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LoD Viewpoints April 2005

Search Technologies and Learning
Search technologies already play a huge role in corporate learning. Every day, millions of people use Google to look for work-related information that can help them with their jobs. Typically, they access (and learn from) informal Web content on demand. Although the process is far from optimal—and excludes almost all formal training materials—Internet searching is already creating one form of learning on demand inside today's corporations.
In the future, search technologies of many kinds are likely to have an even greater role to play in corporate learning. As is true today, their primary role will be in informal learning and in retrieving on-demand information. But future search technologies are likely to integrate better into the enterprise to allow learners to search corporate databases of formal learning objects, for example, at the same time as external Web resources. This Viewpoints examines the future role of search technologies in learning, new trends in search technologies, and the implications for current providers and adopters of learning technology.

The Future Role of Search Technologies in Learning
Future learning-technology implementations are likely to see much tighter integration between search technologies, workflow software, and learning resources. Figure 1 first appeared in the December 2004 Learning-on- Demand (LoD) program report, Learning in Context of Business Processes and Workflows. In this future working environment, an employee has access to both "push" and "pull" learning resources at any step within the workflow. The December 2004 report, as well as the November 2004 LoD report, The Future of Learning Technology, discussed the "push" side of this equation in detail. These reports described future workflow-based learning environments that employ "recommendation engines" to provide employees automatically with learning material based on their work context, profile, and other information. This Viewpoints focuses on the "pull" feature in Figure 1 that relies heavily on search technologies for its operation. The search technologies that feature in this environment will need to deal with many kinds of content and integrate with workflow software.

Today's search technologies, including enterprise search, rely on manually entered filters (such as keywords), but if programmers can integrate workflow software and search engines, then this situation can improve. As the "pull" box in Figure 1 shows, users could automatically "prefilter" future searches with stored information about the task someone is working on as well as that person's preferences and history. For example, if a worker at step 4 in the business process at the top of Figure 1 searched for "estimating budgets," then the system could automatically add keywords describing the context of step 4, information about that worker's preferred learning style, and keywords about the worker's recent promotion to project manager. Such additional filters would help narrow down the search quickly and reduce the number of search parameters that the employee needs to enter manually.

Search Technologies and Learning