China Learning: Scalable, AI, and Shifts

By Elliott Masie, The Learning CONSORTIUM

I recently had the powerful opportunity to meet with 3,000 learning professionals in Suzhou, China. They were gathered for a conference on the role of “The Internet of Things” and Workplace Learning. After my keynote, I spent two days as a learner, journalist, and colleague – probing for the learning trends and innovations in the rapidly changing country of China. Here are a few of my notes and perspectives:

  • It is All About Scale: One colleague was charged with growing the number of audiologists in China by 280,000 in the next few years. Scale of that nature requires a very different approach – beyond traditional campuses or curriculum. The ability to scale a learning program to tens of thousands or even millions of employees shapes the focus on the educational methods and technologies being developed in China.
  • Everyday Learning: While we have all talked about Lifelong Learning, I heard buzz in China about Everyday Learning, where the learner is given a small task, assessment, challenge, or content cluster each and every day. One company is building Everyday Learning into their timeclock system, bundling the process of logging into work with a 5-minute learning activity.
  • Artificial Intelligence is Data Rich Computing: AI and Machine Learning are primary objectives in Chinese government and industry. There are 30 new higher education institutions focused on AI and significant innovation and experimentation in how AI can be used to Optimize, Accelerate, and Scale Learning. New Learning Systems, Assessment Frameworks, and Coaching Models are being developed that are based on rich data analysis and prediction.
  • Facial Recognition: Americans would be stunned and perhaps put off by the extent to which Facial Recognition is being leveraged in China. As I checked out of my hotel, there was a small tablet with a camera on the hotel counter. It scanned and recognized me at 6:40 am and the staff member then said, “Hello Mr. Masie. Your checkout is ready and the car to the airport for your 10 am flight is on the way.” Facial Recognition is being integrated into education and performance programs – beyond identification – for analyzing employee or customer stress, confusion, and engagement levels.
  • Shifting Certifications in Learning and HR: The roles of Human Resources and Learning are also shifting in China. There are new certifications, development programs, and even “skill badges” in these focus zones for our colleagues in that changing country:
    • Data Analysis: It is assumed that the new Learning Professional will be as skilled in the world of data handling and display (e.g. using Tableau as a dashboard) as Instructional Design.
    • Mentoring: Scaling mentoring – the targeted shoulder-to-shoulder “On-The-Job-Training” process – by leveraging AI and Data could be a culture shift in the near future.
  • Storytelling – Beyond PowerPoint: There is a desire to move from a traditional model of long PowerPoint lectures to a more active and engaging Storytelling Model. Not easy! Chinese schools have a “lecture and watch” tradition, but they want to engage and accelerate students, which requires a major shift in the role of the “teacher”.
  • Study the World – But Implement a Chinese Learning Approach: The number of Chinese learning colleagues I met who studied overseas (in the United States, Europe, Australia, and elsewhere) was amazing. But, they don’t want to just “copy” our learning approaches and content. Instead, there is a deep desire to have a unique Chinese Learning Culture that reflects their culture, traditions, and AI innovations.
  • Mobile Learning on Steroids: During my keynote speech, over a thousand colleagues added me to WeChat, a Chinese online app for social connections that also serves banking and other financial purposes. I received hundreds of questions and ongoing challenging conversations continue to flow to my phone. “Learning” and “Mobile” are welded together in China!
  • Learning Drives Growth: Every corporate, higher education, and government official I met during my visit sees learning as a key to the growth and evolution of China’s changing society. Learning is seen as a key driver for the future of China.

The United States and China have much to learn about learning from each other, while honoring our different our cultures, governments, privacy expectations, and learning traditions. The MASIE Center will be continuing our conversations with learning leaders in China on these key issues.

Published in CLO Magazine, September 2019

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