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Neil Georgeson

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Digital: Don’t let the elephant create a dinosaur


Does digital mean the end of the classroom? No – but evolution is vital...

It’s the elephant in the classroom for many training companies. As enthusiasm grows for e-learning and virtual teaching methods, so does concern about roles in Learning & Development, profits and the need to evolve and diversify the business model.

According to a recent report by the US-based Association of Talent Development (ATD), the gap between traditional classroom-based and technology-based learning hours is definitely narrowing. The amount of instructor-led training delivered over the past few years has fallen from two-thirds to half and the trajectory is clearly downwards.

The gap between traditional classroom-based and technology-based learning hours is definitely narrowing.

There are multiple reasons for this shift. Rising travel costs for one, increasingly mobile workers who are never in the same place at once and the inability to scale classroom training are all taking a toll.

There are also more subtle forces at work. For example the new four-generational workforce embraces many methods of content consumption but those at the younger end, the digital natives, expect digital delivery.

The fact that information and instructions can be accessed at the point of need via Google, YouTube or online forums has also changed expectations.

Time to evolve and adapt

All nails in the coffin of the industry as we know it?

Thankfully, the ATD report adds, ‘we should wait before writing any eulogies’. It points out that instructor-led training (ILT) still does command more training hours than any other method, despite the tapering graph lines. It is also still one of the most focused and efficient methods.

Current thinking focuses on the maximisation of instructor time and their strengths through techniques such as the ‘flipped classroom’.

So does this mean that instructors and others dependent on traditional methods can breathe out again?

Yes and no. But there’s no doubt that traditional methods must evolve and adapt to ensure continuing viability.

If e-learning is the elephant, then dedicated ILT training companies will become dinosaurs if they don’t adapt. Yet, how can they combine the accessibility, scalability, agility and affordability of digital methods with the quality, immediacy and responsiveness of instructor-led training?

Current thinking focuses on the maximisation of instructor time and their strengths through techniques such as the ‘flipped classroom’.

This means giving students the materials to absorb outside of the classroom environment so that class time can be used to consolidate and apply the newly-acquired knowledge. This enables the instructor to address misunderstanding, explain complex theory and demonstrate in practice, optimising their face-to-face time.

Effectively, this removes the “turn to page x and read…” element of classroom teaching and instead gives students more responsibility.

Which means students must have access to training materials before, during and after the course – coupled with the ability to annotate these to highlight areas they wish to address when back in the classroom.

Protecting IP

Many are now solving this conundrum by digitising their print learning materials.

This can be done simply by producing digital versions and distributing them via PDFs or on a USB stick. However, this is like opening a cake shop and telling the local neighbourhood to help themselves. As these can be shared and copied beyond the immediate course, it makes a training company’s intellectual property (IP) available to all.

Further, a simple, flat PDF is difficult to annotate in such a way that a student will be able to quickly identify the areas they’d like to cover during classroom sessions.

However, there are eCourseware platforms that can be used to protect IP as well as to store and manage the content, leaving the user free to enjoy the many advantages of working this way.

For example, eCourseware reduces the need to print and distribute training materials and its scalability means course numbers don’t have to be set in stone – late comers can be accommodated.

From a student perspective, they could now annotate, highlight and quickly navigate their inputs either in the classroom environment or later when using their digital courseware as a reference tool.

Huge potential for creativity

Already, eCourseware is mimicking many of the e-learning benefits – but it’s not designed for self-learning and still leaves the opportunity for an instructor to add value by providing interactive guidance.

Yet there is one more challenge users may have to overcome. As clients increasingly see instructor-based learning as the ‘premium’ option (compared with the lower cost e-learning), they may feel short-changed if there’s no tome-like manual handed out at the end.

But far from being a ‘cheap’ option, eCourseware gives instructors scope for creativity as they can use as much colour and as space as they wish at no extra cost. Consequently, course materials can be redesigned to use colour to encourage learning retention.

Far from being a ‘cheap’ option, eCourseware gives instructors far more scope for creativity

There’s also the potential to embed videos or sound, providing the scope for training companies to offer immersive experiences. This could range from music to help students remember information by association to how-to videos for practical topics, so students have a lasting record of instructions.

Instructors may wish to continue to offer a printed manual to complement the digital material but instead of giving it away, they can now charge for it when requested as an addition to the digital material - opening up a new revenue stream for the training company.

Students still have the ear of an instructor during the lesson so any thorny issues can be explained immediately on a one-to-one level. However, they can also access content before and after the course, around the clock and (via their phones, if desired) to prepare to consolidate their learning.

Another recent report, this time on Learners of the Future, has revealed that only 38% of learning departments consider themselves ready for 2020 and only 37% are preparing for changes in how employees learn. It’s understandable; many successful careers have been built on delivering classroom training using methods tried and tested over the years.

However, almost every industry across the spectrum is being forced to change through digitisation – from journalism to healthcare.

If training companies become comfortable with eCourseware they can continue to deliver a high-quality services, while enjoying the benefits of digitisation too.

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