Reinventing training for the 21st century
By ROSHAN THIRAN
Story 1: A few months ago, I was on a research project in the UK and met someone over dinner. Our conversation somehow drifted to discussing education and before long, he started moaning about the recent training programme his company had subjected him to attend. Despite having an engaging trainer, at the end, he felt it was a complete waste of time as he had more important work that needed his attention.
Story 2: Recently, over breakfast at Bangsar Shopping Centre, a chief executive officer (CEO) of a large organisation declares that training is a waste of time. He spent so much time and effort sending his employees to training sessions but sees little return. He asks me what we can do for him that is different – so long as it will have no classroom training components. Many of his employees don’t even bother showing up for these sessions as they find it impractical and boring. He seeks a solution to his conundrum.
A couple of weeks ago, I was invited by the Human Resources Development Fund (HRDF) to address more than 400 trainers at their trainer’s conference. I was tempted to decline as many of the stories I hear from CEOs and employees were not entirely complimentary about the training profession. But I decided to brave the odds and share my deep concerns on how employee education and development (which we refer to as training), must reinvent and evolve.
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The case for change
A few hundred years ago, transportation was defined by horses and carriages. Then came bicycles. Fast forward to today and we have cars, trains, planes and motorcycles. Even cars have evolved in the past 100 years from Ford’s Model T to Google’s Driverless cars. Peek at the communications space and again we see how pigeons carrying messages quickly evolved into the Pony Express (horses again) and today we have the modern postal system. That evolved into the telecommunications space with the invention of phones and we currently have wireless communication devices driving email, Skype and a host of new means to stay connected. Almost every industry and space have evolved in some way or form.
Yet, if you look at the education space, whether at schools, universities or even in corporate education, much is still the same. The same classrooms exist today as it did before (although you can argue that it is now better equipped with LCD projectors, air-conditioning and other cool gadgets). And the same concept of teaching – where one “teaches” while the other “listens” or practices what is being taught, is being deployed. Classroom learning has become ineffective in driving the learning required to drive organisation growth and scaling required in most companies today.
Schools and universities are struggling to prepare the future workforce for future roles. What is more worrying is that corporate education (and development programmes run by training departments in organisations) is replicating what is being offered in schools and universities. This creates a learning environment that fails to produce results desired by CEOs in this fast-paced age of innovation and change.
Seth Godin, a famous author, recently tried to write about reinventing schools in his book Stop Stealing Dreams. In this book, he suggests a few ways to reinvent schools. Amongst his suggestions are:
- Homework during the day, lectures at night
- Open book, open notes, all the time
- Access to any course, anywhere in the world
- Precise, focused instruction instead of mass, generalised instruction
- The end of multiple-choice exams
- Experience, instead of test scores, as a measure of achievement
- The end of compliance as an outcome
- Cooperation instead of isolation
- Amplification of outlying students, teachers, and ideas
- Transformation of the role of the teacher
As schools and universities begin transforming education, a big question arises for corporate education and training – how do we transform that space? And what should we do to reinvent training? I believe that the corporate training space should evolve and these three new key areas must be embraced – micro-learning, technology-based learning and making learning a daily practice.
The goldfish dilemma
According to past research, it is estimated that the goldfish has an attention span of about 12 seconds. Recent research by Microsoft with Canadian researchers on human beings concluded that “people now generally lose concentration after eight seconds, highlighting the effects of an increasingly digitalised lifestyle on the brain.” This shows that human beings have a shorter attention span than a goldfish today. What does this mean for learning?
We are all learning in new ways today. Most of us consume our news digitally – we get a small burst of news through WhatsApp messages, Instagram or Facebook posts and even from e-mails we get from colleagues. We browse the Internet briefly daily and get micro pieces of learning. This is the new form of learning of the future – micro-learning.
With our attention span moving to eight seconds, traditional classroom learning has to change. Our employees all want to learn. Yet, most struggle to attend and focus even for a one-day classroom session. Most find it tedious and outdated listening to someone lecture them. In fact, research backs their claims. Listening to someone speak is the least effective form of learning, yielding a retention rate of less than 10% after three months.
I believe most of our employees are not opposed to learning and they want to grow. However, what they crave is bite-sized learnings where they can engage and learn on their own terms and with autonomy. Micro-learning is much cheaper and more efficient, yet many organisations have yet to capitalise and build their learning strategies around it.
So, what is micro-learning? It is simply providing your employees with small chunks of content (so that there is intense focus on that piece of knowledge) which are absorbed and applied directly to their work. Micro-learning is the same process we use to teach toddlers. We use flash cards to allow toddlers to absorb small bits of information at a time to allow the brain to slowly process it. As we grow older, we forget that the best way to learn and really absorb the learning is to do it one small chunk at a time.
At Leaderonomics, we are now pioneering micro-learning in various programmes we administer. We believe that helping to build micro-learning into curriculums will significantly enhance the learning return of investment (ROI) in addition to driving learning costs significantly lower.
One of the key changes that is happening in businesses all over the world is the drive for optimised productivity. This has created huge demands for employees to optimise their time to drive results and output for the organisation. Many CEOs frown upon training sessions as it requires taking their foot soldiers away from their outposts and into a classroom in the hope that they become better at what they do.
This drive for productivity should be replicated in the learning and training space. The answer must be technology-based learning. At Leaderonomics, we are now pioneering the future of learning by building customised Learning Management Systems (LMS) for organisations. It is done virtually (enabling autonomy for learners to learn any time they want to), uses elements of video, audio and text (enabling different styles of learning to be embraced) and even incorporates augmented reality, virtual role plays and tech-based simulations.
Mobile usage and penetration has hit peak levels. According to a Brandon Hall Learning and Development study, more than 50% of companies have revisited their learning strategy in the past few years. The key reason – mobile has transformed how “companies work, interact, collaborate and learn.” Despite this, only 10% of companies are using mobile learning solutions.
The scenarios are bound to change in years to come as the study indicates that “most companies recognise that mobile learning solutions can improve adoption, expand global reach, and engage users better, but do not understand how to execute a mobile strategy.” As more organisations start to experiment with mobile and technology-based learning solutions, we will surely see less classroom sessions and more tech-learning for content learning.
A big problem cited for technology-based learning is usually the lack of human-to-human interaction and contact. Yet, we should differentiate content-based learning and context-based learning. Almost 90% of classroom training today is content-based learning. This should be digitised as it can be taught via technology and micro-learning processes. This will yield significant cost savings to businesses.
Context-based learning however, must involve human interaction, mentoring and coaching and experience-based development. To become an expert requires content and contextual learning (refer to Figure 1). This means, while technology-based learning could mean the “death” of classrooms for content-based learning, there will be many opportunities for coaching practices, assessment services (including feedback mechanisms), other acceleration practices as well as development sessions where people are hand-held as they practice and obtain feedback.
The daily habit & “Just-In-Time” learning
Another big change I foresee for the training function will be the pace of learning. Today, learning is formally structured where people are shoved into a class and taught at a specific time (according to a schedule). I believe that in future, learning will be a daily process that will be fused throughout the working day. How would this look like?
Imagine a time in the future, where learning “nuggets” will pop up on your mobile or office device, giving you a quick three-minute lesson on how to get a specific piece of work done more efficiently. As you begin another task, another “learning nugget” pops up offering you instant learning or information related to your task at hand. This way, learners will be able to learn in a “just-in-time” approach, like how the supply chain industry now executes. As our world continues to be linked, we will even incorporate these “learning nuggets” into social media channels enabling us to learn throughout the day and not feel the boredom associated with classroom training sessions.
A few weekends ago, while I was spending the weekend on a retreat with the Proton Leadership team, a colleague was struggling with his slides. I quickly jumped in and showed him a two-step process to solve his dilemma. This enabled him to instantly learn something and it was immediately applied to his work.
The same process will work with “learning as a daily habit.” Not only will we learn and apply it immediately, we will also start teaching our colleagues new “secrets” learnt from these nuggets, which ensures deeper and richer collaboration and learning across the organisation, all in a “just-in-time” manner.
When we attend training sessions, we usually cannot incorporate what we have learnt till we get back to the office and sometimes, we tend to forget what we have learnt (as there may be many new things learnt throughout the day). With micro-learning, tech-based learning and daily learning, all these issues will be resolved as we will have an avenue for instant application.
The final piece of change I anticipate in the training industry is related to its alignment with business results and outcomes. Many times, training programmes do not correlate with business results. Learning programmes may operate in silos with little input from the business. Corporate training for the future should be meticulously aligned to an organisation’s vision, strategy and initiatives and must be tied to the desired key results.
The Brandon Hall study adds that, among “companies that did align learning and business priorities (48% of surveyed companies), more than 70% were able to improve company revenue.”
Training of the future must be directly correlated to the organisation’s result and revenue. If we successfully align both, start leveraging technology for content-based training, develop micro-learning for our employees and drive daily learning as a habit, we will truly see transformation in the learning space and in our organisations.
So why still the need for group-based face-to-face learning sessions?
While I mentioned that much of content-based learning will be digitised and driven by digital learning systems and structures, there is still a big need for context-based learning to be group-based and face-to-face.
People learn best through context and examples. We all need role models to demonstrate and show us how to apply key concepts and content. This is where the power of classrooms and peer-group sessions are fully optimised.
Participants will end up spending less time listening to lectures (content) from trainers, but will use their face-to-face time in classrooms to dialogue, critique, give feedback, provide examples, push each other, ensure accountability on learning and be role models to each other in the learning journey.
So, a three-day classroom session will be replaced by a few hours of online content training (which we can deploy at our own pace and by ourselves). This is followed by many “micro-learning” opportunities interspersed with shorter face-to-face/classroom sessions spread out over weeks and months. This way participants not only learn from each other but also contextualise their learning.
So, while traditional classroom sessions – where trainers spend more than 80% of the time talking – will soon become obsolete, I see exponential growth opportunities for “context-based” face-to-face learning sessions. It is truly going to be a different world of “training” in the years to come. A world that excites me!
If you would like to interact with Roshan Thiran and engage with him daily, go to www.facebook.com/roshanthiran.leaderonomics. Roshan is excited about the changing nature of education and learning and is looking forward to partnering with like-minded organisations to help reinvent the learning function.