March 12, 2018

Digital disruption in learning

The word “disruption” has more negative associations than positive ones for most people. While we view it as a transformational phenomenon, we tend to focus on the disturbance and inconveniences it can bring.

Indeed, the Cambridge Dictionary defines disruption as “an interruption in the usual way that a system, process, or event works”. Clearly, interruptions are not something we see as positive.

There are many types of disruption in our world. They range from life-altering industrial and technological innovations to environmental shocks brought on by climate change. Anything that causes a sudden shift in our world, our daily lives or our businesses can be considered a form of disruption.

One of the most common types of disruption today is digital disruption: a transformational shift in the business landscape resulting from the adoption of new technologies and even new business models.

We’ve all heard of many cases of digital disruption, such as Uber shaking up the taxi industry or Netflix upending the movie rental and cable-TV businesses. Technology has and will constantly change how we interact and learn, and even more so, how we do things.

Here I’d like to emphasise that disruption in general does not always have to have a negative tag attached to it. Sometimes, disruption is just a way to move forward, challenging us to adapt to change. In other words, disruption can also be turned into opportunity for many.

There are definitely some downsides to digital disruption but we have also seen positive effects of digital disruption in the field of learning.

First, technology now allows learning to be personalised according to our goals or preferences. In most classroom settings and in the education sphere in general, learning sometimes lacks the personal touch. There is a standard curriculum to which schools, teachers and students are expected to strictly conform.

The thing is, learning is not a one-size-fits-all model. We cannot expect one way that works with some people to also work on everyone. A great example of this is the concept of adaptive learning. Adaptive learning is a teaching method that takes advantage of interactive devices. Technological aids such as artificial intelligence (AI) are used to personalise learning and make the content unique to each person’s learning needs.

Second, no longer do we have to rely only on formal classroom or training sessions for learning. We can access whatever we want to learn online through simple knowledge-sharing videos to e-learning and online courses.

However, classroom and formal training settings can still be utilised, while certain technological tools can be leveraged during in-class sessions to make them more interesting and engaging. This gives learners a more experiential approach as an alternative to the conventional one-way communication from an instructor to a room full of learners.

Third, there is more flexibility in the way we learn when technology is involved. If we want to learn something, we can access it online. Even after we have completed classroom or training sessions, we can recap certain things as the information will be accessible online as a reminder to us. This promotes a continuous and positive learning culture for you and your organisation.

In addition, efficiency is enhanced when learning is flexible. The rate at which we stay attentive and absorb new information and knowledge increases when we are able to access the information on our own time.

Fourth, technology makes learning assessments and feedback a lot more efficient and manageable. The whole process of assessment and feedback can be time-consuming and oftentimes quite monotonous if done manually. However, assessment and getting feedback are very important if we want our people and our organisation to progress.

With assessment and feedback being managed automatically, learners can get feedback almost immediately in order to make the necessary improvements. In another sense, learners can also have the option to provide feedback about the instruction they have received in order to improve their learning experience.

While technology clearly offers many benefits where learning is concerned, we can also face some threats. The more technology advances, the more access we have to information for learning. This may sound great at first, but it can pose some problems. They can include information clutter, questions about the validity of some information, and a shortening of the attention span because of information overload, among many others.

Despite having some negative effects, digital disruption of learning has opened up opportunities not only for us as business leaders but also for our people in our organisations. We cannot always depend on the usual way we do things, even when it comes to learning, as disruption can affect anyone, anywhere and at any time.

Arinya Talerngsri is Chief Capability Officer and Managing Director at SEAC (formerly APMGroup) Southeast Asia’s leading executive, leadership and innovation capability development centre. She can be reached by email at or

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