The pace of change in our industry is breathtaking. New learning technologies abound, bringing with them exciting possibility and commercial opportunity. But they also raise questions: which of them will prove themselves? Which are worth the time and investment it takes to make them part of what you do, and which will fail to live up to the hype? And in the meantime, how should you keep your strategic focus, and control your costs?
Understanding the Hype Cycle
In a field of bright ideas and shifting technologies, it can be impossible to tell the ones that count, from the ones that can’t. Even when a technology is destined for great things, expectations become overinflated, and our understanding of how best to make use of it is lacking. Only with time do we come to understand its true value and rightful place. The clever folk at Gartner have modeled this principle, and they call it the Hype Cycle:
Some technologies will fail somewhere along this path, reaching that Peak of Inflated Expectations but never quite making it to the Plateau of Productivity. But Gartner suggests that all significant technology makes this journey. The precise shape of the cycle might vary a little for each technology, but the passage through these five phases will be the same.
A year ago, for instance, Gartner placed the Experience API on its way up the Peak of Inflated Expectations; learning analytics at the peak; gamification entering the Trough of Disillusionment; and e-textbooks climbing the slope to productivity. The University of Minnesota has done more work on this, and has plotted all new educational technology on what they call the Hype Cycle for Education.
Reading the Hype Cycle, and choosing the time to invest
The point of all this is simple: it takes all technology time to prove itself, and even more time to mature. In the meantime, solutions providers, publishers and institutions have to decide whether and when to invest. Adopt early, and they risk wasting time and money. Adopt too late, and they miss an opportunity to stand out from the pack.
But it doesn’t need to be that way.
In our 20 years in educational technology, we have seen cycle after cycle. We have witnessed the empty hype of passing fads, and the impact of true, seismic disruptions. Throughout, our aim has been to shield our clients from cost and risk, and the fact that so many have stayed with us for more than a decade shows that we have the formula right. So what is our secret?
An holistic view of technology: platforms that evolve
At Avallain, we always have an eye on emerging technology, using our didactical and technical experience to sift out those that are more hype than substance. When we think one looks interesting, we approach it holistically, as part of our suite of technologies that deliver learning. We build the new capability into our existing architecture: Avallain Author for content innovations, Avallain Unity for learning management. And because we build flexibly, with an entirely object-oriented approach, such integrations are efficient: on average our customers have a first response to the new technology within just three months.
Once adopted, the new technology benefits from the stability of our mature platforms, and from the genuine learning context that they provide. Meanwhile our clients are able to experiment with the new capability early, and at a fraction of the cost of implementing it alone. Because they can simply switch the capability on, they are free to introduce it to their products without any of the risk of rollout, or move more slowly without the risk of being left behind.
Managing disruptive change into productivity
As the technology journeys to maturity, we are watching. Our review processes enable us to explore how the innovation contributes to learning, and our clients quickly benefit from our refinements and emerging best practice. But this work is never a distraction. We continue to work holistically, with the complete suite of learning innovations that make up our platforms, using each technology for what it does best. We don’t over-invest in one innovation, or present it as a panacea, and so we avoid expensive reversals down the line.
And when the new technology is down that line, at the Plateau of Productivity, we are not content just to maintain it. Like the platform as a whole, it receives regular enhancement, so that it continues to be responsive to changing demands, and to earn its place in the Avallain ecosystem.
In this way, Avallain makes full use of each phase of the Hype Cycle. No emergent technology passes us by, and instead of the hype ruling commercial decisions, it is absorbed and controlled. Fashionable technology is given its place, and key new educational technologies are managed into productivity.
And our clients? They know that the best of new technology is always in the pipeline, and that the disruptions of the future will never break the bank.