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Training trends and tools: A review of 2009


Mike Ditchburn takes a look at some of the learning trends of 2009 and what we can look forward to in 2010.

It’s difficult to review 2009 without feeling a little sorry for ourselves and thinking what might have been if it wasn’t for those city men in striped suits and red braces! Undoubtedly for some in our industry this year has been one to forget. However, for others it has been a year of innovation and opportunity – just don’t mention the ‘R’ word.
In a time when the economic situation has created uncertainty and an understandable tightening of budgets, we have seen a fascinating phenomena where business managers and learning practitioners have been ‘forced’ to focus on the value of the learning intervention rather than just the cost. This has actually been a very positive trend which has led us all to be creative with technology to find better and more cost effective delivery mechanisms.

Innovation under duress

Arguably, 2009 has been a period of ‘forced innovation’. We haven’t seen the end of the ‘course’ by any means, but we have seen a large appetite for ‘just in time and just enough’ learning. Rapid e-Learning has embedded itself in our vocabulary and training managers are seeing the benefits of being more nimble with their online learning offer. Likewise, we are seeing more performance support solutions, with trainers doing ‘power in the hour’ lunchtime sessions and on-call ‘trainer at your desk’ support.
We should perhaps include social networking and other ‘informal’ learning activities as a key trend in 2009 as we all start to see the opportunities these technologies create. However, it’s almost impossible to measure the impact of this on an organisation and, although we all recognise that informal learning has a key role, it currently operates in the learning ‘black market’.
And what else has technology given us in 2009? We were first introduced to virtual classroom technology 15 years ago – perhaps then ahead of it’s time. We liked the idea but surely training had to be delivered in a classroom where we could see our colleagues in the flesh? Cost controls have given the virtual classroom a heralded return but this time it is about competitive advantage and as part of a blended learning solution – giving it more widespread adoption.

Immersive learning?

Perhaps the ‘new kid on the block’ in 2009 is immersive learning – we all knew his little brother ‘games-based learning’ who mysteriously went away and now we mustn’t even mention his name! The world of 3D interaction and real time simulation is becoming a reality. However, our appetites have been whetted by Nintendo and Sony, and our visual expectations have been raised to a very high level. The medical and airline industries have seen real benefits from immersive environments but we need to see the cost point lowered before popular interest is generated.
The uncertainty we’ve all seen this year has meant that these new technologies have not become ‘institutionalised’ and nothing has fundamentally changed. I for one don’t think that’s a bad thing, after all, it’s nice to think that what we did before still has some benefit! Developments have been important but informal learning, immersive environments and rapid e-Learning still only perform a marginal role in our portfolio.
They are not the ‘silver-bullet’ and, in the same way that e-Learning never replaced the classroom, there is no panacea. Most interestingly though, I definitely sense a greater understanding of how we can make a blend of solutions fuse together to broaden the corporate offering. Whether this is through necessity or a realisation that it gives us better results is perhaps not important right now!
Finally, when I reflect on 2009, I observe that we are becoming less theoretical about how we evaluate learning. We still think that evaluation is important but I sense that we are less hung up about ‘Return on Investment’ and I for one think that’s a positive thing. Don’t get me wrong, RoI is a fundamental consideration for any investment in learning, but more importantly is the need to focus on learning objectives and how the intervention can benefit the organisation – too much focus solely on the ‘pounds and pence’ has, in some cases, led us to take our eye off the ball and forget that we’re in the ‘people’ business.

So, what can we look forward to in 2010?

Well, for sure it’s not going to get any easier! With unemployment continuing to rise – at least in the early part of the year – those in the basic skills and vocational training arenas will be busy. Whatever happens in May, we can expect a clear Government focus on apprenticeships, and training programmes that help people change careers and return to work. However, aligned to this will be a tightening of the public purse and those who operate in the public sector will have increasing opportunities to be innovative with their budgets and solutions!
And what about technology? More of the same I would suggest. Training providers (commercial and in-house) will need to be flexible and deliver effective results quickly. Arguably it will take a brave organisation to try and be too radical at a time when we perhaps need to be conservative (with a small ‘c’ of course). Performance support will be a well-used phrase and we should wait with eager anticipation for technologies like Google Wave to lead us into a new era. 
I guess we’ll see some of the larger training suppliers disappear and consolidation will again be a watchword. But every cloud has a silver lining, and we’ll also see a range of new entrants at the lower end to keep us ‘fresh’ and provoke further innovation. And the cycle continues…
Mike Ditchburn is managing director of the Interactive Learning Division at REDTRAY.

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