From February 12-13, we had the privilege of attending the Learning Technologies 2019 conference in London as an exhibitor, a seminar presenter, and a learning and skills group sponsor. Learning Technologies is easily one of our favorite events of the year because of the impressive attendance, the efficiency with which the conference is coordinated, but most of all, the quality and depth of conversation that we have with the attendees and exhibitors.
Each person that engaged with us at our stand was there to address a real concern that they have in their journey towards their optimal training experience. What we heard is that people care about their learning, and care about their learners. It was precisely because of these conversations that a few recurring themes emerged at the Learning Technologies conference:
- The workforce is fundamentally changing
- Training must change with the needs of the workforce
- Content authoring must change to support the training needs
The workforce is fundamentally changing
Unprecedented Age Spans
Today's workforce is comprised of every race, culture, sexual identity, religion, and ability. In addition, workplace training is being affected by the greatest number of generations ever to labor together in modern history. Employees are working longer (both in terms of number of years and later in life) while the longevity of skill relevance continues to drop. Experienced workers are finding themselves in a position where they are in constant need of retraining after years of acquiring knowledge to perform their duties.
At the same time, new generations are entering the workforce with a completely different approach to learning. Millennials and Generation Z workers bring their own motivations, tendencies and expectations to the workforce. The emphasis over the past few years has been to understand and address the needs of the younger generations, which is necessary and admirable. But does that create a disparity in the attention that is being paid to the opposite end of the age spectrum? We discovered that almost half of polled workers in Great Britain aged 55 and over reported not learning any new workplace skills last year.
Engaging your workplace learners at various stages of their careers can be difficult, and creating cohesive learning that bridges the gaps between generational learning differences adds a level of complexity. This same sentiment was expressed many times at Learning Technologies by designers, trainers, and managers alike.
Unprecedented Levels of Worker Distribution
The definition of "the workplace" itself is changing. The ability to work remotely was once a perk, and is now an expected benefit. As of 2017, workplace flexibility was named by 88% of employees surveyed as the most important benefit. With a rise in remote employees, the nature of training needs to move out of the conference rooms, and adapted to be beneficial for all employees, regardless of geography. Workplace flexibility is an expected facet of the modern workplace. How do you keep a distributed workforce engaged and growing while improving productivity and employee satisfaction?
Adapting Your Training
How do you design learning that speaks to the younger set but also seeks to retrain and retain those who have been in the workplace? How do you design learning that works as well for localized as it does for remote employees? We found that while one size never fits all, it is reassuring to know that wildly different solutions are not necessarily required for different generations of learners or a geographically diverse workforce.
A company named DesignArounds undertook an online research study centered around ranking importance of learning preferences, surveying 450 individuals spanning multiple age groups. The results suggested that, regardless of age, there were come clear-cut commonalities in the preferences. There were shifts in priorities within age groups, but the preferences that appeared in the top 4 of each group 20 to 60-plus were: active, challenging, self-directed. These preferences work in the context remote employee training as well.
Instructor-led content, once geared toward a single type of learner and delivered in a geographically-dependant way can be reshaped to be agnostic of age group or location.
- Active - Whether the activity lies in the learning material itself (active learning vs. passive learning), or in the approach to learning (allowing the workers to be more involved in the planning, execution, and evaluation of the learning), engaging learning can produce results in any environment.
- Challenging - Experienced workers are seeking challenges to break away from the types of training they have been exposed to for years. Younger workers are seeking validation in the workplace. Remote employees need an extra level of engagement since they do not have the benefit of face-to-face interaction with their peers. Pose questions, start with action rather than lengthy instructions. You can even put the workers in a position where they can leverage their knowledge to create or shape the training content.
- Self-Directed - Allow your workers to seek out the training that they feel they need, and when they find it, allow them to control the flow of information. This can be as simple as structuring your learning in a way that is user navigable, rather than locked into a strict linear sequence. Allow for revisiting, allow the learner to spend as much time as they need, insert opportunity for review, insert opportunities to check their understanding once they have built up their confidence in a review. This speaks to the mature learner's resistance to the passive training model. The younger generation's natural instinct is to seek out resources like the true digital natives they are. Remote employees need to be self-motivated and self-directed because of the inherent separation from their colleagues, managers, and trainers.
Finally, placing learning content at the point of need completely agnostic. Age and geographical barriers don't exist in an environment where learners can find what they need, when the need it. It is for this reason that LXPs are the fastest growing segment of the content delivery market. In addition to more flexibility in the delivery of courses, they can offer social learning and additional curated content that can be self-selected by the user.
A Shift in Content Authoring
For many of the organizations trying to fully switch to online training models, there are very real obstacles that still exist.
Authoring must be efficient for experienced developers. Even if you content creators have a formal background in Instructional Design or Learning Design, the tools they are using should not be slowing them down. We heard several times at Learning Technologies that the amount of training material that needed to be produced always outweighed the time that their development team had to create it. A major leap in efficiency for developers is provided with the capability of re-using assets and learning objects . The "author it once, place it multiple times" approach is streamlined and paves the way for future-proofed content by maintaining a single source of truth.
Authoring must be approachable for the inexperienced. The reality of many organizations is that they simply cannot maintain a training content development process that is completely driven by a small group of Instructional Designers. This means that the authoring role must be expanded to managers, trainers, or any other employee that can act as a subject matter expert. For this to happen, the tool needs to be intuitive, with a short learning curve. New users need to be able to get up to speed and be creating content without excessive training. The tool must also be approachable from a price point. More contributors means more licenses, so the tool must be affordable to stay within existing budget constraints.
If we spoke to you at Learning Technologies 2019, thank you for taking the time to share with us your successes and your struggles. We hope that we can assist you in your journey. As a thank you for your participation, if you attended Learning Technologies 2019, please contact us for a special discount code.