Digital technologies are becoming ubiquitous; from wireless flooded city centres to mobile enabled rural communities and the immanence of IPTV, they impact on our work, our social and private lives and yet few organisations are using them well to transform teaching and learning in the workplace. As a society we are undergoing a digital revolution that is transforming most of what we do in our lives. E-learning has been around for some time, the Open University put courses on-line in 1989 and this year alone Harvard and MIT have committed $60m to offer free online courses. And yet companies large and small seem to ignore this potential and are wedded to more traditional forms of training. Chalk and talk and classroom based instruction seems to rule the roost when it comes to tech training.
It is clear that new digital technologies can enable a training revolution; or should that be a learning revolution? The way that people are sourcing knowledge and using that to learn new skills has multiplied inordinately and whilst new digital technologies make a learning revolution possible, they certainly do not guarantee it.
A recent Study by MIT highlights the problem in that “In most places where new technologies are being used in education today, the technologies are used simply to reinforce outmoded approaches.” New approaches to teaching and learning remain largely unchanged. “To take full advantage of new technologies, we need to fundamentally rethink our approaches to learning and education— and our ideas of how new technologies can support them.”(Rethinking Learning in a Digital Age, Mitchel Resnick, The Media Lab, MIT. 2010)
One of the problems is information and its ubiquity on-line. Of course anyone can find anything on the internet. Turning this into learning and or intelligence is of course quite a different challenge. Unfortunately the focus on information is both limiting and distorting. We need to move beyond this and refocus on the user and how digital technologies can can enable a greater and deeper engagement between the learner and the education provider right across the learning journey.
Why are so few people in the UK thinking about how that traditional relationship is disrupted and how perhaps the user (either directly or aggregated through social media) can become a partner in the co-development of educational material and of training and learning itself.
It has been long since recognised that teachers and trainers cannot simply pour information into learners. “Learning is an active process in which people construct new understandings of the world around them through active exploration, experimentation, discussion, and reflection. In short: people don’t get ideas; they make them.”(Ibid) So why are we so slow to use digital technology to develop training that facilitates this?
If it was going to happen anywhere you think it would happen in Technology training? To use the means of your production to enhance the skills you acquire to do that production would of course make absolute sense.
Yet the very idea of tech training comes with baggage. A hangover from school or college or interminable basic computer courses that everyone is put through no matter what their capability or aptitude. Training is generally ‘off the shelf’, predictable, boring; delivered to the class not with or even for them in particular. ‘If you are good you get it if you are not forget it’. Techies hate this and are amongst the biggest refusniks going; preferring to become autodidacts or to engage their late night peer support groups to find short cuts and work arounds. They learn to get by rather than to master and get the full potential out the of the hardware and software.
As technology becomes more and more pervasive and despite the best efforts of Apple and Adobe, most of us are going to have to get used to this kind of service as we become more and more dependent upon digital technologies at home and in our workplace. But traditional training will always leaves us wanting; it has to deal with fixed assets and attitudes – with the definitive not the contingent.
Better use of digital, especially social, technologies can and should alleviate this stasis and transform the way we thing about learning and professional development. Learning is something we do all the time and formal classroom training should be an important but not the only part of the mix.
Looking back at my own learning history over the past couple of years I have naturally migrated to on-line sources without abandoning more traditional formats. On-line seminars from the US have become an important source of through leadership with Mashable, Brainyard and Enterprise 2.0 being the foremost providers. Blogs and Wiki’s are now a central point of learning although my ability to contribute to the conversation is limited. Conferences or Seminars still feature but I find myself increasingly frustrated by the uni-directional nature as well as the cost of conferences of late.
The dynamics of training and learning are changing with digital and social technologies at the forefront of that change. Learning can be multi-facetted and draw its sources from a number of sources. Blended together around the needs of the end user, they can significantly shift the dynamics of learning.
Six Easy Steps
Here are a few tips to achieve this in your workplace.
1. Strategic buy-in
Training needs to be valued by the organisation and the team. Only through this mutual value and support can effective work-based learning take place. If one party is not up for it then its effectiveness is diminished. Digital technologies can bring together Senior Management with their team to collaborate on training needs and training development programmes. They can have shared aims and objectives and even undertake some of the same learning. Learning can be a great leveler – assuming you want this of course.
2. User Engagement
Engagement should be built around real work challenges and experiences – ‘learning by doing with others’ is usually the best solution. Training Needs Analysis is central to this and should be the central pillar of a dynamic learning and development programme. The user should be at the centre of their own learning even in the workplace.
Technology Training can and should be integrated into or built around an individuals workflow. Key questions should be – How do they interact with the technology and improve the business process? How can the training make this better? As part of this process, recognizing that the end users have invaluable contextual knowledge and expertise that can be used to enhance the training experience is central to successful delivery.
3. Co-design and Development
Before the advent of Social Media platforms this would have been difficult and laborious, now it can be easy and fun. A light touch online user survey can establish levels of technical competency and most appropriate delivery mode for that persons learning style. Our user Training Needs Analysis (TNA) and profiling enables us to engage user groups at an early stage and can be used to reinforce ‘ownership’ of the training, key project objectives and values thereby accelerating effective learning. The development phase will formulate the most appropriate blended learning approach with the creation of learning materials and the scheduling of training interventions.
4. Flexible Delivery
The key to successful delivery is choosing the right methods for deploying the training and undertaking learning. This can range from good old-fashioned Face to Face intensive, hands-on workshops, combined with project-based learning and ongoing access to cloud-based tutorials and other dynamic media assets including games, wiki’s and blogs. Mapping these resources and interventions should allow form minimal disruption in the workplace.
5. Constant Review
Training content and learning materials should be continually updated, based on ongoing feedback from both participants and a wider network of users. Programme feedback and evaluation should be a critical element the approach to training in the digital age and again can be enabled by light-touch digital technologies. Specific considerations should include the suitability of training content for the precise needs of the team in context; the level and style of delivery and the ongoing requirements for further training and development.
6. Make it Social
Technology training is not about technology it is about people and how they fully exploit the technology that has been put in front of them with the objective of them undertaking productive work. We should aim to take away the technology barriers from the end user and realise the full potential identified by Clay Shirky in that “Technology only becomes socially interesting when it becomes technologically boring”. The learning experience can be captured and developed using light touch social apps such as Wiki’s, Blogs, Screencasts and Collaboration Spaces. Peer to peer learning groups can be established and maintained over time. A momentum can be established to drive demand for more (of this kind of) training, which in-turn should help build a more productive and better business.
Andy Lovatt, May 2012