Digital training for the digital age
With the 25th anniversary of the World Wide Web in March, the first generation of true Internet natives is now reporting for work, bringing along a new set of challenges for corporate learning and development. Meanwhile e-learning, the field best equipped for the task, has been doing some soul-searching in its quest for the most effective approach to knowledge transfer. These days everything is up for debate, from the length and format of the materials to the core foundations of training.
Digital employee training isn’t just about swapping blackboards and textbooks for PowerPoints and PDFs. Today’s learners are impatient and overstimulated, so the learning materials and teaching strategies must keep pace. As we have attended three major learning and development conferences this spring, the LEARNTEC in Karlsruhe, the Learning Development Show in London and Swiss Professional Learning in Zurich, we’ve been thinking deeply about these questions. How does e-learning fit into an employee’s workday? And how can it satisfy both companies’ objectives and employees’ rising standards?
The long and short of it
A company has two broad training strategies to choose from: long and in-depth or short and sweet. At first glance, it seems like the “long” option – putting new hires through extensive, time-consuming courses to get training “out of the way” – is a wise investment that will pay off in the long run. The idea is to cram in everything they need to know up-front so that they can catch up with their colleagues and start generating profit.
That seems like a reasonable strategy. But then again, how much information can someone memorise in their first days or weeks at work? And how many of those details will they remember? If you start asking yourself honest, critical questions, the advantages of intense one-off training courses are much less clear-cut. Not only are such courses expensive in terms of lost working hours, but they overwhelm recruits who are anxious to settle into their routines. And there’s no going back later if they forget something and want to refresh their memory.
The “short” option – providing distilled information bit by bit in smaller servings – might seem less thorough, but it comes with enormous benefits and suits people’s existing habits. With the Internet always on, people tend to take the availability of information for granted and search for answers proactively on the fly. For example, they might Google a certain actor’s filmography, consult Wikipedia for the background of a current news story, or watch a YouTube video to find out how to change a tire. There’s no reason we can’t apply the same principles to the workplace. By filtering and repackaging material into shorter, digestible chunks, we can give employees the tools to train themselves.
Teaching versus learning
If this idea scares you as a learning professional, that’s understandable. Passing the reins to your students is a serious adjustment. Of course you take well-deserved pride in your ability to teach staff how to work effectively and efficiently in a team. And the knowledge you impart makes an invaluable contribution to your company’s success.
But formal learning doesn’t occur in a vacuum, and in fact never has. According to studies of workplace knowledge transfer, self-directed learning and social skill-sharing have always played leading roles in staff development. The new wave of e-learning harnesses those organic processes, which happen in every company, in order to steer and bolster the spread of expertise. This does mean scaling back our role as conventional instructors, but there’s no shortage of other rewarding work to do.
The crucial job of the 21st-century instructional designer is to filter knowledge, curate it and organise it. “Microlearning” is not about cutting up the same material into smaller pieces, it’s about processing the information ourselves up-front, narrowing it down to exactly what the audience needs to know, and serving up the perfect forkful. Also, because the format is ideally suited for quick doses during or between tasks, the learning occurs in context and can be applied right away, boosting retention rates exponentially.
As we at simpleshow have learned over the past six years, delivering a quick, clear explanation is a hard-won skill that brings untold benefits. The beauty of on-demand edtech resources such as explainer videos, screencasts, knowledge bases and corporate social networks is that they capture the audience exactly when they’re interested and paying attention – in other words, exactly when they want to learn.
And once you’ve produced valuable, concise content explaining your company’s processes and systems, the employees can keep coming back and benefiting from your hard work. Instead of teaching the same material every season at each location, you’ll have time to document even more uncharted regions of your companies’ vast skills and expertise.
The perfect blend
As we see it, the best approach is the middle ground of “blended learning”, a bouquet of formats and techniques: analogue and digital, top-down and bottom-up, push and pull, text and video. Of course, a well-developed “onboarding” programme is essential, but let’s not underestimate the power of our talented staff members’ good old fashioned curiosity.
Interested in our e-learning solutions? Contact us to find out more!