Technology has transformed the way we work, play and live our lives. Take a moment to think about what technology has done for transport. A hundred years ago we travelled by horse and cart – now we can be anywhere in the world within a day. The world is changing at such an incredible pace, and the shift is not only confined to travel.
The impact of technology on learning is equally amazing – impacting the cost, delivery and range of training available and transforming traditional learning and development methods into the proverbial horse and cart. This is especially true for workplace and ‘on the job’ training, which has progressed in leaps and bounds since the introduction of web-based learning.
Long gone are the days when training had to be confined to an all-day classroom event. Many of today’s learners grew up using a PC and have become accustomed to technology-based learning resources. This technology-savvy workforce now demands a more self-directed, technology-based approach to learning, which means that the training method of choice for many organisations is increasingly elearning.
The rise of elearning
Elearning has been a viable replacement for traditional instructor-led training since the late nineties for many corporations and educational institutions. Fast forward to 2013 and as new generations continue to filter into the workforce, the use of elearning is only going to increase.
Not only does elearning provide a more cost effective and efficient mode of learning, but it provides a flexible course schedule, allowing learners to undertake training sessions in a manner that best suits their learning styles. Unlike traditional training materials, elearning resources can be rapidly updated and redistributed to keep up with changes in knowledge, the environment, and generational trends.
Today elearning has moved far beyond a simple learning package on a CD or DVD. Online simulations now allow employees to gain experience and practice skills from their desktop. Topical learning portals can be used to direct professionals to the most relevant material for their learning needs, and online books, summaries, articles and videos can be used as performance support on a daily basis.
So with elearning now embedded within many organisations, what are the next steps for elearning and how will technology continue to revolutionise the workplace?
Elearning and beyond
Industry experts predict there will be several key areas in which technology-enabled learning will evolve and revolutionise the workplace of the future. The first of these shifts rings the death knell for traditional classroom-based teaching. A lot of people are worried by this, as they believe it goes hand in hand with a lack of personal contact. However, this could not be further from the truth.
To put it simply, sending half your workforce across the country to attend a training course just does not make business sense. We instinctively think that human-to-human contact is needed to teach – but as a result of technology we can now do much of this ‘virtually’, using video-links, virtual role plays, augmented reality and simulations. Forward-thinking businesses are already embracing these techniques, and the expectation is that the use of virtualisation will become commonplace in the near to mid-term.
Another big change will be the way in which learning is incorporated throughout the working day. For years teaching has been formally structured with the knock on effect of taking people out of their normal work schedules. However, our recent research has shown that organisations now require training to be more succinct, favouring shorter training that can be delivered in highly relevant, bite-sized pieces and integrated smoothly into the working day.
In the future, learning will become more of a systemic process. As life quickly becomes more fluid, adaptive and geographically mobile, the associated learning will mirror this trend – becoming more holistic and embedded in daily life. For example, imagine an alert popping up in the corner of your device offering to show you how to complete the task you have just done more effectively – in a quick five minute burst. The impact on your working day would be minimal, but the long-lasting benefits would be huge.
Media rich content will also take a more prominent role in learning, with the best elearning programmes being interactive, engaging and rich in content. As a result we can expect to see a shift from an individual outlook to connected networks, where employees are actively encouraged to share and discuss ideas and knowledge.
From elearning to social learning
Over the past few years there has also been a rising drumbeat of interest in social learning, from across the corporate landscape, and this is set to be another avenue where we will no doubt see growth and development. Social media has changed the way we interact with each other, and the strengths of social media: its immediacy, informality, individual empowerment and community, will make an essential contribution to the way we work and learn in the future.
This includes ensuring that training is transformed from a solitary event to a richer, community-orientated experience that guarantees continuous engagement. Employees should be encouraged to share socially by commenting, giving ratings and making recommendations for fellow learners. In order to do so, tools need to be both easy to use and powerful with clear learning objectives, while learning systems also need to be unified, friendly, intuitive and highly visual.
As social media continues to play a leading role in employees’ lives and younger generations move up through the workforce, learning through internal social media applications (linked with CRM, ERP and even HR systems) will become accepted practice. Although content will be delivered by the employer, it will be enhanced and made practical by users who can share notes, rate courses and other contributors and comment on ideas.
As online, social and mobile technologies continue to develop over the next few years, we can expect the value of elearning to double in size. Speed, flexibility and mobility will be key to future workforce development and online learning resources will have an increasingly important role to play.
With the struggle for competitive advantage set to continue, it will pay dividends to create a flexible and technology-enabled learning ecosystem now – using a blend of elearning, colleague interaction and front line experience.
Nobody has the power to predict the future, but you do have the power to get your business ahead of the pack by embracing change, accepting new ideas and, most importantly, preparing your workforce for the challenges they will continue to face.