Head of Learning Innovation, Huthwaite International | Senior Consultant, Learnworks Ltd
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2013 - A time to learn how to learn

4th Jan 2013
Head of Learning Innovation, Huthwaite International | Senior Consultant, Learnworks Ltd
Columnist
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Happy New Year!

It’s that time of year again when, faced with a reset calendar I try to provide some insights for the year ahead.  Last year I eschewed the idea of predictions and made more of wish list – five things that I hoped would or wouldn’t happen and, as usual, I was proved slightly out of step with the remainder of the training world. You can catch up here.

One call I made last year was for there to be less training, more often. What I meant by that was that learning activities would be shorter but more frequent, with a greater use of technology and fewer instances of classroom sessions.  I was half right.  There has been less training, but unfortunately it has been less frequent as well.  Despite surveys showing planned increases in spend, this has not always been evident on the ground and there is certainly anecdotal evidence that staff members are being expected to muddle through once in employment. 

The one area of training growth is in supporting apprentices.  Where organisations are taking new people on board and using the apprenticeship system to both subsidise this employment and raise competence, more focused and structured training has resulted.  Let’s hope this more planned and rigorous approach migrates into other areas of development in 2013.

What explains the lower levels of training and development experienced in the light of steady or even increasing training budgets?  I’m afraid it is the increasing proportion of training budget being devoted to technology.  In the Towards Maturity Benchmark Report for 2012 (get your free copy here) the amount spent on technology has been steadily increased year on year and yet there are still problems with people using technology.  Two quotes from Laura Overton and her team:

“The top barriers for Learning and Development professionals are the lack of skills amongst employees to manage their own learning (reported by 63%)”

and

“although the number of organisations using social media is still relatively low they appear to be the tools where the most growth is expected in the next two years.”

This is not a new prediction for those researching company spend on learning technologies.  In fact in the same report, two charts show that there is a disconnect between intention and application.  More than 70% of benchmark companies expected to use 3rd party social media tools in 2012, but only 45% actually did so.  Similarly, mobile learning was predicted to be used by 69% of respondents but was only used in anger by 39%. It is not uncommon for reports like this to be littered with organisation’s good intentions which are seldom realised in practice.

Looking at surveys such as this one and the championing of technology based solutions amongst the conferences and commentators; leads me to an uncomfortable conclusion.  Maybe our enthusiasm for these new modes of learning and development delivery somewhat outstrips the preparedness of our people to actually use them? I say this not as a dinosaur, addicted to the flip chart and the heady whiff of solvent based pens.  I have spent more than 20 years creating learning materials for use by individuals – from Laser Discs, to CD Roms to online tools.  Such a conclusion pains me more than the average.

If I have one over-arching wish/prediction for 2013 it is that we should try and bridge this gap.  Without ensuring that our people have the skills to self-manage their learning and to integrate learning opportunities into their daily work patterns, then the syphoning of funds away from more traditional training methods will simply widen the chasm that seems to be opening.  Yes, we need to reduce our reliance on the one-size-fits-all classroom model.  It is too expensive and too inefficient for the kind of increased capabilities our people will need in 2013 and beyond.  But let’s not replicate the mistakes we made in the past with e-Learning.  Borrowed from the Kevin Costner movie Field of Dreams, the question asked by  the early adopters of e-Learning was, ‘if we build it will they come?’.  We built it.  They stayed away.

In 2013, put learning to learn skills front and centre of your training developments.  If we can build capability in this vital 21st Century skill, our investments in the platforms, technologies and collaboration tools may, just may, justify the hype of the past 12 months.

Whatever you do in 2013, I wish you well.

Robin Hoyle is a writer, trainer and consultant.  His book Complete Training: from recruitment to retirement is published by Kogan Page in May 2013.

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