‘Classroom’ training alive and changing

Incorporating aspects of e-learning enhances traditional training

In light of all the new technologies and channels available for learning, classroom training still has a place in training and development, as long as it remains adaptable.

The approach to learning — in the classroom and through other channels — has evolved to stay relevant to learners and employers. Many of the methods used in the past are rapidly being replaced or transforming, leading to the creation of new learning practices in the process.

About 10 years ago, Nexient, a Sydney, N.S.-based training firm, created a number of blended learning techniques with a multinational telecommunications firm. The initiative sprang from a desire to increase the relevance of classroom learning, but the outcome was surprising. The blended solution — a combination of instructor-led training and web-based e-learning — not only produced better results than predicted, and higher learner engagement and enthusiasm than expected, it changed the nature of both learning methods. The in-class training became tightly integrated with the online experience and the relevance to the learner was vastly improved.

In earlier days classroom learning, for the most part, followed a relatively standard formula. The teacher or instructor acted as the “sage on the stage” and students participated only as passive recipients of information. Even newer, more innovative forms of learning followed this formula in their early incarnations. The promise of interactivity and self-direction of e-learning, for example, was often subverted by simplistic instructional approaches that amounted to little more than electronic page turning.

Physical and academic limits ensured that the evolution of classroom learning, historically, occurred on a relatively small scale and over prolonged periods of time. In the past decade, however, three drivers have significantly accelerated the pace of change to make a “classroom” without walls.

Changes in learners: Much has been written about the profound difference, particularly in learning needs, between Gen-X and Gen-Y employees and those of previous generations. These young employees bring special abilities, values and attributes to the workplace and their work lives. They have grown up with technology as a constant in their lives, learning and jobs. They understand its potential to revolutionize the way they work and how they acquire new knowledge and skills. They have the technical ability to be more self-directed in how they acquire information and they expect more creative, interactive, supportive and collaborative relationships with colleagues and supervisors. They are believers in lifelong learning to advance their skills while maintaining an overall work-life balance.

Changes in technology: The Internet’s ubiquity, vastly enhanced functionality and rapidly increasing bandwidth have completely transformed the workplace. On-demand access to a universal information store has made anytime, anywhere learning possible. The powerful and revolutionary tools of Web 2.0 — wikis, blogs, podcasts, collaborative computing — have changed the way people, particularly younger people, expect to interact with each other. And rich media has raised the bar on production values, learner expectations and instructional possibilities.

Changes in the organization: The third driver of learning change, not surprisingly, is the evolving needs of the organization. Workplace demographics are shifting in unprecedented ways, with baby boomers retiring and a new, more tech-savvy and impatient generation taking their place. There is an urgent need to recognize and, where necessary, create institutional memory. Younger workers need to build expertise quickly, in ways that reduce the need for the years of experience possessed by their retiring forebears. A greater degree of leadership is required at all levels and in all functions of the organization.

Organizations need talent development solutions that meet these challenges, while employees need learning opportunities that reflect their new abilities and needs. Classroom learning must evolve and adapt accordingly.

Technology has freed us from the physical limitations of the traditional classroom, with virtual classrooms that can span the community or the continent. Instructors no longer need to be givers of information (the Internet has taken over that function, with greater immediacy, accuracy and vastly greater capacity) and are free to engage in a real dialogue with participants, drawing on their past experience, leveraging their creativity, and fueling their passion and personal motivation.

In short, the classroom is evolving at a rapid pace. Learning and how people learn have changed and continue to change. The classroom endures, but has evolved to include interactions with remote colleagues and instructors, e-learning in myriad forms, on-the-job action learning, performance coaching, assessment and feedback. These are only the most recent changes in a long tradition of evolution and development in an industry that will continue to redefine classroom training.

Scott Williams is the chief learning officer of Nexient Learning, a Sydney, N.S.-based corporate training and consulting company. He can be reached at [email protected].

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