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Making the transition to paperless learning

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How many trees does it take to make a book? Of course this is a trick question. It depends on the book. As champions of the learning and development process, what matters to LSN is the way people choose to engage with learning material, whatever form this takes. In particular – how we can continue to help those involved in learning and development to provide engaging and cost effective content in a world of increasing learner and organisational demand for flexibility.

On July 20, 2010, Amazon announced that for the first time ever, digital sales had outstripped book sales in the previous three months, with 143 digital copies sold to every 140 'traditional' books. From 2009 to 2010, US sales of digital books rose by a staggering $100m. In the UK sales were lower – around £150m last year, but over 80% were sold to the academic-professional sector, with only £5m in consumer sales. (1)

Books are not going out of fashion completely. The Publishers Association has announced that total book sales in the UK in 2010 amounted to £3.1bn. However even here, ebooks, downloads and audiobooks showed the most rapid growth: 31.8% in the preceeding 12 months. (2)
So what does this mean for providers, and consumers, of learning and development?
 
In reality, once we leave compulsory education, as individuals we need to navigate through a complex set of options about where, when and how to study and weigh the costs against the likely benefits. Employers must aim to offer high quality and relevant learning to a diverse workforce often with complex needs, and ensure it is delivered without impacting on the business. The education sector in particular is dealing with changing demands from learners and employers, with increasing pressure on resources and lean funding.
 
For employers. We know that Britain has a diverse workforce which must be supported. Literacy and numeracy are frequently quoted challenges in recruitment (National Employer Skills Survey for England 2009) which results in difficulties delivering essential compliance training at work, such as health and safety.
 
Despite the release of new funding such as the £50m Growth and Innovation Fund and funding for basic skills, the biggest barriers to employer led training are still time, cost and the perceived return on investment.  Face to face workplace training can be expensive particularly for small businesses, whether it is generated by the internal needs of the business or external factors such as people entering the workforce with poor basic skills.
 
Far too often we find employers are delivering remedial or catch up learning rather than implementing training for future skills linked to growth and productivity.
 
For the education sector. Education providers are also now being tasked with offering diverse and flexible learning opportunities. John Hayes, the Minister for Further Education, Skills and Lifelong Learning recently outlined his Vision for Further Education in helping to meet future economic challenges: we must “empower people to gauge the likely impact of learning for them before they begin it and to make informed choices on that basis...”(3)
 
As part of new funding agreements, colleges must do their best to make learning available “...in the mode of delivery that will best meet the needs of learners, employers and communities(4) (classroom, workshop, on-line and in the workplace)…”
 
There are a variety of options available to colleges to help them develop flexible and supported blended pathways which will reduce the pressure on classroom resources and carry the potential for business growth. Blended learning allows colleges to recruit outside their traditional catchment areas or internationally, offer more niche or specialised courses, or collaborate across a partnership with no loss of quality.
 
For individuals.Education, learning and development is inevitably linked to both economic drivers and learner demand in terms of what courses are offered. There is an equal imperative though to engage and retain learners by offering the medium that they want and expect.   Keeping people involved in learning is also a factor of how they  want to access content.
 
We believe that there has occasionally been too high an emphasis on sophisticated technology which can be prohibitively expensive to develop or difficult to access. The critical factor may be accessibility (particularly mobility). Learning content need not necessarily be all singing... but it will increasingly be downloaded to mobile devices, ebooks, iPads and accessed without the use of a classroom. Teachers and trainers will be vitally important in supporting people as independent learners, not merely to impart facts. 
At LSN we use technology enhanced learning to support individuals, employers and the education sector meet theses current challenges.. We work with a wide range of public and private sector partners to develop cost effective online and blended learning programmes that are user- friendly and accessible, without needing a high level of technical skill or equipment.
If you would like to know more about our work and how it could help your organisation or your own development please contact me on: amorrisey@lsnlearning.org.uk or call 01234 714778.
 
 
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(1) http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2010/jul/20/amazon-ebook-digital-sales-hardbacks-us
 
(2) http://www.publishers.org.uk/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=1755:the-publishers-association-reveals-accelerated-growth-in-2010-digital-book-market&catid=503:pa-press-releases-and-comments&Itemid=1618
 
(3) http://www.bis.gov.uk/news/speeches/john-hayes-vision-for-further-education
 
(4) BIS (Investing in skills for sustainable growth, BIS, November 2010. 
 

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