The arguments against top-down, instructor-led, off-site training are well known. The traditional approach has been outmoded by technology.
It’s inefficient and not cost-effective. It removes vital employees from critical tasks making them non-productive for extended periods. It doesn’t engage learners sufficiently and it’s forgotten almost as soon as it’s completed. So, how do you create Business Training that engages?
You’d be tempted to conclude that it’s time to ditch your organisation’s L&D and hand it over to Google or YouTube. But Business Training can have a bright future, so long as it adapts to the modern working environment and engages learners. One key step towards that future is to remove the false and harmful separation between training and work bringing training fully into the workflow. This means using some of the technology that apparently threatens training programmes to build a learning culture that is inclusive, adaptable and agile.
There’s agile and then there’s AGILE
Learning specialists are beginning to adopt an approach pioneered in software development. AGILE (Align, Get set, Iterate and Implement, Leverage and Evaluate) learning design is about the incremental and iterative development of learning.
It’s an alternative to the ADDIE process that treats learning development as a series of stages, where one step is completed before another begins. AGILE development, by contrast, calls for rapid and collaborative creation or re-purposing of training material in small chunks. Stakeholders are involved from the outset and teams discuss what works and what doesn’t.
This iterative approach means that evaluation and enhancements are a constant part of the development cycle rather than simply a (often forgotten) conclusion as with ADDIE. The AGILE approach can produce many of the features that modern learners have come to expect: just-in-time learning, ease of access to resources, self-paced and self-directed learning and learner control.
The vision thing
But, there’s more to agility than adopting an AGILE learning design. For a start, it’ll be impossible to implement an AGILE solution without a culture to support it. Agility in Business training begins by setting and meeting expectations and adopting a philosophy of learning rather than just a L&D design process. It’s about recognising real needs and bringing training into the environment in which training needs to be applied.
For that you need a vision and the involvement of key stakeholders. The vision means considering where training resides in the organisation and where and how it can be most effective. Without that vision even training that is developed by AGILE method will fail to have an impact. Even if you build training quickly and efficiently, there’s no guarantee that they will come.
Catering to modern demands
In challenging traditional approaches, we should be careful not to rule out all the wisdom of the past. One important maxim still holds: know your audience. In particular, know how your audience has changed.
The greater accessibility of information facilitated by advances in Information Technology, including mobile connectivity and artificial intelligence is beginning to affect learner behaviour and expectations. If you have a wealth of knowledge and know-how at your fingertips whenever you want it, why not use it? And – this is the real challenge for learning designers and trainers – why would you bother with anything else? If I need to know how to do something, I’m pretty confident I can find someone on the internet who’ll show me how.
These developments – both in computer software and user attitudes – present both a challenge and opportunity for Business Training. On the one hand, you need to make sure that the Googlers and YouTubers among your employees are accessing the right information, relevant to their working environment and processes. One the other hand you now have ways of reaching, informing and training them beyond the classroom and the LMS.
The ubiquity of mobile, smart devices presents great opportunities for Business Training. If you can make your training available of these devices, you’re closer to reaching that Holy Grail of just-in-time learning. With their mobile devices, employees are essentially carrying a learning tool with them, all the time, everywhere they go. The challenge for learning designers and leaders of organisations is to make learning accessible on these devices.
This means moving away from the traditional Business Training course which requires a sustained stretch of time to take and absorb. Instead adapt your material to make it available is small chunks, capable of being digested in a few minutes and easily searchable as part of a repository of resources.
Microlearning not only delivers information and training where it’s needed – at work and on the go – but it also places responsibility and control directly with the learner. Empowering employees to direct their own learning increases motivation and engagement.
Levels of engagement
The disengagement of employees with traditional training has been well recorded and established. E-learning modules, with their multimedia approach, ease of access, self-assessment and self-paced learning, have made training more appealing and responsive. But to provide truly agile Business Training, we need to go further.
Making content digital gives you a great deal of flexibility to re-use and re-purpose that material. You can adapt it for different devices and platforms. You can re-package and re-format elements to make it more digestible. For example, you can re-purpose interactive exercises from an e-learning module to create self-assessment check-ups to test current knowledge or refresh it. Material can be rearranged into a database of FAQs or Job Aids that are searchable and made accessible to employees as and when needed.
You can go further and hook your e-learning up with a chatbot that will use the power of AI to make the material more responsive to learner queries. This makes personalisation of learning easier. Chatbots act as a mentor to advise and remind employees on what they need to know, when they need to know it, at the same time facilitating access to content that will fill the gaps in their training.
Allowing for interrogation of learning content via AI opens up the opportunity for feedback and tracking. This enables collaboration as employees respond to the training. This can be an implicit response: tracking shows which chunks or elements of training are being accessed and used by employees on a regular basis and which are being ignored. Or it can be explicit: encouraging employees to feedback into the system and offer improvements and enhancements – an extension of the feedback loop in the AGILE learning design process.
On another level the digitisation of content and the accessibility of content creation tools can make collaboration more pro-active. You can encourage employees to create their own content, using video or audio through their own devices. This democratises learning and allows for better sharing of information across the organisation. These informal contributions can then be evaluated and if necessary incorporated into the more formal repository of Business Training resources.
Resetting the culture
The measures described are really about building a culture of agile learning. They’re designed to break down the barriers associated with traditional training methods, whether they’re classroom based or via e-learning modules. They recognise the changes to training brought about by developments in technology, especially the prevalence of mobile devices and mobile connectivity.
While they expose the limitations of instructor-led training, they also emphasise that training continues to be vital. It’s not about removing training but rather shifting its emphasis and location.
To be really engaging and engaged with, Business Training needs to move into working environment. Rather than require employees to leave their work to attend training, we need to bring training into their workplace and encourage it to be seen as part of their work and working day. Just as employees outside work would turn to their smart device to look something up, so we want to encourage them to regard workplace training in the same way.
To do that we need to make the training resources as accessible as something like a Google search request and to have the response as fast, targeted and concise as at YouTube ‘how to’ video. And we need to make the information we offer relevant, so that it’s recognisably applicable to employees and the roles and tasks they perform.
A culture of agile learning both empowers learners and makes them more responsible. This means not only providing engaging material, but also encouraging real engagement and use of Business Training on the job, in the workflow.