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Digital technology and its power to transform L&D

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29th Jun 2015
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At present there is some ambiguity surrounding digital learning. In this article Rob May explains some of the barriers to adoption and demonstrates how these can be overcome to help transform the learning landscape.

New elearning technology has the potential to engage millions more learners across the world and completely revolutionise the training landscape, as well as improving the effectiveness of the learning process. The Government has openly expressed the need for more online learning and although it may feel like elearning has been around for a long time, in recent years there has been an explosion in new technology. 

The global market for elearning products is growing quickly, at an annual rate of 7%. The power of learning technology lies in its ability to calibrate to different learning styles, paces and environments, leading to a truly learner-centric approach, supported by trainers. 

An additional advantage is that, the learner-centric technology can allow tutors to give individual attention to more students, as well as testing and qualifying more learners remotely and securely. The applications of this technology are enormous and mean it is possible to actually do something counter-intuitive in training and increase the number of learners per live trainer. 

Lack of help and guidance 

Despite these significant benefits, at present colleges, further education institutes and workplaces are being given little help and guidance about new technologies and are often being left to research and implement digital learning solutions by themselves. 

To fully integrate the learning process will also require employers to get on board and begin engaging and interacting with the technology. But at present this is not happening frequently enough. However with the rise of the digital native, most employees are now perfectly comfortable using social media to engage, create, learn and validate their achievements. Many companies have now also adopted in-house social media environments and therefore it seems obvious that these platforms should be leveraged to engage and motivate learners in a more personal learning experience. 

This lack of help available, coupled with the feelings of apprehension that many training and education bodies hold about making the transition from purely workplace-based to blended learning, is slowing adoption down considerably. There is also the concern that online learning could eventually eradicate the need for workplace-based learning entirely. 

So moving forward, what can be done to ensure the UK gets on board with digital learning?

When it comes to adopting elearning, and with the increased pressure to get courses up and running quickly, it may be tempting to repurpose existing elearning content. However, trainers should hold off and instead consider an alternative, holistic digital learning model. This should maximise teaching time, and return on investment, by providing specific coaching to learners who are already immersed in a continuous virtual world of learning content.

It must be recognised that since customisation will be a major driver of this new model, many trainers will also need new skills - perhaps most importantly, the ability to recognise differences in learning styles in order to simultaneously support variations in how different learners work. They will also need to engage with learners across social media platforms and in ‘simulated workplace’ environments. 

Finding learning technology that fits 

However, it is worth noting that before launching head-first into application of new learning technologies, companies must first consider which is right for them. Although there are a number of innovative elearning modules available, equally there are some that are economically unviable, too complicated, or solely designed for very niche purposes. 

The reason that so many companies fail to implement successful elearning is that they often cram pre-packaged elearning products into busy environments, in an attempt to provide quick blasts of information. But this fails to fully engage employees in richer and more sustainable learning. 

Practising what we preach 

Learning technology has the potential to completely revolutionise training in coming years, but only if its convenience and accessibility is properly harnessed - whether that’s in workplace or through college-based training. 

A number of leading UK colleges and training providers are exploring the use of technology in ‘flipped’ and blended learning. And while some of these providers are already doing amazing things with learning technology, like creating virtual, simulated workplaces in which learners can practice new skills, many are still at the start of their journey.

While the move from workplace-based to digital learning probably won't be an easy shift, it will be rewarding. Trainers will be able to utilise more of their time ‘travelling’ online from student to student, helping individuals with bespoke problems. They can mentor and motivate learners by using real-time data which tells them how each learner is progressing. 

Once the barriers to adoption are properly addressed, learning technology will make strides in helping to break the expensive capital traps and dominant structures of the traditional training system, and ultimately engage more people in better quality learning.

Rob May is director of YMCA Awards. YMCA Awards is one the UK's leading awarding organisations and was the original awarding body for the fitness and wellbeing sector. A highly respected name amongst industry experts, employers and learners, YMCA Awards helps people across the world to develop new careers

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