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Is technology the best solution for learning and development programs?

While it is often helpful, there can be drawbacks
training, development
E-learning makes a lot of sense for workers who aren’t able to attend classroom training or facilitated sessions for whatever reason.Shutterstock

By Brian Kreissl

As I mentioned a few times in the past, “training and development” in many organizations is currently being renamed to “learning and development” (L&D) in recognition that a great deal of learning in organizations happens other than through traditional classroom learning.

One of the reasons for this shift is because so many organizations are turning to e-learning and other online solutions such as webinars, simulations, videos, wikis, gamification, mobile learning and microlearning instead of traditional classroom learning.

With business becoming increasingly global and so many workers these days telecommuting, working from an off-site or satellite location or working through other non-standard work arrangements such as contract work, freelancing, consulting assignments, job-sharing, part-time work or short-term “gigs,” e-learning makes a lot of sense for workers who aren’t able to attend classroom training or facilitated sessions for whatever reason.

Even being able to deliver a classroom training session remotely to some learners via WebEx, Skype or GoToMeeting helps open up sessions to those who are unable to attend in person. Nevertheless, there are some drawbacks to this approach, which I will cover shortly.

Using technology to deliver learning programs has certain advantages such as cutting down on travel costs, making the learning more interactive, opening up the possibility of using some form of artificial intelligence to tailor learning to individuals and being less disruptive to people’s workdays. One of the advantages of e-learning and similar types of learning programs is they can be accessed at a time and place when it is convenient for the learner.

The asynchronous nature of most e-learning programs means busy people don’t necessarily need to disrupt important work to attend training. This has important implications for overworked and stressed-out managers and employees and those in revenue-generating positions who find it difficult to take time out during business hours to attend training.

Having been both an HR practitioner with a focus on learning and development and a line manager, I can attest to the time and workload pressures and conflicting priorities facing many line managers.

Short microlearning programs can help deliver training to learners in small, “bite-sized chunks” so they aren’t taking too much time away from work. These types of short programs can also help to supplement more traditional in-class learning programs by serving as a reminder and helping to facilitate knowledge transfer and recall, and by making the learning more relevant and practical.

These types of microlearning interventions include short videos, podcasts, e-mails, “cheat sheets,” posters, guides and suggested learning activities delivered after completion of the formal training programs – sometimes even several months afterwards.

Learning and development transformation

There is no doubt L&D is currently undergoing a transformation as many organizations look to replace their traditional classroom training with digital solutions. This is creating a demand for L&D practitioners with knowledge and skills in e-learning, online facilitation and digital pedagogy.

While instructional design relates to learning delivered in any format, it is particularly important to understand curriculum and learning design as they relate to online learning. This is resulting in employers looking for L&D specialists with backgrounds not only in training and instructional design, but also in things like e-learning and web development, graphics design, video editing and online content development and management.

To me, this sounds like three or four jobs rolled into one, but L&D practitioners who are technologically savvy will be well placed to enter this growing field. I know I am looking to acquire some of these technical skills as an aspiring L&D practitioner once I finish my adult education degree later this year.

Drawbacks of online learning

Aside from issues relating to skills shortages, some of the drawbacks I see relating to online learning are as follows:

  • Technology is not the best solution for all training. Certain types of learning are best facilitated in-person.
  • Even when people are able to attend sessions in person, they will often decide to log in online, which often reduces interaction and participation.
  • Many employers tend to use technology just because it’s trendy or “cool.”
  • Off-the-shelf e-learning from vendors doesn’t always meet organizational or employee needs.
  • Developing or customizing e-learning solutions can be expensive and time-consuming.
  • People have different learning styles and preferences, and not everyone is technologically savvy.
  • Smaller organizations may have a difficult time developing e-learning programs.
  • Online training tends to ignore the social aspects of learning.

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Brian Kreissl

Brian Kreissl is the product development manager for Thomson Reuters Legal Canada's human resources, OH&S, payroll and records retention products and solutions.
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