What Pokémon Go is telling us about L&D

We should already be very excited about the potential of Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR) for learning. I know I am. Unfortunately it also sounds the death knell for 86.5% of L&D folk, including trainers and eLearning authors.

The explosive success of Pokémon Go has shown us the potential of AR. The app has surpassed “porn” in Google search and boosted Nintendo’s share-price by 50%. As of writing it’s making the company $1.2 million a day in the U.S alone.


This is important from a learning perspective because it’s an example of how to shift people’s behaviour. The simple task of collecting digital fictional creatures on your phone has transformed the lives of many users from sedentary to active overnight.


Moreover, the game has demonstrated how to superimpose digital information on the real world, effectively creating Reality+. Giving people real-time contextual information based on location has sweeping applicability from engineering, to customer service.

Imagine an app where tags on equipment give engineers real-time mobile feedback on performance or where leaders could be served up guidance based on a combination of location based data, and key words crawled from their Outlook calendar.

VR sits on the other end of the spectrum. The Learning and Performance Innovation team at PA don’t love classroom based learning. But if we do it, we lead with experience (immersive theatre and simulation), not content. If you’re going to apply the rudimentary, learning = retention formula, you better make damn sure the event leaves an impression, and people are able to practice whatever it is you’re expecting them to do.


VR is the technology to transport people into a world where it’s safe to make catastrophic errors of judgement. When I play Call of Duty, I get destroyed by more serious gamers online, but by game 100 I’ve learned a few things and can start enacting my revenge. Reset buttons come in very handy.

Imagine a VR experience where policemen/women are required to manage an angry mob, or where heart surgeons are able to practice emergency operations. Make a mistake? Too bad, the person dies, reset.

So what’s the goddamn hold up?

There are a number of reasons why it will take a good 30 years before any of this technology is being used to its potential.

  • Budget – although cost per head is likely to be roughly the same as a classroom experience, trying something that’s untested requires risk-taking that few HR Directors can stomach.
  • People – there are two people problems. Firstly people who do training now don’t have the capability to deliver effective AR or VR, so don’t want it to succeed. Then the people who ask for training don’t have the vision to accept AR or VR as a solution, “just give me a course”.
  • Mind set – this is the biggest challenge and the thing that takes longest to change. When most people talk about learning they talk about “retention”, “tracking” and “content”. These are the wrong answers to the wrong questions. The goal of learning is not to get people to remember stuff, it’s to get people to “perform” better. Completing a course has absolutely no bearing on whether “behaviour” has actually changed. And the idea that stakeholders are going to write a load of content to jam into people’s heads is pretty goddamn foolish if you think about it. Convincing people to do things differently is “marketing”, not “content”.

So really, all we need is someone brave enough to innovate. I said earlier that 86.5% of L&D folk will be out of a job pretty soon, and the reason for the specificity is the adoption curve.

the-classic-adoption-curveIf 86.5% of L&D professionals hang around and wait for AR and VR to be proven, they will have missed the party. With the pace of technology as it is, I think you have to be an early adopter; or by the time you’ve jumped on the bandwagon, the new thing will have arrived. “Avast ye laggards!”

Of course, I’m probably just getting all excited. We millennials have a tendency to do that apparently. I’m sure when I visit CIPD or Learning Technologies in 10 years, the exhibition will still be littered with LMS and eLearning providers. Technology and opportunity moves fast, mind set unfortunately moves slow, o so slow…


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