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It’s official – the training course is dead

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LEARNInstead of spending money on tutor-led courses, should firms be allocating the budget to tools that enable staff to help themselves? Yes, according to Vaughan Waller, who believes that the technology is finally available to ensure that informal learning can become the dominant source of learning and development.








Both when business is good and when times are hard the development of staff is crucial to the competitiveness and long term survival of any company. Nowadays, so much can be achieved with learning delivered using technology which will make a profound difference to any organisation and at relatively little cost. And I am not talking about elearning since to most people that conjures up images of monolithic chunks of page turning boredom, delivered online from a learning and development department too busy to care whether it works or not, as long as the subject is covered by something. That image should be forgotten – it may still happen somewhere, but those days are thankfully numbered.

Photo of VAUGHAN WALLER"Instead of major training events occurring periodically throughout a workers life, learning will very soon be an event as insignificant to the learner as writing an email."

For there is now a new prevailing attitude towards acquiring learning in the workplace. Instead of major training events occurring periodically throughout a workers life, learning can - and very soon will - be an event as insignificant to the learner as writing an email. Technology now enables workers to learn what they need to know, when they need to know it. They do not need to wait for a tutor-led course to come around. Neither do they need to wade through page after page of Flash programming, just to find the tiny nugget of information that will enable them to complete efficiently the job at hand.

But the technology skeptics in this industry persist in the theory that we only learn in a pedagogical scenario and where interaction with our peers is available. I have nothing against tutor-led courses but to put it simply, they do not always work. They may be a great diversion from the daily grind but most of us have forgotten it all a few days later. However, it is well understood that 80% of what we learn is done informally, with no outside design or intervention. (That we choose to spend our entire training budgets on the 20% is not lost on many, but those days are numbered too.) Informal learning has been with us since homo sapiens first walked the earth and will always be our main source of advancement. Only now are we beginning to realise that technology enables people to learn quickly, efficiently and crucially informally at the time of need.

I do not advocate masses of so-called Web-2.0 technologies. Just like any form of learning delivery these may work in some cases but very definitely not all. In my field for instance, accountancy and all the regulation that goes with it, a blog or a wiki would have to be so stringently mediated that it would defeat the very qualities in which these platforms excel. Also put aside the notion that I advocate massive learning management systems that track and monitor a learner's every move. These can be useful particularly where compliance records need to be kept but 'nailing everything to the floor' so that reports can be run, is also now being seen as the reason why elearning in the past has failed. Every learning technology platform and every mode of training still has a valid application somewhere but the concept of a 'training course' is now becoming a thing of the past.

We all lead busy lives – that's a given. Our employers want more out of each of us in return for our salaries i.e. more productive and producing better quality outputs. So we should say to them that in order to do my job better, I need to be able to access the information and the tools that I need, within a few clicks of my mouse, when I need it. And I just want to do it myself – I don't want to have to rely on others, least of all the T&D or the IT department. This is not anarchy – it is called learner centricity.

"Every learning technology platform and every mode of training still has a valid application somewhere but the concept of a 'training course' is now becoming a thing of the past."

If I find a computer application that is easy to use and enables me to do what I need to do, then I will tell all my friends about it. They might well tell all their friends about it too and before you know it the application becomes part of everyone's daily toolkit. RSS feeds, Skype, delicious and a host of other tools (if you don't know what these are – duh!) are now part and parcel of my daily life, as much as Captivate, Presenter and an XML editor are my working tools. With the recent flush of rapid content development tools most people can 'knock out' a five minute module which can be on people's desks within, in theory, a few hours of the need being identified. It doesn't always matter if this tiny module is not the ultimate in instructional design, as long as the training message is clear for when the user needs it.

Importantly, the monitoring and control from the training and development department must be light, if there at all. The more we track, monitor and control the minutiae of each learners activities the more we stifle the vital spontaneity that makes informal learning simply what it is. Instead of spending that 20% on tutor-led courses that may sometimes work, the budget should be spent indirectly on providing tools to people that will enable them to help themselves. Informal learning has worked well for centuries but only now we have technology that enables it to be the dominant source of learning and development in any organisation. This is the new training paradigm.

If you are still interested in traditional classroom learning, visit CPDzone.co.uk for a list of finance and accounting course from the likes of PTP and Redcliffe Training.

Vaughan Waller is senior instructional designer at Moore Stephens LLP, an independent member firm of Moore Stephens International with member firms in 93 countries. He can be contacted at [email protected]

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