5 reasons there’s resistance to technology in learning

If ever there was an area where technology should be infinitely welcome it would be in learning; education, teaching and training seem perfect to accept the advantages that technology bring. I work in the field of education, heck I even have a team of advisors who work with teachers to help them use technology to enable and enhance their learning, but all to often we see a resistance to the very technologies that would take learning to the next level. I’ve had similar roles in the corporate sector and training has some of the similar challenges; technology is used when there’s a clear and measurable economic advantage, but otherwise it continues to be an uphill battle for trainers. The big question is why?

The big answer? Not so simple, but there are some reasons why we don’t see the early adopters in learning that you’d think. Here’s what I’ve found and my top 5:

  1. There’s a tail wagging that dog. It’s hard to find a more appropriate metaphor out there than the tail wagging the dog when it comes to technology in learning. The oh so common issues that arise are around the old-fashioned control of IT systems are often mistakenly used as key business drivers. Technology and IT systems shouldn’t drive your business, whether that’s education or any other field where you expect learning to be a major part of the business. The biggest single excuse for not using collaborative type tools out there is the S word. All it needs is for your IT manager to talk security and boom! End of new technology adoption. How many companies have banned and blocked technologies like Facebook? One organisation was looking at over two years to put in a secure internal intranet site… seriously? Yes, two years — if they’d had the courage to look at solutions like Facebook then that could have happened in hours or days rather than months and years. Security is a big issue for sure, but when you run off yelling the S word, we need to get an understanding that the issue has layers. We need highly secure systems for some parts of organisations like customer records and accounts, but most of the time we end up constraining operations in order to protect the security of minor systems rather than separating them out. For example, you can use technologies like the Google Suite for your learning needs without stressing that they are ‘in the cloud’ — why does that capability mean that everything is suddenly in danger? Sure if you store all your financial records online you need to be aware of the risks, but the vast majority of learning material just doesn’t carry that level of security risk. The problem isn’t S, it’s that the decisions around technology often wind up with the people whose job it is to protect the system rather than to increase productivity, quality and learning. Why is this a problem? Because their default answer is usually ‘no’ — that doesn’t help in exploring new technologies and the things they can unlock for learning.
  2. Work is channelled with silo thinking. This is a biggie. You’ve probably heard of Working Out Loud or WOL, but even if you haven’t you may get the idea of pushing things into the more visible space. I call this the silo-buster. Problem is lots of businesses still work in an isolated manner where you keep things within your group or small network rather than opening it up. I say open it up, bust it wide open and let’s spend a lot more time working in much more visible space. For example project management is regularly held close to the chest and you get a weekly or monthly update that has limited distribution to keep a few key people in the picture. It’s old-school thinking and we need to move to a far more open access model. We use Trello extensively with my teams and I love the fact that everything you need to know about the project is up and able to be contributed to by all involved. There’s no need for ‘minutes’ or action plans because the state of the project is there for all to see — and of course there’s a full audit trail of who did what and when. Combine that with the ability to bring in other apps like Google Drive or Evernote and everything you need to run complex projects is there — and most importantly it’s there for all to see. We run programme developments this way, so that all the departments and stakeholders can access and follow the progress of our projects from marketing to teaching teams to student administration. If your systems are going to go across and be visible at these sort of levels you need to move away from silo thinking. Otherwise what you actually get is systems with heavy administrative requirement that are locked down to the extent that the only way to find out about something is to ask the right person. Tools like Slack are awesome for connecting teams in an organisation, but too often we prefer old-school lock-down options so that you can only see people the organisation wants you to and, for example, you can’t bring in non-team members to view stuff or contribute. Often you’ll find ‘team drives’ and when you want to share something with someone from a different team you can’t. The reason is that culture of separation. We can’t seriously expect to move to the next level of sharing whilst we continue to ring-fence and protect our turf — I guess this is a micro-example of what seems to be happening globally in politics!
  3. Failure is not an option. If I had a pet hate of phrase this might be it. Failure is not only an option but really a requirement if you’re going to do anything innovative. Another word for failure is learning. So if learning isn’t an option is it a surprise that it doesn’t readily happen? The key to using technology and innovation in general is having the space for trying things that might not work. That might be dabbling into a social media tool for your communication services or file storage that’s cloud based rather than set in the ice age. There will be slip-ups on the way and your teams need to know that it’s actually okay — as long as you learn from them and move on.
  4. It’s a challenge to the status quo. Inertia is a major issue for technology. If the only option is to continue doing what you’ve always done, the best you can achieve is what you’ve always achieved (a slight modification on the old proverb I admit). To be innovative and take on new technologies then change isn’t an option it’s actually a requirement. What some organisations fail to recognise is that standing still in a changing world is change too, as society is changing and new opportunities unveil themselves your organisation needs to be open to them — you can’t be if you’re not prepared to change. Another pet hate phrase of mine is ‘…this is the way it’s done’. Sure, it was, but the question I love to ask is ‘is there a better way?’. The best organisations have a culture of continuous improvement that realises phrases like ‘best practice’ are just an excuse for maintaining the status quo and not looking for ways to do things better. Better exists, best doesn’t.
  5. Fear. I could probably have linked in fear to all of the above. Fear of change, fear of the unknown, fear of failure, fear of outsiders and maybe even fear of getting bitten by the dog (although even with my rudimentary knowledge of biology I know that’s the wrong end for teeth). Fear extracts some of the worst collective and individual behaviours as people start to protect and ring-fence, close in and batten down the hatches. It’s also infectious, if a leader is afraid it’s easy to spread that amongst the team which then seems to pass it on to others. The way to get past that fear is to step back and actually look at what you’re really afraid of. Often as not, the fear of something is far worse than the actuality and if you were able to speak to someone external about your fears they would almost certainly reassure you that it wasn’t as bad as you saw it. Technology also carries its own special fears and largely it’s the IT world that has perpetuated this for decades. Black box and ‘it’s too technical for you to understand’ BS has caused so many people to feel immediately out of depth where technology is concerned that we may never be able to break through for Gen X. We make a big deal about the technology, but actual it’s the end use we should focus on. Cars are a great example, most of us would be completely happy driving the most advanced cars on the market without knowing how the processing unit and clever ‘thingeys’ inside work. What technology should have is clear ways to use and utilise it for everyone. I don’t have a problem with not completely understanding every element of my CPU, or application, but I should know how it responds to different circumstances and what I can expect so that I can at least know when it’s not working right.
  6. The point of singularity. Okay, knowing the pace of education this is a little tongue in cheek, but one day technology will take over and ‘terminate’ us all. Well on the bright-side at least it will be a society that’s more value based than discriminatory and we may finally get peace :) If you don’t know what singularity is then watch Terminator — it may not be the most technically accurate piece on artificial intelligence, but you’ll get the gist and be reassured that we can always solve the issues once we sort out time travel.

So maths to one side that was my six, but it’s far from exhaustive or even really 5 discrete issues. The key to bringing learning to the future is letting it have the chance to be there, that means changing some of the above or you’ll never get the organisation to make the shift it needs to adopt new technologies and start to advance learning. As I’m sure you’ve worked out this is hardly limited to learning either, but hey, that’s my area. Love to hear from you if you’ve got a comment, criticism if you agree, disagree or even just to prove you made it to the end of my waffle :)