Rise in webinars among e-learning trends

Three training experts spot the latest in the industry

Gone are the days of travelling afar to attend training programs and meetings in person. BlackBerrys, Palm Pilots, Treos, laptops and other synchronous learning devices now rule the roost.

According to a 2006 survey by the Canadian Society for Training and Development, 40 per cent of 522 respondents — the majority of whom were workplace learning and performance practitioners — identified e-learning as an organizational priority. When it comes to their own training, about half (47.9 per cent) indicated a preference for participation in webinars over options such as lunch-and-learns, breakfast series and other live, in-person sessions.

So what are the top three trends in the industry? Three e-learning experts, who are speaking at CSTD’s annual conference in Toronto this November, weigh in with their opinions.

Saul Carliner

Assistant professor of educational technology
Concordia University

As Training Magazine declared when announcing the results of its 2005 Annual Industry Survey, the classroom “ain’t dead yet.” Nor is it likely to be completely replaced by online learning. The most significant trend is that, as organizations become more comfortable with it, e-learning is increasingly being integrated into the everyday business of training and not being thought of as an experimental side activity.

1. Webinars: Webinars have had a significant effect on marketing, often replacing or significantly reducing the amount of informational and educational seminars that were part of the sales cycle. Instead of renting a meeting room and inviting people to a one- or two-hour seminar, many organizations are choosing instead to host a webinar. This reduces travel, room rental and catering costs.

2. Blogs and wikis: Organizations are still looking for ways to integrate other electronic tools such as blogs and wikis into the everyday practice of workplace learning. (Wikis are websites that can be edited by anyone, resulting in evolving content created collectively by the site’s users and visitors.) Although blogs are seamlessly integrated into corporate communications efforts, organizations are not as sure how to integrate blogs into workplace learning (though many blogs about learning exist). Similarly, although wikis are being used on team projects in large organizations, organizations are still trying to figure out how to integrate them into workplace learning efforts. Blogs and wikis seem to work best when people choose to participate in them.

Blogs started because someone had access to the technology, not a compelling need for a blog or wiki, have been less than successful. Part of the reason is the model for a blog — ongoing learning — is the exact opposite of most training, which is a one- or two-time event. It requires a different type of energy. And without other types of accountability built in, it’s difficult to generate, much less sustain, the level of conversation needed for compelling content to emerge.

3. Increase in online and informal learning: Many organizations take a blended approach to building performance but, when possible, tend to put training associated with more rote skills into a tutorial and the training for higher-order skills in a classroom or virtual classroom format. As a result, learning without formal training and through other resources is growing. Given the rate of change and the need for workers to remain current, organizations cannot rely exclusively on classroom learning to keep workers up to date. Online learning fills the gap. At some point in the future, a typical organization’s portfolio of learning is likely to be 30 per cent to 50 per cent online and 50 per cent to 70 per cent in the classroom. That probably won’t happen for several more years. According to the State of the Industry survey by the American Society for Training and Development, online learning has grown from less than five per cent of a typical corporate training group’s portfolio at the beginning of this decade to about 20 to 30 per cent, though some organizations are already there.

Ramona Materi

Ingenia Consulting
North Vancouver, B.C.

As technology becomes more user friendly, the classroom experience e-learning can offer is improving. But, it’s also enabling e-learning to move beyond the classroom and onto the job.

1. Learning software: People are increasingly using software such as Breeze, Captivate, Flash and other web-conferencing and presentation tools that make it easier and faster to develop engaging training. The software is still mostly limited to those who are tech-savvy, but as time passes these products are becoming more user-friendly.

2. Podcasts: Podcasts will be an early winner. Like virtual classrooms, they replicate the familiar instructor model, are easily portable and can be quick to produce — think of a truck driver on an oil sands project listening to a daily safety and production report on her iPod. Video websites, such as VideoJug (www.videojug.com) which has online instructional videos on a wide variety of topics, are starting to proliferate.

3. Informal, just-in-time and mobile learning: People are examining ways to use e-learning to provide informal learning support, just-in-time and mobile learning. Let’s continue with the truck driver example. Perhaps when she first started, the truck driver took a classroom course. But with demanding production targets, she can’t leave her job even for a day. So she begins her shift by logging onto one of the computers in the lunchroom, looking for the answer to a question she posted to the driver community. Winter’s first snow has started, so she then might watch a brief online video that features one of the company’s best drivers demonstrating refresher tips on operating in a storm. Later that night in her truck, she listens to the daily podcast featuring that same expert driver reiterating those tips and answering questions sent in by other drivers.

Gary Woodill

Chief Learning Officer
Peterborough, Ont.

E-learning has started to move beyond the simple “tell and test” models of instructional design to an online learning environment that is much more dynamic, collaborative and engaging.

1. Shift in control of learning from instructor-led to learner-directed: This means employees will need to take responsibility for their own learning and document what they have accomplished using devices such as e-portfolios.

2. Shift from large proprietary software packages: There is a shift away from large software packages to an individualized mix of data sources and applications for each individual, loosely joined using service-oriented-architectures. Personalized training is quickly becoming a reality, as employees are able to build and store personal profiles and use them to change the output of learning programs on the fly. The ability to store personal profiles online gives organizations the framework of the needs assessment tool. Having the personal profile or demographic information online gives organizations ready access to creating the structure of the learning programs. Again, it is in tune with what the learner really needs and not what the trainer wants to impart.

3. Shift from passive receptivity to engaged involvement: Much of the training up to now has been about receiving messages from presenters. Many technologies require the learner to be involved directly in the production of what is happening on screen. Having the learner engaged in such a highly interactive manner results in direct involvement by the learner, who is now able to contribute to the learning in a more active fashion.

Charu Shankar is manager of learning and development at the Canadian Society for Training and Development. She can be reached at (416) 367-5900 ext. 29 or [email protected].

Those interested in keeping abreast of developments and trends in e-learning may join CSTD's e-learning network at www.cstd.ca/cop/elearning/index.html.

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