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The Training Manager’s view: Look beyond the hype


While training and e-learning companies are thinking of the next pitch, training managers are dealing with real issues, says Wayne Mullen, Training and Development Manager at The Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi Ltd, who examines why the surge in 'blended solutions' belies the fact that multiple learning methods have always been employed to help people learn.

E-learning promised much. Training would be available anytime, anywhere to anyone. Learners would be in control. Costs would be reduced. Demanding, precious, trainers would become bingo callers. And if you were lucky someone, somewhere, might actually learn something.

However, e-learning didn’t take over the world. Learning, given the quality of some of the products out there, was not uppermost in the minds of the developers. Software failed to do what it said on the packet. What a shocker. Just as e-learning was about to be confined to the dustbin of training history kept company by the Assertiveness CD-ROM and the WordPerfect for Windows Video, someone had an idea. Let’s bundle e-learning with trainer-delivered courses and call it ‘blended learning’. I wonder if the person who coined the term has ever seen what a blender does to food.

So now every training provider offers a ‘blended’ solution. Training courses that could previously develop excellence in management/selling/technology/presenting now need to be blended with e-learning to truly develop excellence in management/selling/technology/presenting. And if you really, really, truly want to develop excellence in management/selling/technology/presenting then you’ll need a Learning Management System on top of that. That your e-learning content is American/Japanese/Burmese and your course material isn’t doesn’t matter. That the learning outcomes differ, also doesn’t matter. Just as long as it’s blended.

While training and e-learning companies are thinking of the next pitch, training managers are dealing with real issues. Our customers demand more, our employees demand more, our markets demand more, our regulators demand more and our skills requirements are much, much more complex than they can imagine. Yet the telephone calls, e-mails and junk mail we receive implies that we came down with the last shower. For tens of thousands of pounds I have been offered an e-learning tool that I could have knocked up in PowerPoint in a couple of hours. I have seen regulatory training content which is incorrect. I have seen products with so many bells and whistles I had to lie down after 20 minutes.

Somewhere we forgot that multiple learning methods have always been employed to help people learn. Learning to drive takes a combination of self-study and experiential learning. Schools have always employed multiple learning methods. And businesses have long provided coaching, training courses, outdoor development programmes, away days, self-study, further education, technology, conferences, and books to develop competence in their employees. We must be doing something right – many of our business are in better shape than many training companies.

And yet. There are practitioners and vendors who are putting real thought into how technology can be employed in delivering, complimenting, enhancing and transforming learning. The combination of a sound understanding of the business requirement, imagination, experience, and knowing how adults learn, is undoubtedly the basis of any successful learning intervention. One organisation has taken a holistic approach by offering access through the internet to a range of self and career development opportunities and learning methods. Another has dispensed with traditional ideas about training and learning. Their offering doesn’t fit the mould of e-learning, or knowledge management or message boards. Yet it combines the best elements of all three. The content is moderated but not centrally managed; it evolves real-time through the experience of the people who know – the front line.

What makes these efforts successful is that the provider has considered the best method for delivering different types of learning against the organisation’s culture and learning history. In my own organisation e-learning for PC skills failed on its own. This year we are taking a different approach without throwing the baby out with the bathwater. On the other hand financial and financial product training (i.e. largely conceptual content) via e-learning is receiving positive feedback. The product has been designed in short, clear modules and proves popular with its demanding and busy audience (dealers). It will be employed – as part of a structured programme – to support career development and succession planning.

As delegates know, great training courses are those where the trainer has facilitated the exploration and exchange of ideas and experience. Poor courses are those where the trainer has churned out an endless stream of Maslows and Macgregors. Those concepts and models are important but e-learning or reading material might be a better way to deliver them.

DIY e-learning tools are now widely available at fairly low cost and trainers can begin with a blank canvas. Those tools can also be employed to support other functions – for example organisational communication. There are some great providers out there willing to listen, willing to work with what you have and what you want to change, and capable of exceeding expectations about technology and learning. As long as we keep focused on what we are trying to achieve anything is possible and anything is a learning resource. Skills development can be imaginative, enjoyable and integrated. And hopefully the poor learner struggling in his relationships with other human beings, clicking his way through the assertiveness CD-Rom is a thing of the past. Along with the blender.


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