By Penny Asher, Director of Executive Education at The Open University Business School
The Open University Business School’s recent report, “The Challenges of Global L&D”, reveals that face-to-face narrowly beats tech enabled training (online and digital) as the most popular type of learning used in businesses (54% vs. 46%). It’s really close now, but with online predicted to overtake face-to-face imminently, making better use of tech enabled learning and development remains a challenge.
The technology is out there, and many organisations have invested in it. More than ever, businesses have the potential to switch towards a digital learning experience. However, data based on the results of interviews of 200 senior global L&D decision makers suggests that 48% of businesses are not currently making the most of the technology available to deliver learning, and 42% don’t have the technology to coordinate it globally.
The future of tech teaching
So, why aren’t we making better use of technology for learning and development? The level of investment required is an obvious reason, but only in that the initial outlay can be high to create the platform and buy the tools necessary. In many cases, the potential and ROI of technology investments, can outweigh those of more traditional delivery methods.
Is it, therefore, that we don’t understand the technology options open to us, and what can be delivered? Or, given the myriad of providers out there offering full service solutions, are we having trouble identifying the right provider for our needs?
Inherently, many of us have developed a bias against online learning
The answer is that it is probably a combination of these and more. Inherently, many of us have developed a bias against online learning. As we know, most employees state a preference for face-to-face delivery methods. Much of this bias has been developed as a response to our failure to deliver on the potential of online learning, and the restrictions that early technology placed on it. We have probably all experienced being delivered what basically amounts to just an online training catalogue. Something with which we had limited incentive to use, and lacking in perceived value – with the result that it was largely ignored. These sorts of experiences have continued to drive our perception of online, and our tendency to switch off when given the choice.
To a large degree, technology restrictions have been lifted. The failure to deliver on online learning’s potential is now derived mostly from our reluctance to truly understand the capabilities of tech-enabled learning. Additionally, there is a lack of strategy to integrate it in our activities, as well as the need to be innovative and courageous in the steps we take to develop and deliver it.
Steps of change
It is important to recognise that digital learning needs to be embraced, not just relegated to the mandatory training that we often see. The bias needs to be addressed and to do so we really need to move to demonstrating the value of digital, not as the only delivery method, but as part of a truly integrated solution. Our business environment is demanding more and more of learning and development – reduced cost and more services, and enhanced support to drive performance. This means we have no choice but to make sure that we use digital and face-to-face where needed.
A change in mindset to think about a digital-first strategy should help. If online is the starting point, what needs to be face-to-face? Where would the high relative cost of face-to-face create the most value? The reach and scalability of online solutions can achieve cost efficiencies in the long run and enable learning to be deployed more consistently across geographical borders. Let’s also remember that the bias is likely to be prevalent amongst senior managers, but that does not mean that their wishes should be pandered to. It is likely that many solutions need to be blended to deliver the value required but that will depend on the organisation, its needs, and the context it is operating in.
Let’s also remember that online, to deliver value, needs to be customised. This does mean investment for those that don’t yet have the capability, from the platform to the content itself, but if the business case and strategy are right, then organisations can deliver value. We also need to think about how social media and the plethora of more informal online learning can be integrated, in many cases with little additional cost. By providing access to relevant, bite-sized and just in time learning from social media channels, a more personalised and collaborative approach can be facilitated.
It is time to start delivering on the potential of online learning and demonstrating its value
Finally, it is time to start delivering on the potential of online learning and demonstrating its value. ROI is always difficult to measure, but we do need to start being cleverer with our use of analytics to not just measure impact but proactively enhance it. We can now have at our fingertips more tools to track time spent on learning, performance on different activities, and to drive engagement.
In the future, the OU’s Institute of Educational Technology and the Learning Sciences Lab in the National Institute of Education in Singapore, predict that we will see analytics provided for learning. Analytics support the learner by reflecting on what they have learned, what can be improved, which goals can be achieved and how they should move forward. This “formative analytics” will empower the learner and help to deliver much more personalised learning, which will surely help drive value for both the individual and our organisations. This empowerment will also help address the other challenge of online learning, which is the human trait of a lack of discipline when it comes to self-driven education.
Whatever we do, a blend of face-to-face and online learning continues to be our future; we just need to make the best use of it that we can.