact, you’re acknowledged as the first analyst to even use the term eLearning.

I know it’s a big question, but what kinds of innovations can we expect to see in the near future and a million miles and out?

I knew you’d ask me the question so I have two. One, I think we’re going to look at our phones, and once again, Pokémon GO is one element. We’re going to move away from just viewing them as small portable devices.

I find that by doing audio-based searching, things change. Imagine being able to put this on and say ‘I’ve just been hired and I’ve been told by my manager that it’s really important for us to not say no to customers’. What if we could put it on and say ‘monitor me’. Your phone is a capture device, and at the end of the day it says ‘you said no 14 times. You said no eight times to one customer’.

Now we’ve never gotten that kind of micro-feedback, and some people may feel it’s intrusive. But imagine if I could put a mini-bud in my ear, and during my first two days on the job somebody could coach me through my ear.

I think we’re going to leverage the phone dynamically. The locational areas, the capture areas.

The other piece I’m intrigued with is how we’re looking at high-value expensive VR. Facebook spent $3 billion for Oculus. Here’s a $45 device from Leap motion, you just move your hands above it an manipulate objects on the screen. I would argue that within about six months I could do it with my phone.

What that would suggest is a tactile way of playing with data more. I’d love to be invited to some boards of directors of companies. I’d love to get the spreadsheet from them and take my hands in and get at the data, in a 3D tactile format, so I think that’s coming.

Then I think there’s one more level which we’ve got to be comfortable with, and that’s that we’re not good at everything. I would love to be a good basketball player, but on the scale I’m a 1.1 on a hundred scale. And I know it! It doesn’t mean I don’t play basketball, but I know it!

I don’t think we’re always comfortable admitting and even knowing ourselves what we’re good at and what we’re not good at. I know the things I’m not good at, luckily I’m CEO so I tell my staff to prevent me, protect me or correct me.

But how do we look at skills, not as a grade from 0-100, and if you’re missing something that means you’re an 80. Rather it’s what you are. People who are single, who are dating, aren’t looking for somebody who has everything. On a dating profile you say I’m good at this, I’m not good at that, I like this, I don’t like that.

We haven’t embraced that at work, that not everybody is, wants to be, or will ever be great at everything. But we’re a community of workers in an office and we put up with or leverage each other.

So I wish we got more granular and comfortable in talking about that feedback.

And it’s interesting as well because if I think about some of our experience with corporate learning as well, they tend to focus more on the things that are around compliance rather than expertise.

So for example, innovation is a critical part of the health of any company, it’s about their future. But we don’t see many innovation programmes, we see a lot of financial compliance programmes.

I think that’s another interesting point as well. We can’t be good at everything, but we should be broadening our scope in terms of what we’re trying to get people to build good skills in.

And I guess in a way of wrapping up that conversation, we’re going to have to be engineers, because learning people are engineers.

We are teachers, we enjoy that passion of teaching, lecturing being the least interesting part of it, to assessment and coaching.

And then finally I think we are performance folk. At the end of the day, it’s nice that Joe learned that, but it’s really important that Joe makes more sales.

So we’ve got to understand that the net measure of that is not that Joe liked the course, or even that he scored well at the end, but that sales went up. Learning is an intervention to drive performance.

I think it is that combination of that, and that is why this field is so interesting.

(33:45) I could talk about that all day. Onto my final question. Learning 2016 conference, it’s just round the corner and you have announced some really incredible guest speakers!

Really excited to learn a little bit more, what can we expect?

Well we did TED talks before TED was doing TED talks, and we worked closely with the folks from TED. It’s my 26th year doing the conference, and its focus is on learning through disruptive times. These are disruptive times with world events on every level.

Our keynoters are interesting folks. We have astronaut Scott Kelly who spent a year in space and came back, and we’re going to talk about learning in space and when did he learn there, and what was that process.

To go back in history, 50 years ago was the first episode of Star Trek. And so we have another astronaut, who doesn’t fly in space, but is one of the highest frequency social media people, and that is my friend and colleague George Takei, who was Sulu in Star Trek.

We have a wonderful film-maker Tiffany Shlain, who has done a great film on character as a science and looking at character. Hers is one of the most widely viewed videos on the web. She’s going to talk to us about character and what that means.

Just the other day we announced Anderson Cooper from CNN. We’re going to be two weeks before the US election. He’s not a political person, but I’m going to interview him for an hour about what the role of breaking news is and how we’re handling that.

And then Melissa Daimler, who’s the Chief Learning Officer for Twitter. Twitter’s doing interesting things because they’re blowing up performance reviews, saying that’s not really going to work here. She’s going to talk about what learning is in high tech.

By the time this comes out we can announce it, Sanjay Sarma, who is the Head of Learning Design for MIT, is going to be there talking about brain science. And we’re going to be talking a little bit about why PowerPoints don’t work. What is it that we know about knowledge?

And then many other really exciting things. And we have a big VR learn lab, where people will get a chance to play with current and future virtual learning. Way beyond Pokémon GO!

I’d love for somebody to be able to simulate an employment interview before going on it. And maybe at the end of it they decide they’re not going to go on it, and do something more appropriate.

It’s all there, October 23-26 in Orlando, Florida, and I’m excited! I’m also going to be over in London in September, and I’m excited to be chatting with a lot of learning leaders there too. It will be an exciting year ahead.

(37:08) It certain sounds absolutely fantastic!

Well Elliott, the time has come to wrap this interview up. It’s been a really inspiring interview! I feel like I’ve learned a lot and it’s just so much to think about and ponder on. So thank you very much!

A lot of people watching this will already be following you, but for those who don’t, where can people find out a little bit more about you?

Two ways, go up to www.masie.com. I am a pretty active Twitter user with 10,000 followers and great conversations going on. It’s @emasie.

Either way, or just Google me. You’ll find mainly things that are true there, there are some other things that aren’t. But it’s okay, that’s part of the world of social media.

But thank you very much, I appreciate it Juliette, and I appreciate chatting with all of your colleagues on this TV programme.

Thank you so much Elliott, all the information’s on screen, and it comes to me again to say thank you and goodbye, and hopefully we can speak soon. Take care!

Take care.

Be sure to check out The MASIE Center’s website, and to follow Elliott on Twitter. And keep an eye out for plenty more GE TV interviews in the coming weeks!

If you’re looking to develop a learning solution which utilises gamification, social and personalised learning, then you need to build an Engagement Engine! Download our free, interactive workbook to plan out a solution which will keep any learner engaged:

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