With over 25 years of experience, Brandon Carson is an innovative learning strategist and a leader in corporate global learning. He’s also Director of Learning at Delta Air Lines and author of Learning in the Age of Immediacy: 5 Factors for How We Connect, Communicate, and Get Work Done.
In this episode of the Leading Learning podcast, Celisa talks with Brandon about what he’s seen change in the learning industry throughout his career and the five factors he believes, in aggregate, will have the most influence on learning in the coming years. They also discuss the implications and applications he sees for learning businesses around artificial intelligence and virtual and augmented reality.
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[01:19] – A preview of what will be covered in this podcast where Celisa interviews learning strategist Brandon Carson.
[02:27] – Introduction to Brandon and some additional information about his experience and work.
[04:33] – You’ve been involved in the learning industry as an instructional designer, strategist, and leader for more than 25 years at this point. What changes have you seen during that time? Challenges and opportunities? Brandon says it has been an interesting evolution over the last 25 years because he started in the industry before the Internet unfolded. One of the biggest transformations he’ seen has been in the speed of what we do—the speed of business, how we produce learning solutions, and how we effectively support workers in the workplace. The positive aspect of this change has been leveraging technology and more design thinking so that we have a better understanding of what happens in the workplace and can be more connected and agile in helping people with meaningful solutions. Brandon says there has been a big change in what it now means to be a learning professional (in terms of speed and the artifacts, tools, and technology we use) but points out there are some fundamentals that haven’t changed.
[08:42] – How do you define, or describe, “the age of immediacy”? Brandon puts into perspective that the Internet has really only been with us for a little more than 40 years so when you step back and look at the evolution of humanity itself, that’s not very long. The great thing about its evolution and speed to ubiquity is that it’s all built on standards. When you look at the speed of this revolution – it took 80 years for the telephone to reach ubiquity – it’s quite transformative. And in reality, we’re in the early stages of it so that’s why some of it seems overwhelming to us. Brandon explains that how we acquire and share knowledge has fundamentally changed and along with that, the disruption with business has fundamentally changed. So in the age of immediacy, no longer will any worker, at any level, not interact with technology to get their job done—we’re all knowledge workers now. The age of immediacy means that we don’t necessarily have a lot of time to reflect on things because business is moving at the speed of the Internet now so we need to rethink the systems and learning systems that we put in place.
[12:26] – You talk about five factors that inform the age of immediacy: workplace automation, the cloud, mobile, big data and analytics, and the Internet of Everything. Why do you believe these five factors, in the aggregate will have the most influence on how learning is designed, delivered, and evaluated in the next several years? Brandon explains that his key thesis is really looking at the aggregation of what’s disrupting business most. And although in his book he talks about each of these things separately, most of them are intersecting to transform the processes that are driving business now. He says there are really two worlds of thought when people come to the aggregation of what these technologies are doing and how they’re affecting the workplace and humanity in general. Some think this is going to be a disruption at a massive scale and the displacement of workers is going to be quite significant. And then there are others who say we’ve had this before—the Industrial Revolution, for example. So it’s hard to predict what’s going to happen but we can see there will be a certain level of disruption when it comes to things like rote work and manual labor because when businesses see what can become automated and how error can be reduced, it’s going to take that path. Brandon shares how the cloud is one of the most disruptive technologies, disrupting business at a rapid pace. In the book, he talks about these five technology factors and how they’re disrupting business from the perspective of the learning business. You need to understand how to leverage these technologies to help enable performance in the business as workers are required to use the related new systems and processes.
[18:12] – You particularly call out mobile as the factor that can demonstrate the most tangible ROI for a learning organization in the short term. How should smart learning businesses be thinking about mobile now? What should they be doing with it? Brandon discusses how in the last decade, smart phones have really become an extension of ourselves and we expect these devices to be a part of our lives to keep us constantly connected. This has brought along a major behavioral change in how we consume information and how we expect to acquire knowledge. It’s really moving us beyond the point of where we will have to retain a lot of information. Brandon explains that it’s important to define the term “mobile”. Even if you think that since most of your workers are in an office and not mobile, you’re probably wrong because most workers in some sense are because of this constant connectivity. One of the things he’s advocated is the idea of design thinking to get a more empathetic understanding of workers themselves and how they traverse devices during their workday. So understanding how behavior has changed and how and why people access their devices is key because Brandon says he guarantees they are using them to gather or gain information about how to do their jobs. To remain relevant, you have to start thinking about how you should be offering learning solutions that are optimized with these devices.
[22:48] – Workplace automation is another of your factors, and artificial intelligence falls under your workplace automation umbrella. What implications do you see for AI in a learning business, and what applications for AI do you see? Brandon shares that there is a bit of a hype factor about how it’s going to affect what we do but it’s important for us in learning – and in general – to understand the practical application of some of these technologies. We also need to keep a pragmatic view of how these things affect our workers. Historically, learning businesses aren’t necessarily ahead of the curve on this stuff but when it comes to AI, we could really start leveraging the core components of that type of technology now. In the short term, Brandon views AI as coming along to help the workplace alleviate some of those rote, more administrative tasks which will also reduce error (he shares a few examples of this). But as machine learning becomes even more advanced, he says we’re probably going to be faced with much more critical thinking and decision-making being able to occur automatically as well, although he notes this likely won’t happen for some time.
[28:19] – Brandon adds that the key thing is how humans and automation/AI are going to work together to bring about the advances that the business is going to expect us to do. He says that’s where we in learning have to start thinking about how we train workers to interact more with technology—so there’s going to be some accelerated and disruptive change to how we work that we’re going to have to focus on. Also, when you look inside of a training organization, Brandon talks about how some of the things that automation and AI can do will really help usin what we do.
[31:35] – Virtual reality and augmented reality also fall under your workplace automation umbrella. What implications do you see for VR and AR in a learning business, and what applications do you see? Brandon thinks they are both technologies that have a really large potential (like AI) to significantly impact learner experiences and experiential learning, but also how we in the learning business do what we do. He shares how in his current job at Delta – and previous job at Home Depot – they focus quite a bit on VR, particularly in the areas of safety and compliance as well as utilization of processes. He explains that VR is really good in a scalable model because you can simulate, pretty experientially, what would happen in different situations. Even though this may be cost-prohibitive now, he says every learning business operating at a large scale that really needs some type of experiential learning should really start figuring out how to become more adept at designing this now because the cost is getting lower and lower very quickly. The second area Brandon shares they used VR for at Home Depot was optimization of processes and one way in particular they leveraged this was with interviewing to try and remove as much bias as possible.
[36:55] –Regarding AR, Brandon explains how in his current job at Delta, they see a lot of application for it in the short term because it’s moving with business and looking at wearables as a key factor in helping people be able to do their job. They are putting a lot of their focus on applications around AR (for example, tool repair and increasing performance on people loading bags, etc.). He says it’s a little more practical in the short term and there’s a decent delivery method for that first, before VR.
[38:26] – You use the term and concept of ROLE (return on learning effectiveness) and oppose this to ROI (return on investment). How can we best get at learning effectiveness and best understand the effectiveness of the learning we offer? Brandon admits he’s been challenged and working on the idea of ROI from a learning standpoint for 25 years. He talks about how difficult it is to really figure this out, particularly in the learning business. Over time, he’s realized that it’s less about the traditional idea of ROI because it’s really hard to quantify in a lot of respects to performance. Although some people may be able to do this easier with the type of workforce they have, Brandon says it’s difficult with the type of workforce they have at Delta because there are so many variances involved in what makes up good performance and impact on the business. At Delta, he looked at what data they had that could inform them on their impact. He notes that he doesn’t want to be data driven but instead, data informed. Learning businesses need to think about how to really drive effectiveness from a learning standpoint and be able to demonstrate that there is truly impact to the business by having them around.
[45:40] – What is one of the most powerful learning experiences you’ve been involved in, as an adult, since finishing your formal education? Brandon reveals the most impactful thing that happened to him was in 2013 when his father suffered a stroke. He talks about how in wanting to help his father get back to where he was prior to this, he had to accept that wasn’t going to happen and instead try to understand where he is now—and embrace that and see the good in it. He explains how this experience has impacted him in almost every aspect of his life.
[50:13] – How to connect with Brandon and/or learn more:
[51:00]– Wrap Up
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[53:05] – Sign off