Clive Shepherd and Laura Overton take a look back over learning technology's recent history and argue that trainers need to get with the times.
Change and opportunity
Surprising as it may seem, most educational and training methods are relatively timeless. Most of the familiar options, whether that's providing instruction, leading discussions, delivering case studies, running role plays and simulations, providing coaching, apprenticeships and so on, have been practised for hundreds, if not thousands of years. True, we do make different choices from the available methods, as we learn more about learning, but the options stay pretty consistent. Learning media options, on the other hand, have been growing exponentially.
Put yourself in the shoes of a trainer, just thirty years ago. You'd have felt lucky to have such a plethora of media choices available to you, including blackboards, flip charts, film and video, slides, books and posters. You'd have been familiar with all these media, because in those days, no trainer would have regarded any of these to be particularly specialised - they were the basic tools of the job. But with the arrival of PCs, mobile devices and in particular the Internet, the media options available have increased so dramatically that it has been hard for the trainer to keep up.
As a result, many of the tasks associated with the use of technology for learning have been left to specialists, and many trainers have become disengaged, perhaps even alienated from technology.
So what’s the big deal?
Technology now provides so many opportunities for learning and development that it is no longer viable for trainers to keep their distance, leaving new media to the geeks and the ‘digital natives’.
The pace of change is so fast that those who keep their distance stand to be marginalised on a permanent basis. The new learning technologies provide opportunities for every trainer to play an active role, whether that's as an online tutor, facilitator or moderator, or as a content designer or developer. All that’s needed is a willingness to get engaged, adapt and apply.
Without the involvement of those who really understand adult learning and how it applies to their workplace, e-learning could easily be applied inappropriately, as it has been on occasions in the past. With every trainer engaged, new media options can be properly integrated with existing approaches in the form of blended solutions that deliver results effectively and efficiently.
In some ways elearning is no big deal, it’s just a new channel for learning materials to be made available to learners, and for learners to communicate with peers and with trainers. But it would be a mistake to play down the consequences of this new channel, because it’s capable of delivering learning interventions to more people, more quickly, more cheaply and more flexibly than any technology we've encountered before.
In 2009, when we face greater challenges at work than we have in a generation, elearning is a very big deal indeed.
Clive Shepherd and Laura Overton are the authors of What every L&D professional need to know about e-learning. Laura is also managing director of Towards Maturity CIC, an independent not-for-profit organisation that provides free research and case studies to help organisations improve the impact of learning technologies in the workplace. Clive is an independent elearning consultant and current chair of the elearning network. Visit his blog at: clive-shepherd.blogspot.com. For more information on the elearning network, visit: www.elearningnetwork.org.