Workers Need Availability of a Learning Environment in Which They Can Find Info, Collaborate and Build Their Own learning Plans.
A new era of corporate e-learning is emerging — one in which e-learning is used to support on-the-job performance first, and first-time learning second. In today’s fast-paced business environment, the flow of information is growing so quickly that the relevance of learning programs is based as much on speed and timeliness as it is on instructional rigor.
The “need for speed” in most of today’s training organizations is accelerating due to several other disruptive trends that are driving the $12 billion e-learning market. These trends include the evolution of the Internet into a highly interactive, collaborative and social technology that has gone mainstream; the continued rapid growth and widespread adoption of new e-learning technologies, including mobile and virtual classrooms; and the continued evolution of video as a learning tool.
AN ONGOING EVOLUTION
It may help to put these trends in perspective by looking at where e-learning has been. Bersin & Associates previously defined e-learning as “…any form of corporate training that uses Internet-based technology for delivery, management and measurement.” E-learning initially appealed to corporate training managers primarily for its ability to reduce costs associated with travel and instructor-led training and to improve the scalability of training programs.
Today’s interactive, collaborative, social Web shifts the practice of delivering or “pushing” training to learners — often in the form of traditional self-paced e-learning. Instead, learners “pull” the information they need at the time they need it.
The core of this next-generation e-learning is centered on the interest of the learner and often generated by the learner. In short, e-learning no longer is simply a traditional self-paced alternative to classroom learning. Increasingly, it resembles employee experiences of tapping the Web as well as their online and offline social networks for personal use. Today’s workers need availability of a “learning environment” in which they can find information, collaborate and build their own learning plans.
As a result, e-learning is taking on a more interactive and social format that provides learners with small pieces of learning content, often created by the learners themselves and other subject-matter experts. This content and knowledge is framed and accessible within the context of the learner’s daily work — anytime, anywhere, synchronously or asynchronously — to create learning as a continuous process, not as an event or in a page-turning format. This next-generation e-learning uses video, video-conferencing, simulations, games, virtual classrooms and digital content libraries. And all of it is tailored to learners’ business-driven goals, their professional goals, their individual learning styles, and their preferred social networks.
Let’s take a look at some of the key tools and trends in e-learning, which now accounts for about one-third of all training hours, and examine how organizations are leveraging these new approaches to drive business impact.
>> SOCIAL GOES MAINSTREAM:
Many companies have adopted or are adopting various forms of social learning into their training strategies. As a result, social learning is now fairly mainstream across multiple industries.
Take the example of Booz Allen, a strategy and consulting firm that has experienced double-digit growth over the last 15 years and whose workforce has doubled every five years — with many employees working off-site. The company’s objective was to ensure its workforce remained connected to the company and its training ethos.
To achieve this goal, Booz Allen developed a new Mentor Match tool, which was created and incorporated into the organization’s SharePoint-based social networking portal, in conjunction with a multifaceted mentoring program. The new multi-faceted mentoring program improves employees’ connection to the firm, their leaders, and their teams. Through a suite of tailored resources and ongoing support, the enhanced program accelerates effective onboarding, staff development, and career management — all critical components to employee connection and engagement.
>> RAPID GROWTH IN MOBILE:
Mobile learning finally has gone mainstream, driven by consumers in both the developed and developing worlds, and by mobile- technology oriented industries including high-tech, business services and health care. The adoption of mobile technologies in the workplace also has been spurred by the explosion of easy-to-use and relatively inexpensive smartphones, ebook readers, netbooks, tablets, and user friendly applications. Use of mobile devices for learning rose from nine percent of U.S.-based organizations in 2007 to an estimated 20 percent or more in 2010. More than a quarter of the world’s population now uses a mobile device, and frequent mobile Internet use has almost doubled in the past year. The informal uses for m-learning vastly outnumber the formal, and these new applications increasingly empower today’s workers to access the information they need on demand.
Major companies have adopted and demonstrated the efficacy of mobile learning. For example, Accenture created a uPodcast program that enables subject-matter experts and the organization’s leaders to share knowledge at a minimal cost. To date, 180 podcasts have been created and more than 20,000 employees — 11 percent of the total workforce — have accessed them.
In another example, Coca-Cola turned to Kelley Executive Partners to create an alternate reality game that combines social and mobile technologies — including GPS and smartphones — along with collaborative and competitive team problem-solving. The game was designed to drive understanding of how millennial consumers use Web 2.0 technologies (and avoiding television) to help Coca-Cola develop a more effective marketing strategy.
>> RAPID GROWTH OF THE VIRTUAL CLASSROOM:
A staple in today’s e-learning toolset is the virtual classroom. This approach is popular, and usage increased from 45 percent in 2008 to 59 percent in 2009. The virtual classroom format is ideal for various training programs. For example, for systems training, today’s virtual classroom tools include capabilities for online lab exercises, allowing learners hands-on access to a system or tool that they may not have installed on their own PCs. For product training, instructors may use a Webcam to demonstrate the use of the product. For management or other soft-skills training, virtual classroom sessions may include breakout rooms for student interaction.
Nissan, a global manufacturer of vehicles, is using virtual training to provide consistent training to global leaders. As Nissan learned more about the concept of a virtual classroom, the organization understood that it is designed to accomplish the same outcomes as the face-to-face classroom. Nissan also determined that Web-based training was a component to add to its training blend. Nissan now implements four courses via a virtual classroom and four courses via Web-based training, where individuals complete the courses on their own. The Web-based training courses dovetail with virtual practice labs so that learners can practice the skills they learned virtually with their peers.
Today, online users are accustomed to interacting with video in real-time. Video information typically is shorter in length than traditional training materials, is designed for rapid use, and often is more compelling than traditional learning content.
Many learning organizations already understand the need for video, and have added graphic designers and/or rich media developers to their teams. A substantial number of outsourced, custom e-learning content incorporates video. Additionally, some companies are moving their content onto more self-published social forms. It may still look like traditional training, but a lot of information is being captured on video now by the company itself on cheap or free tools. For example, the company may have an expert within its ranks share knowledge about a topic. This captured information on video then is uploaded to share with employees.
Of course, much innovation occurs on the public Web and it may be far easier to publish video on YouTube than it is into most corporate LMS systems. As of May 2011, it was reported that more than 48 hours of video are uploaded to YouTube each minute, a 100 percent increase from last year.
Among the many organizations that are incorporating a video component into training and development is Jiffy Lube. It offers training on auto maintenance, from car oil changes to preventive maintenance. The company has more than 10,000 employees and is effectively leveraging video as part of its extensive training program. Jiffy Lube University (JLU) provides technical, customer service and management training to 20,000 active employees at 2,000 service centers. In addition, twice a month, a service called JLU Tube delivers to store employees a one- to two-minute video with store managers sharing best practices on various topics.
Learning and development organizations are increasingly integrating the use of mobile, video, virtual classrooms. In fact, we expect to see organizations increasingly adopt a blended approach that combines elements of the traditional classroom, electronic and virtual learning with social and video tools to deliver flexible and effective training experiences.
—The author is a principal analyst for Bersin & Associates.