As technology permeates every aspect of corporate life, the line between work and play blurs. So do the boundaries between working and learning. As the landscape evolves, learning and development professionals are required to have better understanding of corporate strategy and how their training programs are supporting it. Expected to constantly monitor their talent pipeline, L&D professionals must now determine which learning tools will best enable their workforce, which proves to be an increasingly challenging task as training options expand.
The popularization of online courses such as MOOCs (massive open online courses) has presented some challenges for traditional training providers, forcing them to respond to the online learning courses that are competing for business. This influx of technology requires the traditional providers to better articulate the value of face-to-face interaction with a teacher and other students. As the lifecycle of courses becomes more compressed, training providers must stay ahead of online delivery by offering fresh, relevant face-to-face content that is immediately applicable to the business.
Conversely, the emergence of online courses makes learning more ubiquitous and accessible both in and out of work. Technological improvements put pressure on employees to be continuous learners. With access to online courses, webinars, and whitepapers from anywhere with a Wi-Fi connection, employees have the ability to learn at any time—including the hours not spent in the office—which results in less formal training days.
“People have to realize that you’re now learning throughout your career; it’s relentless,” says Jeremy Hill, founder of UK-based Extempore Training. “The moment you switch off your learning mindset, you start to stagnate.”
According to Todd Tauber, VP of Product Marketing at learning technology company Degreed, employees are beginning to learn through different means in addition to traditional face-to-face courses. Last year, for example, active Degreed users added an average of 5 online courses to their profiles every month, but they also watched 7 videos and read 15 articles. And in some areas—such as big data or robotics—technology changes so quickly that it’s impossible for L&D people to keep up with converting that information into course format.
“We think aggregating and curating the best resources, in any given domain, is often one of the most effective ways to keep content relevant and fresh,” says Tauber.
Right now, software vendors are pushing the cost benefits of learning from a screen. There certainly are areas in which it can work well, like process learning. But the appeal of online courses is often exaggerated and the cost-benefit aspect over marketed, according to Hill.
“MOOCs cannot replicate all of the dynamics that go on when you’re in a motivational, classroom-based experience, where you’re not just learning the material, but you’re learning from other people,” says Hill.
He adds that by the time a MOOC is created, the information contained in the course is probably 6 months to a year behind what’s actually happening, while classroom-based learning situations contain information that’s right up to the minute and can incorporate the latest research hot off the press.
“Sometimes, you learn just as much from the participants as you do from the facilitators particularly in sales, management and leadership”, Hill says. “Online learning is great for process and technology subjects where it’s bite-sized information and is essentially sequential knowledge transfer, but where it’s behavioral, you can’t really learn it online in any shape or form.”
With an oversaturated market, classroom-based courses attempt to face up to online competition through channels such as Extempore Training, which takes the “one-stop-shop” technology model of the hospitality industry—exemplified through websites such as Airbnb and UK-based lastminute.com—and applies it to the training industry. Essentially, it aggregates classroom-based courses from multiple training providers; allowing suppliers to market spare capacity in real time, often with price incentives.
But not everything requires a course as the solution. According to CEB research, 45% of the learning content in a typical large company is ineffective and goes unused.
“A big reason for that, according to our own research, is that courses are rarely a complete solution for workers,” says Tauber. “They’re something most people only do once in a while—maybe 3-4 times a year. In between, though, people are reading articles, blogs and books, they’re watching videos, they’re searching online for answers, they’re interacting with their bosses, mentors and peers.”
Technology can overwhelm you with choices, but it also opens up the possibility for customization. Once you take a step back and assess every option, you’ll be able to satisfy the needs of your workforce on an individual level.