“Learners’ needs are changing, technology is evolving, skills are different, automation is altering processes, and globalization is expanding our reach,” Training Industry’s Doug Harward and Ken Taylor wrote in the 2018 Training Industry Trends report. As we look toward the new year, what technologies will make an impact on learning? Artificial intelligence (AI), virtual reality (VR) and the Internet of Things (IoT) are a few of the big ones. Here’s what learning leaders should know.

What Is the Internet of Things?

Essentially, IoT is the network of “things” – other than computers – that are connected to the internet. Common examples are wearable devices like fitness trackers, “smart” home appliances and location trackers. In learning and development, says Ben Willis, vice president of products at Saba, IoT is “basically anything that allows you to tether different devices together [and] augment the learning experience to allow for more seamless transition of information.” Some applications include interactive digital content, wearable devices for wellness initiatives or to track safety, and connecting learners’ devices to the cloud to collect and analyze data.

Rob Clyde, vice chair of the board of ISACA and executive advisor to BullGuard Software, says other possible applications to learning include using remote controlled robots to learn new physical skills without being put into danger and using location sensors to identify when workers are doing something dangerous and then automatically schedule remedial safety training.

Perhaps the most interesting applications of IoT involve technologies like AI and VR – for example, tracking learners’ movements in VR to measure their engagement. Saba also uses machine learning and IoT in “the Intelligent Mentor,” or TIM, which can communicate with users via a chatbot or a voice component, like Amazon’s Alexa or Apple’s Siri.

Another example use of these technologies is performance support at the point of need. For example, Willis says, a line cook at a restaurant might need support cooking a particular dish, ask for help and have a virtual assistant tell her, in real time, how to cook it. With machine learning, the assistant could also keep track of who asks what questions and when. That data can then support learning leaders in planning personalized training programs.

Virtual Reality and xAPI

Tracking and measuring learning and performance in VR is also becoming easier thanks to experience API (xAPI), considered in the training industry to be the next generation of learning standards. xAPI allows learning technologies to adapt learning and collect data about learners’ experiences, even with new interactive and immersive technologies like VR.

That’s why Aquinas Training uses xAPI for its new microsimulation engine, a web-based VR product that delivers simulations in bite-sized pieces to mobile devices. In fact, CEO Hugh Seaton says xAPI will be “a big story” in 2018. Using xAPI enables training organizations to measure learner engagement in the simulation itself – for example, did learners look the simulated “people” in the eye when talking to them? Aquinas is also looking at incorporating voice APIs and natural language processing to add voice interactivity and measure learners’ speech patterns. The promise of VR, Seaton says, “is that every action, every word … goes through a computer. Therefore, you can track it, and you can measure” it.

Implementing Cutting-Edge Learning Technologies: The “Snaz” Factor

When implementing new technologies like VR, there’s a danger of what Seaton calls “the ‘snaz’ factor.” While the ability to wow learners can be a good thing, increasing their motivation and engagement with training, it can also cause learning leaders to adopt too much, too fast and without a strategy.

Willis says that the customers that have the most success are the ones that have a “beta mentality” – that aren’t necessarily the first adopters but that keep an eye out for new technologies, determine which ones have applications at their organizations and where those applications might be, and then testing the technology in a way “that’s really tailored” to their goals and employees.

Seaton agrees, saying his first tip for implementing VR and other technologies is to “play with it, quite literally.” See what it can and can’t do. Then, before making a decision, create a checklist of your organization’s learning needs, and measure the platform against those needs to see if it will help you achieve your goals.

Clyde recommends involving cybersecurity and risk management professionals when implementing new technologies, especially IoT, to identify potential risks and update corporate policies to include the use of IoT devices.

Then, organizations can track metrics like retention rates, time to productivity and engagement. If it takes a new employee three months to be productive where it used to take six months, “there’s a pretty tangible ROI there,” Willis says. Similarly, if learners retain even two percentage points more information six months after a training than they used to, “that’s actually a really big deal.”

AI is customizing training, using big data and machine learning to adapt training to individual learners by making personalized content and program recommendations. IoT brings it all together, Willis says, taking that adaptation “to the next level” – not only identifying what an individual needs to learn but also the best way for him or her to learn it. Then, by tying in simulations and VR, organizations can really bring that learning to life.