Training and Education Practitioners Need to Lead Digital Disruption!

By Rodney Beach, Group Managing Director, Liberate Learning

Rodney Beach, Group Managing Director, Liberate Learning

As learning and development professionals we can no longer afford to put our heads in the sand and believe that digital disruption will pass us by. Digital disruption does not only affect people in manufacturing and related industries. If we ignore the disruptive influence of digital technology we will stand by while our role is greatly de-valued. Instead, we need to lead the digital disruption and forge new strategies for learning and development.

We all know that technology impacts the means of working, the worker and the workplace. Digital, biological and physical technologies are converging, bringing social, economic and political change. These changes heralded by advancements in artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning are occurring at a phenomenal rate. The Fourth Industrial Revolution is upon us and all industry sectors need to embrace change and adapt, or die-out. This includes learning and development professionals.

I believe that learning and development professionals should be involved in a strategic re-evaluation of themselves, their team’s purpose and direction as well as their organisation’s strategic direction and service offerings at least once every 12 months. Why, you ask? Given the pace of change, if you haven’t undergone some form of re-invention in some capacity, you may not be adding value to the services you offer your customers. If you are a learning development professional, then your customers are the educators (university, TAFE, school staff etc) and business partners/ stakeholders) for whom you design learning programs.

We hear about digital disruption daily; however, the learning and education sectors aren’t changing at a parallel pace, not by a long-shot. Frankly, I see first-hand how learning and education professionals are getting left behind at a rate that creates the perception that learning design teams and education institutions provide little to no value to the end user of said learning opportunities.

Generally speaking, organisations and education institutions are still stuck in the paradigm of front-loading students with factual knowledge. This knowledge is assessed in some form, and judgements are made as to the learner’s competency. Then the learner is bestowed with the credentials to perform in their related trade or discipline. Many organisations are no different to education institutions, and appear to apply the same approach to staff training and professional development. For example, workers are provided with a process, policy or eLearning compliance course which incorporates an assessment, and the learning management system marks the staff member as incomplete or competent with little regard to how the learning is applied.

As training and education professionals, the concept and approach widely adopted is to throw facts, data, and outdated case studies at a learner, hoping for a satisfactory level of memory retention. This educational paradigm hasn’t changed for hundreds of years. With the fast pace of innovation and technology, and the imperative for workforce and workplace agility, the time frame between gaining new skills and knowledge and applying them in practice is shortening. We call this the ‘training gap’; the time between when knowledge is acquired and it must be applied. In this shortened time frame, learning and development teams can’t afford the lead-time to source, create and develop tangible learning artefacts that will be used in the future to train and educate.

With that in mind, that leaves us wondering about the purpose and value of a designated learning and development or training team during this Fourth Industrial Revolution. Arguably, the traditional mindset of throwing information at learners hoping it’ll stick or be retained isn’t going to stack-up anymore. Learning and development teams need to reinvent themselves in order to stay current and viable.

We must ask “what does a reinvented learning or training business function look like?” Armed with the understanding that knowledge doesn’t need to be retained like it did in the past, and appreciating that information is stored in the cloud and accessible ideally within 2-3 clicks, learning development professionals must now focus on curation and collaboration. Moreover, to minimise the ‘training gap’, we can’t afford 3-5 weeks lead time to create learning artefacts – whether it be printed, scheduled workshops or digitally presented. We need to identify how to minimise the gap between knowing or understanding something and applying that within a social, practical or workplace setting. Within the industry, this is largely referred to as just-in-time learning.

Therefore, the most practical option is to empower industry experts with the ability to create learning content themselves – we refer to this as user generated content. This organically and authentically created content comes at a risk, the risk of verifying its authenticity and accuracy. That said, we also live in an era where digital interactions can spread information and lessons learnt within seconds – such as social media posts, ‘likes/shares’ and live ratings and value-add scores. For example, the success of Uber has been centred on a user generated rating and evaluation system.

Learning teams and organisations have easy access to technologies such as learning records stores (LRS), performance support tools, chatbots and Alexa voice activation to name a few. However, as someone who works with many of Australia’s and the world’s largest organisations, unfortunately I can only count on one hand organisations that are embracing user generated content in conjunction with some of the performance and reporting tools mentioned above. Ninety-nine percent of what I see organisations doing is still based on the mentality that training needs to be formally developed and rolled out as a one size fits all approach, often with greater than 4-week lead times to create the learning artefacts.

That said, I have recently come across a couple of organisations/learning leaders that are flirting with the concept of allowing individuals or business experts to generate their own content for mass consumption. This content is coupled with collecting xAPI data (a wide range of user experience data) The sharing of user data between systems captures the value of the learning, making meaning out of organic learner pathways and tracking big data in order to empower end users to self-rate the value of the learning artefact. In addition, new technology enabled strategies support the learner in understanding the value they’re providing in the way they interact or personally contribute to the learning of others through collaboration.

In summary, learning and development professionals need to stop creating bottle necks by developing learning artefacts, and start identifying ways to equip their customers with the tools to create their own organic learning artefacts that are ideally created in response to an immediate training need. These learning events must be incepted directly within the applied work-flow.

Changing titles from learning developers and designers to learning curator or learning analysists is one quick and easy first step. However, a broader mind shift within the learning and development industry needs to quickly follow. To get started, implement a freeware LRS, experiment with tracking a wide variety of learning artefacts and performance support activities, and start advocating user generated content and meaningful collaboration.

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