Digital technology is having a huge impact on the way workplace learning and development (L&D) is delivered. While its influence is all for the good, it’s not without its repercussions, as Andy Lancaster, head of L&D at the Chartered Institute of Learning and Development (CIPD) explains:
There’s an increased need for technology, but there are challenges. L&D professionals are struggling to gain the competence and experience to exploit technology.
According to the CIPD’s 2015 annual report on L&D, published in May, three-quarters of organizations are using technology for L&D and this number is set to rise.
Yet, even though technology is recognized as having the potential to support and improve learning, L&D professionals themselves are having trouble keeping up with the pace of change. Only a quarter of respondents to the CIPD’s survey said they felt confident or very confident in their ability to harness technology in their learning endeavors.
What’s required, believes Lancaster, is for L&D professionals to swallow some of their own medicine:
What we need to see is real investment in learning and development professionals to be able to exploit and deliver technology.
One way L&D professionals can increase their understanding of technology is through using social media networks. Lancaster points out that “there’s easy access to peers” by joining various online communities. It’s a good way of sharing best practice and benchmarking against other organizations.
Technology is both part of the reason why the workplace is changing so incredibly fast, and also a means of keeping up with the change. According to Lancaster:
One of the things having an impact is flexibly working. Because it’s far more prevalent, we need to look at more flexible ways to deliver learning.”
This flexibility encompasses both when and how we access learning. The CIPD survey, for example, found that 55% of people were learning on the way to work or outside work. Says Lancaster:
Therefore the concept of learning is not just a work issue. It raises the issue, as employers, should we expect them to learn outside work?
Younger workers, who tend to be more tech savvy and often bring their own devices to work, expect the same level of sophisticated technology in the workplace, but as Lancaster notes:
Obviously when get there and see level of learning technology, they are not impressed.
Given these workplace changes, it’s hardly surprising that the four technologies with biggest impact on L&D over the next five years identified by the CIPD report are mobile (57%), virtual classrooms (40%), social media (30%) and webinars (25%).These technologies all require a change in skillsets from L&D professionals. Trainers in virtual classrooms don’t have the visual clues to see if learners are paying attention, so it’s imperative, believes Lancaster, to make things far more interactive:
When you don’t have live visual clues, you need to find another way to make an emotional connection and there needs to be far more pace.”
Lancaster suggests that learners need to be engaged in some kind of activity every three minutes or so, which probably isn’t necessary in face-to-face classroom environments.
Another key trend is for employees to access bite-sized or just-in-time snippets of learning, rather than attending a formal course. In this way, they are able to learn what they need, at the moment they need it, often delivered through their mobile device.
Speed is important. Whereas in the past a special production company would spend months creating a slick piece of online training, the trend now is for speed rather than quality: you can take a video on how to do something and post it the same day. Lancaster points out:
We’re seeing a move towards handhelds for video. In the past, you’d get a production team in, but now we’ve got to the situation where you have the capabilities of a basic video mixing suite in your pocket.
This content would be created in the field, usually by employees themselves, rather than created centrally by the L&D team. Lancaster characterizes this as a change in the L&D professional’s role “from creator to curator”.
This is very much a work in progress. Half of all content is still created from scratch by L&D and one tenth by employees themselves, noted the CIPD report. But the shift is towards more content being created outside the L&D team and means they are moving into the role of guardians of quality control.
The CIPD is eating its own dog food and has launched its first L&D qualifications to be entirely delivered online, making use of social and collaborative techniques. The idea is that by experiencing this kind of learning first hand will give help give the L&D professionals the confidence to apply these techniques in their organizations. Says Lancaster:
Part of the reason behind this is to become a role model for what learning technology looks like.
Despite the rise in importance of digital technologies to support L&D, its strength lies in aiding and abetting rather than replacing face-to-face learning. According to the CIPD report, 51% of firms expect more than half their learning to be delivered face to face.
Digital technologies offer up the chance for the L&D departments to significantly change the way they deliver and measure the success of their training.
It’s exciting, but also daunting, especially with the speed the technology changing so fast. So it’s understandable that although there’s acceptance that technology offers the potential to change the way learning takes place in organizations, there’s also a confidence issue.
An upcoming article will look in more detail at one of four key technologies identified by the CIPD as being influential in the L&D space. Andy Lancaster together with Stella Collins, co-authors of The Webinars Pocketbook, will discuss how to run effective webinars.