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Learning: When do we want it? Now!

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Learning on Web 2.0Podcasts, rapid elearning, online discussion forums, mobile learning on iPods and MP3s - are you keeping up? The massive explosion in new technology, and Web 2.0 in particular, provides a treasure trove for learners and their employers, says Kirstie Donnell.







In many ways it's obvious what employers want – a well trained workforce with the skills to respond to, and solve, the numerous challenges they face on a daily basis. And when it comes to improving skills we all know employers want high quality, flexible training, tailored to the needs of their business. Training which is relevant to their own and their employees' needs and which they can put into practice immediately.

If only it were that simple. The needs of today's employers are diverse and, when it comes to skills and training, one size definitely doesn't fit all. Not only that, the pace of change in today's economic climate is rapid and accelerating and this is another key challenge all businesses are facing. However, there are reasons to be optimistic. Increasing numbers of people are embracing the internet and mobile technology is becoming part of everyday life.

More than 31 million adults in Britain are now online and time spent on the internet is increasing month on month. In fact, we now spend more time per week on the internet – an average of 21 hours - than we do watching TV (an average of 17 hours). And it's not just the young or better qualified – those with fewer qualifications and those over 45 are among the fastest growing user groups.

Photo of Kirstie Donnell"Innovation in the new world of learning is about making the best use of Web 2.0 technologies and other tools to give employers – and their employees – access to rich and varied learning experiences to help them improve performance."

With more and more people using mobile phones, as well as other devices – amongst adults, for example, nearly a fifth have downloaded a 'podcast' in the last six months, and a quarter say they are likely to in the next six months - the influence of new technologies on people's lives is set to grow and grow.

The digital world has opened up and has seen more change in the last 10 years than ever before. But the technology is the means to deliver, not the end. Innovation in the new world of learning is about making the best use of Web 2.0 technologies and other tools to give employers – and their employees – access to rich and varied learning experiences to help them improve performance.

We know technology works best when it supports existing human behaviours - it should not force a new way of behaving. Web 2.0 allows us to deliver the next generation of training for employers. Those employers need to recognise the growing importance of informal learning in the role of training its workforce and keeping employees' skills and knowledge up-to-date.

In reality, this means gone are the days where 'teacher knows best' stood in a classroom. Learners are now using Web 2.0 technologies to create new content and teach each other. This is not the future - this is happening now. People are using the web to teach each other new skills and to share knowledge. Just think of Wikipedia - a site which is based on user-generated content, where you learn from other people's contribution and knowledge. Its popularity has soared. Since its launch in 2002, people have posted and contributed to more than 2.25 million articles on the English Wikipedia.

Using new technologies to create online learning communities can play an integral role in employees' learning experiences. Forums and discussion boards allow the learner to connect with people within their organisation to share ideas and learn together.

Employers want learning resources which fit into their employees' day job. As learning designers, or providers, we need to be thinking about providing resources for them to access when they want and need them. We should not ignore the importance of informal learning and the sharing of knowledge. This could be just as, if not more, valuable to helping employees learn a new skill - and it can also be a very cost effective solution!

Twenty minutes of an employee's time spent participating in a podcast and online session could solve a real business skill issue and feel much more intuitive than having sent the same employee on a full-day training course. To make this happen, though, employers need to embrace the web, not see it as a 'play tool' for employees - which may mean they are not doing their day job.

"In short, employers - and their employees - want cost effective training which delivers real results. When do they want it? Now! And how do they want it? I say more and more Web 2.0 delivery! "

Accessing the internet and using Web 2.0 means that learning can be delivered where and when the learner wants it. Videos and podcasts can be downloaded from the computer to mobile devices such as an iPod or MP3 player as a piece of mobile-learning, this provides an integrated experience which takes advantage of technologies to take learning into people's lives.

Sometimes a formal training programme is not the answer. People just need up-to-date information on a particular topic. Online communities which allow an employee to access information resources as well as more formal learning resources offer real performance support.

Recent research in the US by Bersin and Associates indicates 72% of training requirements are time critical and need to be addressed in 60-90 days. Some traditional elearning models struggle to deliver in this timeframe. A rapid approach therefore becomes critical if the training is to respond to the demands of the business and also keep the learner/employee engaged.

In short, employers - and their employees - want cost effective training which delivers real results. When do they want it? Now! And how do they want it? I say more and more Web 2.0 delivery!


Kirstie Donnelly is the director of products and marketing at Ufi, the organisation behind learndirect and learndirect Business. For more information go to www.ufi.com

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